Zip Right Through Those B School Applications

So you want to go to business school. Your first assignment: Set aside about 10 hours to complete each mind-numbing, head-scratching 20-page application. That's maybe 50 hours of hard slogging for the typical MBA candidate, who applies to three to five schools. Make sure every application is neatly typed, and that your name, birthplace, and social security number fit just right.

Or at least that is how it used to be. Modern technology has found an answer for the application blues. Multiple application software is here, allowing you to do something no typewriter has ever done: enter those pes-ky vitals each school demands in one fell swoop. "Using software probably saved me 30 to 40 hours of work," says Christopher Gosk, who applied to six schools and now attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flager Business School. "It would have been a nightmare otherwise."

The two products, MCS Multi-App and Apply Software, are inexpensive and easy to use. After you mark the schools you are applying to, a screen prompts you to begin typing. You'll start by entering simple information, like your name and address, and move on to work experience and academic records. Once you've filled it all in, the program distributes the information to each application that needs it. Say you are applying to Stanford, Wharton, and Michigan. When you open the Stanford University file to complete the application, all the information you entered in the first phase transfers over. Half your application is complete before you start.

Apply has made its mark by producing solid application software for prospective MBAs since 1992. But Multi-App now has the upper hand, even though it started two years later. It can deal with information no matter in what order the applications ask for it. So if Stanford asks for employment history starting with your present job, and Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management wants you to start from day one, the software automatically reformats the information in the proper order. If you're using Apply, you may have to repeat some stats when applications ask for them in a different order. Apply, whose software is available only on a Macintosh CD-ROM, promises a Windows 95 version by yearend.

In contrast, Multi-App comes on disk in Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 versions or can be downloaded from the Web. If you have access to the Internet, Multi-App also has direct links to participating B-school Web sites.

It takes about 45 minutes to complete the common questions before you can move to questions specific to a single school. Here, Multi-App offers you a dangerous little option: With a keystroke, you can copy an essay written for one school to any application. You'll then have to customize the essay manually for each school. At a time when most B-schools hear from far more qualified applicants than they can accept, it's a better idea to write essays that truly are school-specific. "The danger of these software packages is they make the application process look generic, when there are different rules forevery school," says Samuel Lundquist, former director of the Wharton School's admissions office. HELP WITH SNAGS. Currently, applications for 54 schools--including all the top 25 on the BUSINESS WEEK list except Southern Methodist University's Edwin L. Cox School of Business--are available on the software. You still can't send your completed application by modem directly to the school, but Multi-App is now working on a way to do just that.

With a laser printer, the completed forms look strikingly similar to the paper versions put out by the schools. Some B-schools, such as Duke and Harvard, estimate that 25% of 1995-96 applicants used the commercial programs. "It saves us the time and money creating our own software, and it makes applying to business school easier for students," says James Miller, assistant admissions director at Harvard business school. "What's not to like about it?"

If you're using either of the multiple application programs and you hit a snag, you can get help: Both companies have customer service lines to answer questions. But even if the software takes some figuring out, it's a heck of a lot better than dirtying your fingers with typewriter ribbons and Wite-Out.

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