No, not really.
We spent all this time telling you about which schools we think might change their prompts for their Class of 2021 applications recently. But even when the schools switch up their questions, it rarely signals a change in their strategy for evaluating applicants. There are very infrequently any events that happen that cause admissions teams to do that.
Some reasons for a switch in the schools’ strategies are:
- A change in the applicant population, such as a marked increase in candidates from certain parts of the world
- An economic shock, specifically the financial crisis in 2007-2008 and how it affected the applicant pools (lots of candidates fleeing from finance jobs)
- A cultural shift, such as the growing interest in entrepreneurship among Millennials that we’ve been seeing take hold, concurrent with the hype/glam/esteem around Silicon Valley and the tech industry
- An interest in attracting a specific population, such as the efforts that many business schools have been making in the last decade to recruit more women, or a campaign to attract candidates from a particular part of the world, such as Stanford’s interest in African countries and in the American Midwest
You can contrast these reasons to a change in tactics of evaluating candidates – which is what the actual essay prompts represent. These change in tactics can include:
- New innovations or a change in technology, such as the proliferation of video capture to consumers that allowed Yale to incorporate short video questions into its app, which then prompted them to ditch the TOEFL requirement as redundant and unnecessary
- Lobbying from the test maker and other market forces resulting in a new acceptance policy for additional admissions tests
- Big changes in essay requirements from Harvard Business School in particular
Yes, many schools are very reactive to what other schools are doing – especially when that other school is HBS. The best example of that is when Harvard started reducing the number of essays. In 2011, HBS had four essays. In 2012 they went down to two, which definitely caused other schools to pull back on their essay requirements, out of fear for losing applicants. The fear was, More essays = more work = maybe you won’t bother applying here. The schools don’t want to turn away you happy Brave Supplicants based on (gasp!) forcing you to write more stuff for them. Schools began dropping essays right and left.
Then the very next year, Harvard went down to omg no a single essay of unlimited length and they even said at the time that it was OPTIONAL.
Nobody actually took that bait though; only something like 2 applicants out of the thousands who applied chose not to submit any essay at all (and the adcom actually admitted one of those, if we remember correctly!). Harvard rolled that “optional” thing back the following year, so now the essay is again a required component of the app, but they’ve maintained a similar open-ended-essay philosophy since then.
These changes forced adcoms across America to rethink things. The European schools resisted somewhat; it took a few years before INSEAD and LBS started whacking off essays from their requirements, but they eventually followed suit.
Same thing happened about five years ago with the GRE in MBA admissions – as will be happening, we can easily forecast, with law schools starting literally today (March 8th). Harvard Law School only just announced that they’ll be accepting the GRE instead of the LSAT for admission. Wow. That’s earth-shaking news. Other law schools have dabbled with the idea and they were always criticized for it. The LSAT has been a rite of passage for becoming a lawyer in the U.S. Now you can take the GRE instead? Harvard Law has found that they’re comparable in predicting success in the first year of school. It won’t be long before the GMAT is also accepted along with the GRE for law school admissions, too. After all, lots of universities already accept the GMAT and the GMAT alone for candidates to their JD/MBA programs. And, we can easily see how the GMAC marketing arm will take up the project of getting the GMAT accepted.
The reverse trend happened in bschools not long ago. For ages, it was GMAT only if you want an MBA, and then slowly, some adcoms began accepting the GRE. It took a few admissions cycles, but now there is not a school that we can name that won’t take the GRE in lieu of a GMAT score for applying for a graduate business degree.
Does any of this matter?
No, not really — because all of it is outside your control. These types of changes are happening to all of us (the social/demographic/cultural changes that schools must respond to), and anyway, there’s nothing you can do about the core facts of your demographic makeup. If you’re coming from an oversubscribed candidate pool, all you can do is be the best that you can be and present yourself with clarity and authenticity — but you’re not going to change the fact that there are many others competing for the same limited spots as you. (The one big strategy for YOU as an individual applicant is whether you take the GMAT versus the GRE, and we have lots of posts and plenty of recommendations and cautions for you to explore on that.)
Whether or not the schools change their essay questions really does not matter, unless you particularly enjoy watching EssaySnark make silly predictions about such things and laughing when we end up being wildly off base. If you’re applying to bschool in the coming season, that the school changed the questions does not matter. You’re stuck with the questions that they end up asking in the season you apply.
What you have control over is a) getting ready now by working on your profile and fixing the gaps and weaknesses to the best of your ability, and b) not procrastinating on any piece of the puzzle.