MBA Trends at Harvard Business School and Beyond

The shift to fewer and shorter MBA essays has taken hold across the elite business schools of the United States, and the Wall Street Journal published two interesting articles yesterday exploring the changes afoot at MBA programs this season.

In Adam Rubenfire‘s article, Want to Get Into Business School? Write Less, Talk More, the author shares a table showing how the Harvard Business School application has changed since the 2004-2005 season.

Ten years ago, HBS required six essays for a combined word total of 2,600 words. Applicants for the Class of 2012 had to write four essays totaling 2,000 words. And last year’s applicants, as many know, faced just one essay—optional at that—with no word limit. Ditto for the Class of 2017 applicants.

Admissions officers at schools that have scaled down the essays say they’ve done so to avoid the cookie-cutter approach adopted by so many applicants each year. At Michigan Ross School of Business, admissions director Soojin Kwon tells the WSJ that “applicants increasingly tell us what they think we want to hear,” so now they need to write just two short essays totaling 800 words.

Sara Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at UV Darden School of Business, explains the move to a single essay three years ago came about after she discovered “applicants were writing one essay specifically for Darden and then recycling essays from their applications to other schools.”

Moving away from the topic of essays for a moment,  Melissa Korn offers a preview of Harvard Business School’s “sassy” new tone in this season’s application, where a laid-back, conversational approach is designed to retain the attention of Millennial applicants whose eyes glaze over while reading instructions from so many programs.

Director of admissions and financial aid Dee Leopold tells the WSJ her office receives lots of questions that are already answered in the application, so “this new, friendlier wording is also intended to engage applicants so that they actually read, and follow, directions.”

Korn points out that Harvard Business School recently came in second-to-last among elite schools in an applicant  survey questioning how well each institution got to know them through the admissions process. Perhaps this new, chattier HBS admissions will leave b-school hopefuls feeling warm and fuzzy…and remind them they’re dealing with actual human beings behind the AdCom desk.

“Why be stuffy and formal if we don’t have to?” says Leopold. Why indeed!

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