At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, applications are booming. A bumper crop of MBA applicants seeking rigorous business study, networking links and careers support have been filing papers with admissions staff.
Applications jumped nearly 10% as a growing band of big US business schools reported insatiable demand among applicants. At UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, full-time MBA applications surged 28%, and at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business applications topped 20%.
But that may be the result of innovative new application processes. Schools are rolling out video interviews and are even using LinkedIn profiles to streamline admissions, and attract more students.
A high yield strengthens lesser-known schools’ claims to elite status. So admissions officers are turning to strange new ways to assess a candidate’s mettle and judge them fit for an MBA program.
New technology has been rolled out at a bevy of leading US schools, allowing them to track applicants’ movements. The more advanced software even allows schools to see whether MBA applicants interviewed alumni or requested additional program information.
All of which affects MBA hopefuls’ chances of success. B-school applicants will care because new data will inform their profile – and can result in them slipping down the pecking order.
A candidate’s interest is not thought to be the main factor in admissions decision. But engagement with the school is paramount for some across the globe. Showing eagerness will help you stand out from the crowd.
Sheldon Dookeran, assistant director of Rotman School of Management's full-time MBA, said: “The best advice is to really engage with the community as much as possible and as early as possible. The more interactions the admissions team has, the better we’ll know them, and we will have a better idea as to whether they will fit in.”
He added that MBA candidates can begin interacting before they even submit an application – with current students, alumni and members of the admissions office.
Fuqua uses software called Talisma to track whether a student has emailed admissions staff, or how many times they attended admissions events.
Other leading schools use a similar software called Slate, including top-ranked Chicago Booth School of Business and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Slate, used by 175 other universities, provides business schools with the tools and data “to maximize your yield and build the desired class”.
The top business schools are keen to explore new ways to filter candidates. There has been an increase in MBA candidates applying to multiple schools. A recent survey by Stacy Blackman Consulting found that more than 25% of applicants plan to apply to five schools this year, an increase on 2013.
The survey notes the “ultra-competitive nature of b-school admissions”, and a willingness among applicants to try their hand at elite schools such as Harvard and Wharton.
But Shane Moore, associate director of recruitment at the Sauder School Of Business, warned that you should craft a unique application for each school. “Don’t try and mould one to fit another. It’s easy for us to spot if someone has pasted in a paragraph from another application,” he added.
Shari Hubert, associate dean of admissions at Georgetown, said: “We look for inconsistences in the different aspects of the application process. Applicants should not be able to submit the same application for multiple schools.”
Not everyone is convinced by the new tech. Some schools prefer the old fashioned way of doing business – relationships. Sloan School of Management and Berkeley’s Haas School of Business do not use a system to track demonstrated interest. It is thought that the software is a financial expense some schools do not wish to indulge.
There are also concerns about the value placed in these admissions services. A director of admissions at a leading US business school said they may “become an analytics outfit rather than educators”. The danger for MBA applicants is that they may be overlooked because they’ve not shown enough interest – even if they are an outstanding candidate.
Some elite MBA programs have also been cutting the number of admissions essays they require, and have trimmed recommendation letters.
These new streamlined processes are part of a wider push towards videos and live interactions, which many schools across the globe are implementing.
Harvard and Virginia's Darden School of Business plan to eliminate one essay this year. Babson College and Michigan Ross are following suit. Ross previously required three essays, but now applicants must write two short essays, totalling just 800 words.
Harvard last year asked applicants to submit only one optional admissions essay – only about a dozen applicants chose to skip it. That is far cry from 2004, when the US's highest-ranking school asked MBA candidates to answer six essay questions.
Columbia Business School has gone further. Part of the process is writing a story less than the length of a tweet. Applicants must summarize their immediate post-MBA goal in 75 or fewer characters.
For some this has led to an increase in applications. MBA candidates are attracted by quicker admissions processes, particularly those applying to multiple schools. At Harvard, 9,500 applicants tried their luck for about 900 places – up more than 2% on last year.
Johnson at Cornell University is using social media in its admissions process. Applicants to the school’s MBA programs can pre-fill parts of their applications with information from their LinkedIn profiles.
Applying will be faster for students who use the LinkedIn process. It may work particularly well for MBA candidates because the majority of them use LinkedIn to showcase their years of work experience.
Other schools are turning to video interviews. At Kellogg applicants must write two essays and then respond to two different questions, with a one-minute video for each question recorded via webcam.
At Sauder candidates also provide one video-essay, with a response to the question: what motives you and why? “The video can be creative,” said Shane.
Rotman was the first school to introduce a video component last year, said Sheldon. A candidate gets a video briefing from a program director and they're given a question. After 60 seconds their webcam begins to record for 90 seconds, or until the candidate stops it, and they have to deliver their response.
“They are given two questions and through this we get a sense of their ability to communicate [and] think on their feet, and we also get a glimpse of their personality,” he added.