Video Essay, the Future of MBA Admissions?

In an effort to better get to know applicants beyond their stats and meticulously crafted essay answers, elite MBA programs have rolled out a number of innovative changes to their evaluation process during this application season.

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School launched a new team-based discussion component and is pleased with initial reactions; Harvard Business School introduced the written reflection, a 400-word essay submitted within 24 hours of the interview; Georgetown McDonough School of Business has included a micro essay in 140-character “tweet” form; and UC Berkeley Haas School of Business asks this year’s crop of applicants, “If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why?”

The goal with all of these innovations is to glimpse a more holistic, authentic view of the applicant, which lately has become harder and harder to do as MBA hopefuls become increasingly savvy about the entire admissions process. In Matt Symonds’s article on MBA interviews which appeared this week on, he alerts us to a new variation in the admissions process that will likely crop up across multiple MBA programs during the next admissions cycle.

In fall 2012, University of Toronto’s Rotman School replaced two of its traditional written essays with a video interview. According to a post  introducing the video essay by Niki da Silva, Rotman’s new director of recruitment & admissions for the full-time MBA program, candidates were all starting to sound the same as they discussed their MBA goals. Therefore, the two-question video component is “designed to demonstrate the unique traits and abilities of applicants, who may, on paper, appear to be quite similar.”

The video essay is designed to capture some of the spontaneity of a live interview, and as da Silva explains in Forbes:

Applicants can log on and practice with as many non-recorded sample questions as they like. When they’re ready to make it official, interviewees get two questions—the first common to all applicants, and the second selected by the computer from a bank of questions pre-recorded by da Silva. They are given 45 seconds to think about their response, and then have 90 seconds to answer.

“There is no preparation required, and no right answer,” says da Silva. “They might be asked to talk about an event that has inspired them, or reflect on how their colleagues might describe them. It is telling to see what jumps to mind, and we get a glimpse into their value system and perspectives we don’t see elsewhere in the application.”

Ultimately, the goal is for the admissions committee to make better decisions about which candidates are the strongest match with the program. This component will better demonstrate communication skills, the ability to think on one’s feet, and possibly help identify those applicants who, while not quite as strong on paper, may actually be the diamonds in the rough that enrich the learning experience for all.

As Symonds ponders whether the video interview is the way ahead for MBA admissions, da Silva says she expects many other schools to follow suit, so Rotman is making the most of the 12-months exclusivity they have.

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