The MBA admissions process has always been challenging, to say the least, with a number of written essays and interviews usually required in addition to references and a flawless CV. Now, candidates face another test: the technological barrier to entry.
Top schools are introducing new admissions requirements, from video essays to picture and PowerPoint presentation-challenges. For an example of just how tech-driven the MBA application process has become, look no further than the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands. New for this year, the school is beginning to implement video essay questions through KIRA, which provides a video platform that is used by a growing number of other top schools including Yale and Kellogg.
“The idea was to streamline the essay process for candidates while at the same time providing the admissions team a greater opportunity to better understand the personality of the candidate,” says Brandon Kirby, Rotterdam’s director of MBA admissions.
“We also interact with candidates on WhatsApp, as it’s convenient and very timely,” he adds.
The need for efficiency, with elite business schools evaluating several thousand applications each year, is driving the tech trend. “Tools such as KIRA aim to help schools assess applicants with more insight and higher precision,” says Alex Min, CEO of admissions consulting firm The MBA Exchange.
“Not only can this expedite the decision process, but it can help reduce exaggeration, misrepresentation, and even outright fraud by applicants who might otherwise get past the traditional checks and balances of the admissions process.”
Indeed, the need to get a more authentic view of candidates was one reason why London Business School introduced a video component to its MBA application in 2018.
David Simpson, MBA admissions director at LBS, sees tech as one way to counter the rise of admissions consulting — the practice of paying an expert to provide advice on your application.
“Any coaching that has gone on is of limited use when you’re being grilled on the details in person or on screen,” he says. “It helps us cut through all the polish.”
While plenty of people value the expert advice of admissions consultants, Simpson adds that consulting can make applications inauthentic in some cases. “Writing essays for a candidate — we have a problem with that,” he says.
“We can monitor that and look for that in the application process. We’re always looking to see if candidates’ essays and email communications are consistent with their video interview performance.”
Alternatives to the traditional written essay
From last year, prospective MBA students at NYU Stern have been required to submit six images — even emojis — with their application, instead of the more traditional written essay. Isser Gallogly, associate dean of MBA admissions, says: “We are looking for people with emotional intelligence — the ability to communicate, inspire and lead teams.
“We hope to get their composite — who they are as an individual, which doesn’t come fully to life in an essay, CV or data form.”
Chicago’s Booth School of Business is also offering an alternative to the written essay, while not downplaying its importance. Those applying to its MBA course can submit either an essay or a PowerPoint presentation as part of their application.
“Giving people the option to submit a presentation or written essay is meant to provide applicants with opportunities to express their authentic selves in a way that resonates best with their individual communication style,” says Kurt Ahlm, associate dean of full-time admissions.
He is trying to assess “how people handle ambiguity using logic. Our essay provides the ability for applicants to showcase their analytical thought as well as what makes them a good fit for this community. That’s ultimately what we are looking for. Both formats can get you there”.
Judged by technology
While technology has increased efficiency for business school admissions teams, for applicants that may not be the case. There are advantages to using technology in an application — for example to showcase yourself more authentically — but tech could potentially make the already difficult task of getting into a top school even harder.
And with business schools deploying technology in the pre-admissions process, it may get harder still. Talisma, a digital customer-engagement platform, is used by Duke Fuqua, according to The MBA Exchange’s Min, to track emails sent to prospective students and rank them by the speed and frequency with which they read and reply to the emails.
According to Min, this can speed up the process of identifying motivated applicants, and increase yield on offers of admissions, as motivated prospects are more likely to accept the offers.
This is just one example of how the growing pervasiveness of technology throughout every phase of the MBA application cycle will mean applicants are more thoroughly and immediately analyzed and tracked. The idea of missing out on a MBA place because of an unopened email is likely to cause concern, so what can you do to best prepare?
Min advises prospects to not be intimidated, distracted or overly concerned about technology: “The selection of certain applications over others is an undeniable aspect of admissions,” he says.
“With or without the use of technology, business schools will continue to probe, compare and choose those individuals who have the most compelling value propositions.
“The basic priorities of serious MBA applicants should remain unchanged: maximize your strengths, confront your vulnerabilities and present your candidacy with authenticity, conviction, and consideration for each school’s proven priorities.”
Join the conversation with global institutions at the QS World MBA Tour in India from 20th May to 27th May and find out the various factors that influence your admissions interview. Meet with top MBA schools including ISB, IE York-Schulich, Queens, Wollongong, Rotterdam and more. Register online at www.topmba.com/mbarendezvous