Business Schools Revamp the Application

(Corrects reference in fifth paragraph to Chicago Booth’s elimination of Power Point presentations as part of the application process. The presentations are being considered for elimination.)

Change is a dominant feature of business schools. Curricula change, new courses are added or dropped every year, professors come and go, and entire programs are born, evolve, or die. But until recently one thing that hasn't changed much in many years is the application process: A paper application, set deadlines, interviews, and recommendations are still its component parts. Today, though, that process is beginning to undergo a transformation.

Some applications have become more inclusive by accepting GRE and IELTS scores, in addition to the more traditional GMAT and TOEFL scores. Some schools have made their first-round deadlines earlier, so they could provide decisions to applicants in mid-December and keep up with a quicker-paced world. The most compelling change, however, is the inclusion of video or audio components as a way to see the real applicant and his or her creativity.

This evolution is a solution to two problems facing admissions committees: an antiquated admissions process that is out of touch with the lives of applicants and overly packaged applications that lack substance, the result of coaching and consulting run amok, say business school admissions committee directors.

But evolution is slow. Business school applications are going high-tech at turtle speed. Although many schools are thinking about adding new components to their applications or going paperless, few have made any major strides. Many business schools admissions directors and independent admissions consultants consider the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile) and the UCLA Anderson School of Management (Anderson Full-Time MBA Profile) as the leaders in creating innovative MBA applications that are true to the times in which applicants live and work.

Beyond PowerPoint

For the past few years, Booth has asked candidates to provide a PowerPoint presentation to show another side of themselves to the admissions committee. Although the committee is considering the elimination of the PowerPoint presentations starting with applications for the 2010-11 academic year, a new component—as yet undisclosed—will likely be in place this summer, says Rosemaria Martinelli, associate dean of student recruitment and admissions at Booth. The new addition to the admissions process may be something that MBA applicants will have to do after they get through an initial screening process, says Martinelli.

One argument for eliminating the PowerPoint slides, Martinelli says, is that they had become rote and entirely too easy to predict. They didn't showcase the applicant's personality and help the admissions committee determine who is and isn't a good fit, she said, adding that she hopes the new application procedure will do just that. "It's hard for us, especially when so much of the applicant pool is admissible," says Martinelli. "It comes down to who fits the life, spirit, and culture of an institution."

At the Anderson School, the most recent applicants had the option of answering one essay question in audio form, and more than 70% did. The school is now giving students the choice of responding to one of the essay questions with an audio or video clip in the hope that such responses will be more revealing than written answers. "A lot of business schools have concerns about authenticity," says Mae Jennifer Shores, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at Anderson. "This was a way to get a more authentic view of a candidate."

In fact, on YouTube and various business school Web sites, you can see for yourself what aspiring MBAs are submitting as part of their admissions applications. Anderson had UCLA film students animate a few of the more interesting audio clips it received from MBA applicants and posted them on the school's home page. One MBA aspirant used to have green hair and talks about his days in a punk rock band. Another turned her blog about neurosis into a book deal. On YouTube, you'll find student videos from those who are trying to win scholarships to the Nyenrode executive MBA program in the Netherlands, including a clip from an applicant who taught people in Gambia how to start their own businesses.

Video Essays

No one expects MBA applicants to be the next Fellini, but admissions committees want them to stretch their imaginations and make their videos interesting. Still, says Shores, the same rules for application essays apply to video: Applicants should be honest and consider content over form. "Don't try to be comical if you're not comical naturally," says Shores.

Some applicants—especially number crunchers—may be intimidated by these new formats, but they're going to have to conform, say experts. "There's more than the written language," says Camiel Notermans, marketing manager of the executive MBA at Nyenrode. "Applicants can better deliver their message with video."

Admissions committees are not blind. They realize that today's candidates, and certainly the generation right behind them, are tech-savvy and communicate with friends, family, and colleagues via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, and YouTube to name a few popular social media sites. Business schools have already made their way into online social networks, and they're experimenting with other technology, too. For example, Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business (Tuck Full-Time MBA Profile) hosted a chat on Skype that had prospective students from Latin America talking to current students about the program. The school's career office already uses video interviewing for students and recruiters, and the admissions committee is watching closely to determine whether this would be a good fit for admissions interviews, too.

Nancy Granada, senior associate director of marketing and communications for admissions at Tuck, says she believes the school will eventually have a paperless application. This would be good for the environment by cutting down on the amount of paper used, and admissions committee members who are often traveling could better keep up with applications that are available online. When pondering the future, others agree that technology will bring business schools into the 21st century. "The written application was created before the Internet and technological advances," says Shores. "It's like the Pony Express. The day of the written application will be short-lived."

Future Applications

The possibilities of what the future MBA application will look like are endless. Perhaps there will come a day when admissions committee members and applicants see each other via satellite and talk through the essay questions, says Shores. Martinelli says she hopes for an application process that is closer to what the real world of business is like. She would like to see, for example, applicants working on a case as part of a team. Thinking about what it will be like to receive applications on an iPad or e-reader is interesting, Granada says.

Whatever the future holds for MBA applications, technology will play a part. "We think this is where the market is headed," says Leila Pirnia, founder of MBA Podcaster in Los Angeles. "[These other media] make an applicant three-dimensional and could allow admissions committees to see if the applicant is a true leader." If executed well, a video can give an applicant the edge. "A video brings the applicant to life," she adds. "You don't feel like you're telling the full story when you write something on paper."

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