DISCLAIMER: This post is not trying to tell you that you can reuse your essays from one school to another! Because really, you can’t. Even if the essay prompt is nearly exactly the same — which, this year, there’s at least one pair of schools where this is true — even when the questions are…
Want to start thinking about your MBA app strategy without doing any heavy lifting?
Here’s a great series of questions posted on the Darden admissions blog late last year . These are meant to illustrate how they look at candidates but they’re an excellent set of questions for you to sit down and consider right now, before you’ve actually started thinking about essay topics or which schools you’ll be trying for. Not all schools evaluate on exactly these dimensions, and even Darden was only using this to illustrate the perspective they take. But these are quite interesting things to ponder! They touch on things like teamwork and collaboration and leadership and all the standard buzzwords that you’ll get so sick of hearing about as you traverse this process of applying to bschool:
- Are you collaborative?
- What kind of teammate are you?
- Do you freely share your expertise?
- Do you enjoy learning from others?
- Do you want to be an active participant in your educational experience?
- Are you relationship-oriented?
- Do you value different backgrounds and perspectives?
Don’t just breeze over this list nodding your head and saying, “Hmm interesting questions!” Instead, get your MBA essay planning notebook and jot them down – consider putting each one individually at the top of its own page. Do some brainstorming. Can you think of an example from your life that fits each question?
Keep a running list as you go through the rest of the day, and week, and month.
This should be an ongoing process.
Some of these questions are actually quite deep. What does it mean to be “relationship-oriented”? Can you redefine that term? Now, can you think of an instance where you acted that way, that would demonstrate you being that way?
Don’t feel you need to be “relationship-minded” in order to get into or succeed in bschool. It’s OK if you answer “no” to that question. But give yourself space to ponder it. Maybe tonight on your commute home, set up some time for just thinking about these concepts.
But you will need to do some serious self-reflection if you’re going to be coming up with quality essay content in a few short months! That’s true at every school, definitely not only Darden.
The best essay topics are considered over time. Starting with this list will be your first effort to prime the pump and get that brain trained to spit out the good stuff.
We’re not exactly advocating this as an actual strategy for selecting your MBA programs to target. But it’s something to consider! It’s certainly more practical and intelligent (yes we said it) than using rankings as the priority tool to choose where to apply. If a top MBA program has a special scholarship fund earmarked only…
Used to be, the answer to that was “Not really anywhere.” If you wanted to go get an MBA, many schools wouldn’t even consider an app from you until you’d accrued some work experience. Regardless of how motivated you may have been, you couldn’t apply to business school straight out of college. Well guess what? Times have changed!
Now, a bunch of MBA programs are practically falling over themselves to get undergraduates to apply.
Just this season alone, a bunch of business schools launched or expanded formalized programs where they will accept you even if you have not graduated from college yet. This gives you a guaranteed deferred admission to a future entering MBA class.
The new ones this season are being offered at:
- Columbia Business School who is calling this Deferred Enrollment (note: totally different from Columbia Early Decision, and also totally different from applying through a school’s standard admission, getting accepted, and then asking for a deferral)
- MIT Sloan MBA where it’s called Early Admission
- University of Virginia Darden who’s named it Future Year Scholars
These are tracks of admission for a specific cohort: Seniors, as well as students who are in their final year of another (non-MBA) graduate program (with certain restrictions).
What schools have had this for awhile?
- HBS 2+2 was the first track of its kind, launched over 10 years ago now
- Then came Yale Silver Scholars
- This season, Booth expanded its Booth Scholars program to allow rising seniors from any university to apply, rather than limiting it only to University of Chicago students as it had previously been.
There’s also at least one such track available at MBA programs in Europe, such as the Young Talent Path MBA track at IESE in Spain .
These new opportunities mean that graduating college students have more options than ever before if they’re motivated to aim for a top-tier business school early on and they like the idea of setting up options ahead of time. We’ve heard it said multiple times recently that a college degree is what a high school diploma used to be, and that a graduate degree is becoming an expectation as part of a typical career path, rather than a possibility or nice-to-have.
If as a college student you’re wondering about committing yourself too early, don’t worry: You’re never locking yourself in to any one specific future through these programs. If anything changes for you as you go out into the world and build your career, and when it comes time to start the MBA, you realize that maybe it’s not the right next step for you, or not at that exact time, then you don’t absolutely have to attend. There may be some deposits that are unrefundable, but you’re not sealing your future fate 100% by applying or accepting an admit to one of these programs. The schools understand that you still have a lot of Real Life to experience, and that maybe you’ll change your mind.
However, more and more college students are becoming more and more motivated to tackle their careers with a vengeance, and this is one option to consider. It can sure be nice to embark onto the first phase of your post-college career knowing how the next three to five years will play out for you! Some people really like that sense of security and enjoy putting a longer-term plan into place when they can.
You also get to avail yourself of tremendous resources from your school: You’ll be part of the student community, with all sorts of mentoring opportunities and special programming, and at some schools you’ll have access to the fellow students and alumni as you navigate your career and think through possible career paths. It can be a tremendous resource and support system, almost like a built-in ecosystem to nurture your career.
If you’re wondering how competitive these programs are, it’s harder to say, based on all these changing factors. There’s a lot more awareness of these opportunities at college campuses all over the world, which means the schools are seeing more applications. We can tell you that way back when Harvard Business School first launched its 2+2 program in 2008 or so, they got 630 applicants and admitted 106 — which was around a ~17% admit rate, which was INCREDIBLY favorable for those candidates compared to the realities of getting into HBS in their standard cycle.
Now that there are so many of these tracks available at so many different schools, it’s possible that some of them will become less competitive (maybe). It unfortunately also means that the increased awareness among college seniors will lead to way more candidates for the limited spots. Many schools may implement a waitlist for these deferred-start programs just as they have with their full-time MBA admissions — but don’t worry, if you’re on the waitlist to start at a top school in the Fall, you’re considered separately from these college-senior waitlisters. Those pools don’t mix. You won’t be competing against an experienced-admit if you’re a coming-from-college admit (and vice versa).
EssaySnark can help college seniors looking to lock in their MBA admits early — check out our MBA admissions consulting services or hit us up if you have questions! Our MBA Application Guides also may be useful, though do note that many schools have different essay questions and specific requirements for their college-senior applicants, and those are not necessarily covered in our individual school guides, which by definition focus on the standard MBA admissions process of applying to school the year that you want to begin.
We’re happy to help if you have questions! Please post them in the comments section and we’ll let you know what we can about your situation and the schools that you’re interested in.
We’re more and more impressed by the caliber of talent coming out of college these days and if you’re a go-getter who has an MBA in your sights some day, then putting the foundation for that now might be a decision that truly pays off!
Dang. You didn’t make it in. 🙁 BUT WHY???
Most schools are explicit with a no-feedback policy. All decisions are final, and they’re unable to talk to you about it because they don’t have the bandwidth to field all of those calls.
But some schools are much more generous with their time and attention and encouragement.
For example, if you didn’t make it in to Darden, they’ve often offered the chance to get feedback in case you want to reapply. Usually they make this available in June (mark your calendar now!).
Only a few schools do this. In the past, HBS would do it if they interviewed you and/or put you on the waitlist before rejecting you, though they don’t advertise this policy very loudly and we’re not clear if it’s a one-off thing or a standing offer that they’ll continue to make available if you ask. Tuck will do it too. Yale does it. We understand that Berkeley-Haas is no longer doing it, which is a bummer.
If you go for one of these feedback sessions, just manage expectations. The stuff they say tends to be pretty standard. Unless you’re one of those super qualified candidates who just couldn’t break into bschool this year because there were too many others in your pool, then the adcom is more likely than not going to tell you stuff that you should already know. By the time you go for a feedback session, then hopefully will be able to predict what the admissions person is going to tell you. You should have a sense based on profile self-assessment (or a simple comparison to the school’s class profile) what the issues are. If your college academics are not that strong, or if your GMAT is a little low, then that’s what your adcom person will say. Predictable.
They may also tell you if your essays weren’t up to snuff. Maybe.
Generally speaking, the reports we hear back from BSers who ask for one of these feedback sessions are largely the same. The value of such calls is usually a bit limited. The adcoms aren’t going to tell you REALLY why you were rejected (especially not if the reason was the you came across like a jerk in your app in some way, or if your recommenders did not say nice things about you – it’s unusual but it happens, and these reasons will definitely not be directly disclosed). The adcom peeps are more likely than not going to give you some vague comments about how you’re qualified but it’s competitive, yada yada yada.
It can still be useful to go through the experience but honestly, you hopefully by this stage of the game have done enough self-reflecting and gone back over your candidacy in a more objective light, that you are aware of the deficiencies that may have been in evidence. And, even more hopefully, you’re already taking steps to fix them, in preparation for the coming Round 1 season.
We’re of course always up for taking a look at rejected apps – we have the formal Post-Mortem (aka “Oh noz!!”) review where we go into great detail on every aspect of your application. Or you can just get the Comprehensive Profile Review which lets you understand how things may be perceived by the adcoms in the upcoming cycle.
We do still appreciate the schools that do this. It’s certainly an attempt to be more transparent, and it’s an applicant-friendly policy. But it’s kind of like when someone is breaking up with you; it’s possible you’re going to get some variation of, “It’s not you, it’s me” – or maybe, “It’s not you, it’s your test score.” Sometimes people need to hear that directly from A Person In Power before they’ll decide to actually do something about it, so if you’re skeptical of the assessments you’ve heard elsewhere (ahem), then definitely get some time on the calendar with your friendly admissions person and see what they say. No matter what, taking advantage of the opportunity shows that you are motivated, and if you reapply then they will see that you took advantage of this opportunity, which can only be a positive.
It also gives you something to do. Since you’re probably pretty darned bummed out. 🙁
Channeling those disappointed energies into next steps and coming up with a go-forward plan is the best way to deal with dejection.
If we can help? Please reach out! There are lots of opportunities to begin working with us. We’d be honored to be part of your reapplicant journey!
You may also be interested in:
Not sure if this is going to be status quo for reporting post-MBA placement data going forward at all schools, but we first noticed this in the Darden Class of 2018 Employment Report and wanted to give a shout-out. This is useful indeed! In their list of employers who hired grads from their most recent…
Well that’s a provocative headline ain’t it.
As industry-watchers, we, you know, watch the industry. We try to keep our fingers on the pulse of what these MBA programs are doing, how they’re responding to changes in the marketplace of interested prospective students, in some cases, how they’re responding to each other, what they’re doing to anticipate the future needs of employers in the world and how they are (hopefully) innovating and strengthening their offerings to better prepare the workforce of tomorrow.
It’s really hard to know for sure what’s going on at a school from the outside. This of course is why we constantly emphasize the importance of a campus visit in order for you to know if a school is even right for you. After all, you’re the one who’s saying she wants to spend two years of your life there. What if it’s not even a place that you really like? What if they don’t have the focus on the niche sector you’re most interested in? What if the students don’t seem to prioritize quite the same things?
When you’re going on name and reputation alone or have outsourced your decision on where to apply based on what some business publication has decried as “the best” then you’re flying blind. You don’t really know what a school is about. You certainly aren’t in a position to discuss its culture and community if you’ve not experienced it firsthand.
And so EssaySnark is indeed going out on a limb with the questions we’re posing today. Because we’re outsiders; we don’t know what’s going on in the halls of Fuqua. We can’t say for sure what’s behind the things that we’re observing today.
All we can do is evaluate the adcom’s actions, meaning three specific components that we use as tea leaves:
1. What is the school’s strategy? What are they doing to attract candidates? How “out there” are they in drumming up interest? How engaged on social media, how visible in the marketplace where applicants congregate (be that virtual or IRL)?
2. How does the school construct its application? What means do they have to solicit useful and insightful information from candidates that allow them to shine as individuals?
3. Who are they accepting? What do they value most in a candidate? Where are they overlooking flaws like lower GMAT in favor of interest and diversity? Where are they sticklers for stats?
These three dimensions give us quite a bit of information, as esoteric as they may seem, upon which we can draw conclusions about trends that are in play at a school and where that school is going.
For example, over just five or so years, Ross has fully impressed us with their focus on culture and new initiatives, and they’ve gone from an almost second-tier school that many applicants used only as a safety, to a school that many BSers now choose as a top pick. They have made their value prop visible, and you likely have at least a reasonably positive impression of them even if you have not got them on your short list. You probably have been exposed to enough buzz about Ross that it’s rubbed off on you and your overall sense is that it’s a good school, regardless of how well, or not, you personally have researched them before.
This phenomenon is something called “brand equity” and it’s the intangible value that you associate with a firm or a product, like the generally positive associations with Apple, or the leaning-negative feelings about Facebook. Brand equity is the reason why HBS is in constant demand and is seen as the pinnacle school — even when you don’t really know why.
If you’ve become enamored of Ross and decided you really want to go there, it’s likely you can rattle off at least three reasons unprompted.
Most people who apply to HBS cannot come up with even one. Or they say “case method” but that’s not a reason to go to Harvard Business School. That’s not something to be excited about; it’s just how it’s done there. Every other bschool in the world also uses cases as part of its pedagogy, but yet when you wrote your essays to them you didn’t gush about the case student method in your “why MBA” essay.
Nobody on the planet wants to go to Harvard because of the case method.
You want to go to Harvard because it’s Harvard.
Okay, back to Duke.
Duke is a good school. We saw Fuqua embrace culture as a critical component of the bschool experience before many of its peers did. Duke University is of course world renowned, a very good school, just like Northwestern or Dartmouth or University of Chicago or all these other places.
Fuqua was practically a renegade when they created their “25 Random Things” non-essay essay, way back in 2012. That was pretty revolutionary at the time. The only other schools that gave applicants such a blank-slate approach to an app requirement then were NYU and Booth.
But 2012? Dang, that’s a long time ago now.
Sure, the 25 Random Things has proven the test of time. It’s probably the most FUN assignment of any business school’s app. Apparently the Fuqua admissions people have a “it ain’t broke” philosophy in place. Their app requirements have been almost entirely unchanged in all of that time (excepting some tweaks to the phrasing of the long-essay prompt).
Okay, but what about category #3 that we can observe: Who gets in?
What seems to be happening in the most recent admissions cycles is, candidates who are accepted to a set of two or more schools, where Duke is among that set, are often choosing the non-Duke school to matriculate.
Candidates who are accepted only to Duke are going to Duke.
Obviously this is a gross generalization, and we don’t have access to the entire results of all applicants everywhere.
But from our slice of the admissions landscape, it’s a trend that we seem to have spotted, which has generated this working hypothesis.
Other schools like Ross are really kicking it into high gear. Same with Darden, which used to be seen as a next-tier school, but which has gotten a somewhat higher visibility sheen in the past few years. But Duke? They’re not really on our radar as much. It’s not like they’re a safety school; oh no. They’re still quite selective and it’s by no means easy to get in.
But from what we can tell, they’re just not impressing the BSers out there enough to get them to say “yes” when there are multiple options on the table.
We’re going to keep watching and see if this theory is wrong.
About six years ago, Duke was so popular that they became quite difficult to break into.
But just this past season, we’re not sure that still holds as true as it was.
Anyone get into Duke + other schools who wants to share your experiences and impressions? Where are you leaning? What school will you choose, and why? Is Duke a first choice for lots of you? Why or why not?
We want to learn. Comments are open if you want to share your opinions!
Our annual Radcom Award goes to…. Harvard Business School?!?
This is wholly unexpected! Harvard has not exactly been tops for applicant friendliness.
But this past season, they did two major things that we believe were significant:
2. They moved out their Round 2 date, albeit only by a couple days, but still. Any admissions team that acknowledges the stress of applicants in trying to hit those ridiculous first-of-January dates can be commended (even though our bet is that HBS only did it to make THEIR OWN jobs easier, since it’s probably loads of no-fun to come back into the office after a long holiday break and be faced with the stressbucket monsters that panicking applicants turn into when their apps are due that day and they’ve been waiting for ages to get an answer to their questions about how to answer some question in the app dataset).
They also gave very helpful admissions tips on their site — which is not exactly an earth-shaking innovation, since schools like MIT and Yale and Tuck have done so for years. But hey, for Harvard? It was a big deal.
About halfway through the season, we really wanted to give Harvard our award.
But…. we’re just having trouble following through now.
Because if you think about it, are these two things REALLY all that significant?
Probably we’d been enamored with the mere reality that HBS implemented ANY changes. They’d been toeing the status quo line for awhile now. Many years back, it was Harvard who could be counted on to mix things up in the realm of MBA admissions. They were the school that first started with changes to essays (did you know that Harvard used to require four essays of 500 words each??!?) and they were the ones to implement the mid-cycle release, where let rejected candidates know super early. That is indeed an advantage and it helps significantly if you’re one of the ones to be cut free, at least if you applied in Round 1, since it gives you notice early enough that you can start in on a Round 2 strategy quite soon. Many other schools including Booth and Wharton have since followed suit, so that the mid-cycle release is now common among other programs too. So those were all good innovations that helped candidates (mostly) but perhaps those were the low-hanging fruit, since we haven’t really seen many more applicant-friendly modifications to the process happening from Harvard more recently.
And, we’re also currently working on some analysis that will hopefully be ready to share with all of you soon, which makes us miffed at HBS to such an extent that we’re not really inclined to give them any sort of applause.
So what other school might deserve an honor from the ‘Snark for changes this season?
Well, if we were looking only at changes then Tuck seems like one to be looking at. They implemented all sorts of changes to their app process this year, including standardizing their admissions rounds to match other schools’ and making very big changes to their essay questions. But the round-name change really only was a cosmetic thing, which was rather overdue as it created confusion for applicants. And the essay questions? Well, that prompted this:
Wish we didn't have to say this but…. The @TuckSchool essays this year kinda suck. ☹️They are REALLY hard for applicants to execute on well. Tuck has always been a school that gave applicants a chance to share themselves. That doesn't feel like it's happening much this year.
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) January 3, 2019
So yes to making changes and we appreciate that Tuck wants to put its branding into its app. But meh (or even ) to the changes themselves in terms of actual value to the MBA applicant.
Darden too made significant changes, including kind of the reverse of what Tuck did: Now Darden has an Early Action round (not terribly surprising, given that Darden’s new Admissions Director was running Tuck’s MBA admissions for years). Darden also made changes to its essays, though the changes weren’t actually that radical. It’s appreciated that their process became more transparent, because they pulled out questions that they used to bury in the app and made applicants more aware of the requirements on their website itself. So that’s a positive, but as with the Tuck changes, we don’t feel that they deserve kudos just for making things standard. The short-round Early Action option at Darden is definitely worthwhile, because it’s a) non-binding and b) really short! They definitely tell you quickly if they’re going to admit you. So Darden is doing interesting things, both in admissions and also across the whole school — even all the way to DC with a new facility! And they have a new scholarship fund that pays for a global experience for every student . That’s pretty darned impressive. There’s a lot of energy at UVA and evidence of positive changes going on.
But, as much as we appreciate schools that aren’t afraid to mix things up, we cannot give the most coveted and desirable EssaySnark Radcom Award for 2018 to either Harvard, or to Tuck, or even to Darden.
We dithered and debated back and forth on this internally and have come to the conclusion that yet again, the Radcom of the Year goes to….
And why is that? What has MIT done THIS YEAR that so impressed us, that it knocked out the other schools that were finally starting to give them a run for their money?
Because every year, we award this based on current-season policies and changes that a school makes. (In the long-ago ancient past, we did it on essay questions alone, and that’s when Best MBA Questions contestDuke cleaned up first place over and over.) But none of our assessment for the current award factors in any prior moves by the admissions team in past seasons. We’re looking only on what schools did this time.
Alrighty then, what amazing new policy or practice did MIT implement in 2018?
It is this new feature:
and you’re accepted…
and you pay your deposit, intending to matriculate…
and something happens where you have to cancel your plans and withdraw from the entering class…
MIT WILL REFUND YOU PART OF YOUR DEPOSIT.
We don’t know of any other school that will do this.
At most schools, the deposit is non-refundable, regardless of the reason why you need to cancel.
At MIT, as of this season, they say that if you have to cancel your enrollment, you can do so by August 1 and they’ll refund you $1,500 of the deposit paid. The first deposit to hold your spot is $3,500, so it’s not even half back (assuming you paid only the first one), but still, that’s a pretty square deal.
What that means is, they know they can fill your spot! They are confident that they’ll have a full waitlist, even potentially as far out as right before the program begins. The other schools could always fill seats late like that too, but we’ve not before seen one who will give you even a penny back if you change your mind.
The reason for that is legit: If they gave refunds on deposits, then applicants would be canceling right and left, doing the wait-and-see game where you deposit at one school while hanging onto the waitlist at another. It makes sense these are non-refundable, or it would throw the whole system into chaos.
The deposit is how a school gets you to put skin in the game. It’s unheard of that they would give you any of that back if you decide you won’t be attending.
There’s another bonus point too that MIT gets credit for, which they already got credit for last year and just this year, they outdid themselves even further:
MIT’s Round 2 deadline this season was not until the third week of January!! Now that was a kindness!!
The only aspect of the MIT process that semi-swayed us from granting them this high honor:
The special-purpose resume they made you submit (with redacted name/address – nonsense). That is a ridiculous component of their app which adds more work.
The org chart was also an oddity. We’re not convinced it’s that useful. If app volumes softened to the degree that we believe they may have this season, then MIT may end up ditching that for the Class of 2022. It’s certainly not an application innovation that other schools will adopt. Those two things were nuisances for candidates. There’s a slight chance that the org chart requirement prevented a few applicants from moving forward with an app to MIT — though the Round 2 applicants had no excuse, given how staggered the MIT deadline was compared to other schools. It’s not like Sloan didn’t give you plenty of time to put together all of the pieces!
“But hey EssaySnark,” you may be saying. “Didn’t you just say that Darden is paying for students to travel around the world now? Doesn’t that count for something?”
Why yes, in fact it does! But this is the Radcom Award — it’s for the admissions team who has promoted the most applicant-friendly policies. The new Darden scholarship, impressive as it is, is only a benefit to actual students. So we could not give this coveted award to Darden based on that funness alone.
So there you have it. A three-peat from MIT Sloan. Congratulations to an awesome admissions team and thank you for being on the Brave Supplicants’ side!! Congratulations!
In lieu of doing a half-baked update to our 2017 Darden MBA application guide, we’ve opted this month to post some guidance about the Darden essays directly here on the blahg — so, bonus, as a subscriber to the blahg, you’re already getting a leg up on the Darden app if you’re planning to try…
Darden strives to identify and cultivate leaders who follow their purpose. At this stage, how would you describe your evolving leadership style and please provide an example. Huh. So it’s already December and we haven’t managed to update our UVA Darden SnarkStrategies Guide for the Class of 2021 application. Thus, in an effort to face…