It’s been an exciting week for many of you already!
Thank you to Michigan Ross for issuing interview invitations before Harvard. Talk about a well-deserved boost of confidence for many!
You could already be in interview-prep mode based on news that’s come out for some Round 1 apps to date, or you’re in wait-and-see mode, which can be particularly nerve-wracking. We figured we’d share a little on that elusive holistic review that gets bandied about in admissions circles.
Here’s what The Darden School at the University of Virginia says in its policies for evaluating candidates for tenure position on faculty* — a different process, sure, but maybe not that different?
We take a holistic view of a faulty member’s contribution, acknowledging that different people may excel in different aspects of education, scholarship, and service. Further, a holistic view requires that a judgment produced by careful reading of the materials should be used rather than one based on easy-to-measure metrics and short cuts during the review and promotion process.
What they’re saying is — good news!! — it’s not all about the numbers.
In the context of faculty, the “easy to measure metrics” refers to things like research conducted, funding and grants awarded, and especially, journal articles accepted for publication. There is an expectation in academia that your professors are doing important work to contribute to the body of knowledge in their field. The mantra has previously been “publish or perish” which for generations has meant that publication of original research is the gold standard by which professors are measured. Success in that area has long driven decisions of tenure at these universities.
It’s a lot of pressure!
The built-in bias within these systems is now, slowly, being recognized.
That’s what that Darden statement is trying to say: That the faculty committees for recruiting new professors and for evaluating and recommending tenure appointments are taking a broader, yes holistic approach to their tasks.
That too is what admissions committees strive to do when they look at your application.
This “holistic review” is why MIT Sloan can set aside the requirement for a standardized GMAT or GRE test for this admissions season. (PS: Their stated positioning implies that it’s a temporary move, so they are reserving the right to reinstate it again — which certainly does indicate that that move wasn’t born out of an interest in leveling the playing field or acknowledging the bias that standardized tests carry. We can only hope that bschools will be brave enough to forego such tests completely, but we’re not holding our breath that it’ll actually happen that soon.)
When it comes to MBA admissions, what does a “holistic review” mean for you?
It means that they look at EVERYTHING. And they do!
This is why we emphasize the importance of every field in the app dataset. Each and every element combines to construct a picture for the admissions people to understand something significant.
They also collect data on all of those elements from all of their accepted admits and matriculating students, and they do data mining to see what qualities end up being correlated with success in their program and beyond. There is a lot of data involved!
Some aspects of your profile you have no control over — your citizenship, your age, your college GPA.
But other aspects you can absolutely flavor in how your admissions reader will understand you. Is there a reason you’re applying to full-time two-year MBA program today at age 35? In some cases this will be self-evident from the facts of your career (for example, if you are coming out of the military, and your resume shows the path that your existing career has taken and the commitments you made to your country). Or, maybe you’re a woman who had a child early and now your child is old enough that you are ready to return to school to relaunch your career, and you’ve decided that a full-time MBA is the ideal path to do so. That won’t be self-evident from the resume, so you could capture that in the app or the essays. The app dataset for most schools asks if you have children, but if your children are a part of your story in terms of explaining the “why now” for your MBA goals, then that would be part of your story that you’d include explicitly in what you share with the reader.
Lots of insights can be gained from the pure facts. Others are up to you to convey.
The schools read everything you present — literally, everything! There is no cut-off of GPA or test score that would put you in the discard pile before the app is even cracked open. They really do spend the time required to understand you as a candidate.
Small things like the high school you attended or whether a parent is deceased or what type of on-campus job you held during college…. All of these things can be revealing. You’d be surprised!
And, many schools have more explicit questions these days, such as what Berkeley Haas asks about your life situation growing up. Duke has a lot of questions in their app as well. All of the schools design those with intentionality.
When you get a painful rejection then it can be easy to think that they took only a cursory glance, and our insistence today that they actually read everything might make that rejection feel worse. (Because yeah, if they read everything, and they still issued a “no thanks” then doesn’t that mean they’re rejecting you personally?!! We can see how it might feel that way! The rejection process is always a tough experience to go through, no matter the context it happens in.)
It can seem like the whole admissions thing is a total black box — you press “submit” and then you pray, and you don’t really know if it’s going to come out as a green light or a red at each step.
It’s easy to overthink and second guess.
What we’re seeing so far this season, through the limited data revealed by schools so far, is that they are trying to cast a wide net, and be more inclusive in how they are considering candidates, compared to the more cookie-cutter decisions that have been the status quo at most schools in the past.
That’s obviously not a guarantee that every candidate makes it into their top-choice school. But we are getting hints that schools are indeed trying to rethink their processes and maybe look at the candidate pool more expansively this year. How this continues to play out is a big TBD, but we are optimistic that it won’t be a status-quo only season this year. With everything else that’s changing for 2020, then it makes sense the schools will be self-reflective themselves and seeing where they can contribute to a changing world based on how they allocate their opportunities.
We’ll be watching and waiting alongside you.
Thank you to those who have been sharing updates with us! We’re very interested to hear how things go for you. Please keep us posted in SnarkCenter as you make progress on the path to your admits this season!!
*Found on p. 78 of this document in case anyone is interested.
You may also be interested in:
- All schools do a ‘holistic review’ but…
- Do the adcoms really look at the whole package?
- Make the adcoms’ holistic review fruitful