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…
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…
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!
Hopefully you’ve been following along with our recapitulation of an earnest former BSer’s quandary around which school to choose following release of decisions last year. Previously they posted a very detailed pro/con list about NYU vs Ross. And here’s what we said back to them: There’s an easy summary of our take on your…
Yesterday we teased with the opening of a back-and-forth we had with a last-year Brave Supplicant who was tormenting over a decision on which great MBA program to choose. We invited them to lay out their thinking for us. Here’s what they wrote back: Hi ES, First of all, please feel free to use…
This may come off as basic, or even insulting — are we saying that people don’t do this? Why actually, yes. When you’re so focused on establishing “school fit” that you’re tossing out names of your target school’s classes and clubs hither and yon, it’s really (really) easy to lose sight of what this technique…
Here’s a dose of hope for all you struggling through this challenging phase – you have this to look forward to in a few short months!! Posted with permission.
And, here’s the history (as you can guess, there were some challenges in the profile):
The Target Schools that this BSer had prioritized when we did the Comprehensive Profile Review were:
EssaySnark’s assessment (after reviewing the whole profile) was that these were most likely:
1. McCombs and UNC comparable chances and best likelihood
2. Ross and UCLA comparable chances and also good likelihood
3. Not bullish on Berkeley but maybe
4. Not seeing Yale as an option 🙁
(We go into way more detail on explaining things but that’s the order of probability that we captured in this person’s review.)
So, if you’re looking for some advice on which schools to target BEFORE you target them — or, which schools you’ll need to work your butt off for if you’re truly serious about trying there — then our Comprehensive Profile Review can tell you! We’ve got a pretty strong track record of predicting these things based on, you know, a comprehensive review of the profile.
And, if you’re serious about going for a school that we place further down on the list, we really would suggest going for the whole Complete Essay Package or at minimum getting those essays decimated. This BSer did not use us for anything else and the outcomes speak to what this person pulled off independently (or possibly using some other consultant, no idea) — and it’s probably unfair to say this but if we were so good at predicting things upfront then maybe we also might be good at providing input into the development process to increase those chances along the way?
It’s always up to you to do the work, but having a coach behind you who knows what they’re doing is a wise move when the stakes are so high!
This BSer ended up at their #1 school (GoBlue!) so congratulations to them!! They set their sights and pulled it off and it’s thrilling to hear of such successes.
Regardless of which route you take or whether you use us or anyone else to help you get there, we wish you tremendous success of your own! We cannot wait to get many more “Merry Christmas EssaySnark!” emails from all of you in the very near future.
We have a few more thoughts to add to our musings and wild predictions about bschool leadership from yesterday.
First off, despite what we said yesterday, the real answer to the question of “Does the dean matter?” is NO.
If you’re thinking about getting an MBA today, then whoever is the dean should not impact your decision-making (with the one outlier case of Cornell which is an odd situation right now as we discussed yesterday). The school you’re applying to is the school you will go to. It’s like deciding to visit a country based on who is the president. There are many significant reasons for why you would choose to travel somewhere and who holds the top office in that country simply does not factor in (at least, for most travelers, and to most countries, though we’re in a weird world right now you could say).
If a new dean comes in today, or at any point during your pursuit of your studies, there will be no impact on you whatsoever. There will be announcements and parties and he or she is likely to host a coffee chat or happy hour or whatever and try to get to know the students. They’ll go on a listening tour and spend lots of time huddling, and send out surveys and such. But there will be few to no changes that will impact your life or the experience of the MBA.
If a dean came in within the last two years, then it’s different. In that case, it’s no longer a “new” dean — you won’t see articles in the news about the change in leadership on campus — but you are DEFINITELY likely to experience their ideas in action in what happens to you in the course of your education. In this case, the dean does matter. You’re going to be the guinea pig who is in the experiment that they’re running for how to reinvent their school for the next era (and definitely, these schools are in the midst of transformation, whether they’re actively embracing it and becoming proactive change agents or the opposite).
We have already seen that with the “new deans” (in the last two years) at Darden most prominently, and to a slightly lesser degree at Tuck. We have appreciated the much higher visibility presence of Dean DeRue at Ross, and we’re aware of some changes that are underway there now too. Can’t say we’ve seen it at Stanford.
What we hope to see with the upcoming announcements of new appointments that are expected at Kellogg and Berkeley-Haas and also UCLA (Dean Judy Olian is also stepping down) and Cornell (?) is diversity.
As of this writing there are no female deans at any top bschools. Kellogg, Ross and UCLA all had female deans; all of those women have left or are leaving those positions. Alison Davis-Blake at Ross was replaced with a white man.
As of this writing there are no deans from underrepresented minority groups at any top bschools. NYU Stern had an African-American dean; he left and was replaced with an Indian man.
We would be SHOCKED if Berkeley-Haas did not find a woman — or possibly even an African-American or a Hispanic woman — to take over from Rich Lyons. If they replace Dean Lyons with another white man, well….. that just would not be the Berkeley that we know today. Haas has put gender issues front and center earlier than most schools and they will be under enormous pressure to make diversity a priority in their hire. We also wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled in someone from the tech industry. There’s currently a debate in academia (most prominently at bschools) whether an academic dean or a professional manager dean is ideal or appropriate, and it’s largely a function of the type of school that you’re talking about. At a public institution like Berkeley, it may make sense to have an academic take over, rather than someone from the private sector who may not understand the dynamics that go into this type of organization. Or, the opposite may be true. We’re betting that the search team at Berkeley-Haas has been speaking with people at UVA Darden to learn how their transition has gone (current dean Scott Beardsley came in from McKinsey, and UVA is a state school so there are many parallels to the UC situation). Perhaps Marissa Mayer is looking for an entirely different role, now that she’s out of Yahoo? (Though it’s unlikely that the UC system can afford a profile like that.)
There will also be pressure at UCLA to replace the female dean with another woman, or if not a female, then a minority. Ditto Kellogg. We had expected the same at NYU Stern but that’s not how it turned out (there are a number of Indian men running top schools both here and in Europe so while yes, NYU technically has a minority, it’s not exactly one adding to the diversity picture of this landscape of top schools.
So, does the current dean matter? You betcha. It lets you know where your school is at and what you might expect in the coming years of your time there. If you have a newer-appointed dean who’s still in the early stages of his or her tenure it’s more likely that there will be visible and obvious changes happening at your school. If the dean has been in his role for awhile, much less likely (with some exceptions like MIT notably). Studying the profile of the dean can give you some insights into the type of place you’ll be walking in to.
And, does it matter who a school appoints if they have a vacancy pending? You betcha. You can look to the announcement of a new appointment to understand a school’s priorities and values. Do they put their money where their mouth is? Or are they all lip-service instead?
We’ll be watching this space with interest as 2018 unfolds.
When an adcom issues interviews to lots of their candidates in Round 1, that means:
1. They’re being nice
2. They have a lot of uncertainty in how the season will play out
3. Lots of applicants were disappointed on decision day
Hi EssaySnark, I am currently applying to Michigan Ross and I was hoping you can help review my 2nd Essay before the deadline tomorrow. Best, [BSer] Doh! Yeah, sorry, never gonna happen, not even under the very best of circumstances like right now where there are very few deadlines hitting each week. We simply need…