Now that Columbia has officially released its 2018 MBA essays and application, and the essay questions are, as usual, focusing on career goals and “why Columbia?” with the second one asking about being at the center…. So given the focus on an “early” application that we often see at this time, we wanted to dig…
We’re reblahgging this from the ancient past because the underlying idea we’re talking about here is kind of fascinating. And, we know many of you are kicking the tires on consultants! We have quite a few more posts in the category of the admissions consulting industry if you want to learn more on our perspectives on our peers and value on offer. We’ve had to issue a few warnings… errr, more than a few, actually (sigh).
Please take a moment and read through this:
It is axiomatic that outcomes will revert to the mean in a system that combines skill and luck. An extremely favorable or unfavorable single outcome is going to be followed by an outcome that has an expected value closer to the average of all results. If a system reverts quickly to the mean, you know that it has lots of luck. If a system is slow to revert to the mean, you know that a good amount of skill is contributing to the outcomes.
Read it again. (It’s academically-written, thus a little dense. But, if you’re interested in bschool, you need to get used to this type of writing!)
Here’s EssaySnark’s gross interpretation:
Endeavors that involve skill and luck, like playing poker, or getting a new job, or applying to bschool, where outcomes are independent of each other — like each hand in a poker tournament, or each decision by each bschool — can be said to involve either mostly luck, or mostly skill, based on how many outcomes are close to the average (mean).
In bschool admissions, the “average” outcome is to be rejected. Most people applying to most schools are rejected.
If in your attempts to gain admission (your “system”), of your, say, five applications, you get one interview invitation and one offer and the rest of your apps are rejected, you were lucky on that one offer. If you were more skilled in writing your apps, there would have been more variability in outcomes.
Conversely, if in your five applications, you get five interviews, leading to two offers, two waitlists, and one rejection, you can know that it was more skill in play for you.
The big problem with bschool admissions is that in many cases, you won’t know the results of your efforts until it’s too late to adjust course for subsequent attempts. In other words, you may not get the “reject” outcomes until you’ve already submitted all your applications.
This is one reason that it’s very wise to submit some applications in Round 1. Not only because you have a better chance of being admitted (we’ve covered this umpteen times before). But because you can rework your strategy and IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES with subsequent schools in Round 2 if your first applications don’t pan out.
The other important angle to consider? How much “skill” do you have in writing an application to bschool??? Do you have confidence in your ability to:
a) assess your profile against what the schools really care about
b) know what personal attributes are most important to highlight
c) understand which weaknesses are important to explain or offset
d) choose the right stories to tell to maximize those strengths and counter those weaknesses
e) choose the right details in each story to highlight
f) write it all up in a way that’s impactful without being nauseating
These are all areas that a (good) MBA admissions consultant will help you with. Beyond simply advising you on which schools to target in the first place.
A (good) MBA admissions consultant (should be able to) increase the SKILL at your disposal that will “contribute to the outcomes.”
This is not cheating. This is using a trusted advisor who is expert in the nuances and practicalities of a specialized process. Just like getting advice from a lawyer or an accountant, an admissions consultant can change the equation from mostly one of luck (odds are you will lose) to one of skill (you’ll put your best foot forward in the best way possible).
A (good) MBA admissions consultant will pay for him/herself many times over, by helping you maximize your chances for success.
(Caveat emptor of course — there’s a lot of “not-good” ones floating around the interwebs to fall victim to, and a “not-good” admissions consultant may do more harm than going it alone. So it’s tricky.)
Want to read (and re-read) that academic article on skill vs luck? It’s from a Columbia professor and it’s available here.
Also, we have at least one or two other posts on skill vs luck.
Well this is a welcome change! We’ve been harping on the uselessness of Round 3 here on the blahg basically since its inception and now Harvard Business School has acknowledged the reality that Round 3 is not really helping. It’s definitely one of the most applicant-unfriendly things around — heck, we even took the former admissions team at Harvard to task for their very mixed messages about it in the past.
The only one who benefits from Round 3 is the admissions teams who can report to their deans that their app volumes were higher because they encouraged hapless BSers to apply late in the season even when the adcom knows there’s no room.
Because let’s think about it:
If a school has ANY applicant on its waitlist, why on earth would they be encouraging MORE applicants to apply??
It’s like if you’re engaged to someone who you’ve decided is A-OK in your book…. and yet you’re still active on Tinder.
Just doesn’t seem right.
Some schools like Duke don’t even want international applicants to try in Round 3 due to stress and possible delay from the visa process.
And on-campus housing is often quite scarce. And some schools have far less scholarship money there at the end of the season. So even if you got in, there were challenges and major disadvantages (though that wasn’t the case with HBS who always has spare money available for granting scholarships when they want).
Not to mention the fact that someone who tries in Round 3 sets themselves up at a significant disadvantage when they’re rejected — which most Round 3 candidates are — and then they have to pull everything together into a brand-new but not-new reapp in just a few months.
So this is a good thing. As we said yesterday:
Finally! A top #bschool ditches Round 3. Thank you @HarvardHBS! Hardly anyone ever got in during that last round and it just raised applicants' hopes unnecessarily. Let's see if other schools will be brave enough to follow. https://t.co/fxzznxKx3B
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) May 15, 2018
Will other schools turn this into a trend?
We’re betting that most of them won’t, for that reason we just stated above. Heck, MIT Sloan only recently added a Round 3 when they hadn’t originally had one. They’d been a two-round program for ages, and then switched like two seasons ago.
Admissions directors are rewarded for having more apps come in every year. Harvard and Stanford and maybe Wharton are the only schools that have the abundance of app riches, that would allow them to entertain something this drastic (and we really don’t see Wharton ditching their last round). For other schools, dunno. There’s quite a bit riding on things like applicant volumes.
Harvard has long been a trend-setter among bschools. They can afford to be.
Some other schools in the past have taken risks with their applications (notably UCLA many seasons ago, when they asked for an audio essay) and have seen app volumes decrease. Who knows if it was a direct cause-and-effect relationship but common wisdom in the admissions office that year was that it was. Making big changes can be dangerous to a school that’s not comfortably ensconced in the lead.
The only known outcome of ditching their Round 3 is that guaranteed, the school’s numbers will go down.
Harvard of course is still maintaining its Round 3 but only for a special category of applicants, those who are currently in college and want to try for their 2+2 program. So it’s not like they’re getting rid of it entirely.
But this is one of the applicant-friendliest moves that we’ve seen come out of a top school in awhile.
Also recently, Tuck’s new-ish admissions director made a big deal about how they’re standardizing their rounds which is also helpful in terms of reducing some confusion, but unfortunately they also decided to take away a mid-season round that many applicants valued, so unfortunately that change didn’t really tilt in all of your favor. Would much prefer to see three rounds, one in September, one in November, one in January!!!! And preferably not the very first week of January! But alas, does anyone listen to the ‘Snark???
We had predicted that HBS would be making more substantive changes to its essay question this year which has not happened, but turns out they are in fact making a very significant change overall.
Now, if only Chad Losee could find a way to do something about THIS! The major problem with the way Harvard handles its MBA admissions
It truly sucks to be stuck on the waitlist, especially if you were placed there in Round 1. Why does it suck? Well obviously because it’s a total limbo state, where you have no idea if it’s going to work out and you should be planning a move to a new city / country, or if it’s just going to wither on the vine and die and you’ll be left with nothing in another few weeks or a month.
But what sucks the worst of all is being on the waitlist and watching the school advertise its Round 3 deadline so loudly.
Because c’mon, if you were good enough to have them want to keep you hanging around, why can’t they just accept you? Why do they have to keep encouraging new whippersnappers to apply?
It’s discouraging for sure. It’s like they’re saying, “Yeah, we like you, but what if someone else comes along who we like better?”
This is one reason why the Round 3 thing just feels so unfriendly for applicants. We get it, the schools want to offer one more chance, especially since there’s a really big difference between who you are in November or December, and who you are in March or April.
Reflect back on that: Now that it’s Spring, do you feel like the same person you were when you were putting your app together in the Winter?
For many people, applying to bschool is something they’ve worked on for well over a year. That’s almost definitely true for those who try in Round 1, including those who got waitlisted then. But for many last-round applicants who are putting an app in right now, they may have only recently decided to apply, and crammed for the GMAT a few weeks ago. Some people decide to go for an MBA as part of a New Year’s re-examination and goal-setting process. They’re reasonably fresh to all of this stress and chaos that MBA apps present.
If you applied in Round 1 last Fall, or Round 2 in January, you’ve been stressing and chaosing for quite some time now — especially if you’re still on the waitlist.
It hardly seems fair for the top schools to essentially be placing preference on those who’ve stressed and chaosed for far less time than you.
It’s like you’re in a relationship for awhile, long enough to be talking about whether maybe the two of you should get married, and you’re even starting to shop for the ring. And then all of a sudden, this significant other in your life who you thought you might be ready to commit to asks if it’s OK to see other people. You’re like, “Huh?? I thought I was good enough! I thought you thought we had a thing!”
OK that analogy doesn’t fully hold, but still.
It feels like a kinder thing to do would be for the schools to clear the waitlist before they accept any apps in Round 3.
Or maybe not, if that means that someone is rejected when, who knows, maybe they would’ve gotten in if they stuck around longer.
It’s hard to say what’s best in these cases. We do know it feels mighty unfair to watch the schools be so encouraging to everyone to “Yes you should totally apply in Round 3!!” when we know there are very strong well-qualified candidates hanging out in their limbo state still.
If you have signed up for any of the business schools’ contact lists and have not yet submitted this season, or if you’re following them on Facebook or attending any admissions events, you likely have been inundated with enthusiastic messages encouraging you to pull the trigger on a Round 3 application. There are a number…
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