Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Global MBA Programs Are Mixing It Up

Applicants to top MBA programs abroad are already scrambling to get their materials organized. This year the process starts earlier and involves a slightly different set of components than in years past. So, what’s changed?

Each year first round deadlines seem to creep earlier and earlier. Historically, deadlines for round 1 applications started on October 1 and extended for the rest of the month. This year, Harvard Business School (HBS) has set its round 1 deadline as September 9; in 2013 it was September 16, in 2012 it was September 24, and in 2011 it was October 3. The change in date by HBS has prompted other top programs to set their deadlines earlier as well. While Wharton and Stanford still require materials by October 1, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloane and Yale SOM have deadlines of September 25, 23 and 18 respectively.  All of this pre-poning means that candidates must have their application components lined up over the summer and monsoon months so that they are ready to hit “send” a full month before their seniors did in prior application cycles. Awareness, preparation and organization are paramount to success -  anyone snoozing will definitely lose out if they don’t stay on top of this trend.

As of now, second round deadlines remain more or less the same – early to mid-January for most programs.


Accompanying this timing shift is a change in the number of application essays required and the prescribed length. For the second year in a row, HBS requires a single, optional essay with no word limit:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career intentions, test scores, and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

This type of open, unstructured essay question can seem easy on the surface. Many candidates think they can just modify and send an essay they have written for another program. The reality is, that to be a competitive applicant at HBS, an applicant needs to carefully review all his application components and craft an essay that truly outlines part of his story that cannot be learned through any other source, including recommendations. This can often be a tough task that requires hours of self-reflection, superior writing skills and many, many drafts. 

Similarly, other top programs have cut the number of essays as well as the word counts. Wharton has a single required essay of 500 words: What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA?

And Stanford has only two essays this year versus last year’s three. They have retained their signature question: What matters most to you, and why? (with a word limit of 650-850 words) but have shortened the second question to simply - Why Stanford?  (with a word limit of 250 to 450 words). 

This year Chicago Booth has a single question with no set word limit and the option of answering in essay or presentation format: Chicago Booth values adventurous inquiry, diverse perspectives, and a collaborative exchange of ideas. This is us. Who are you?

This is in contrast to last year, when Booth applicants had to submit three questions citing specific examples and experiences that highlight important MBA skill sets and thought processes.


For the first time, many top programs including Harvard, Darden, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Wharton have come together to make the recommendation process a bit more streamlined and rational for recommenders. Instead of having to draft responses to three, four or five different prompts across programs, this year, recommenders to these programs have to answer only the following two questions:
  • How do the candidate’s performance, potential, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
  • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
While the recommendation forms and processes are still unique to each program, at least recommenders don’t have to come up with a seemingly endless array of responses to unique questions by program.

True to their nature of adapting to changing market forces by testing new strategies, global MBA programs are constantly re-inventing their own processes for maximum efficiency and to meet their enrolment objectives. Applicants who are nimble and open to new ways of doing things will certainly benefit from all the changes in this application cycle.


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