MBA programs are elite institutions. Their demanding admissions requirements mean that only the very best (and few) candidates who apply make the grade.
For most business schools the process of selecting applicants has remained largely staid for decades, but that is changing. Admissions teams are placing more emphasis on multimedia in their applications to help them decide who to admit or reject—everything from video essays to social media and photographs.
One factor driving the trend of digitizing the admissions process is the need to be seen as “cool” to attract generation “Z”, or the demographic after millennials that now makes up 25% of the US population, according to Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange admissions firm.
Applications to MBA programs in the US have been falling for the past few years and while elite schools such as Stanford or Harvard face no shortage of applications, there is a tacit acknowledgement among some schools that they must appeal to future generations to ensure a consistent pipeline of talent.
“Gen Z’ers place high value on visual content, are intrigued by virtual-reality, and are motivated by trendy social influencers,” says Alex. “Most significantly, there’s nothing more important to this market than the ‘coolness’ of what they engage with online.”
Perhaps the best-known example of business schools’ attempt at innovation in admissions is the video essay. While candidate attraction is one factor, there are more analytical reasons why schools are introducing videos in admissions.
In 2016, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business began asking MBA applicants to submit—as well as written essays, GMAT score, and recommendations—a one-minute video introducing themselves to their class.
Shelly Heinrich, interim associate dean of MBA admissions at McDonough, says the video is about helping candidate’s show their authentic selves—something admissions committees are hotter on now that admissions consulting has become such big business. “It allows us to see how you present yourself when you’re not under pressure or nervous; when you can relax and be the real you.”
She adds: “We recognize that every once in a while, you have an interview that just doesn’t go as well as you hoped. You might have above average academics, amazing work experience, and overly positive recommendations, and we don’t want to let one 20-to-30-minute experience cloud that.”
Applicants today are more comfortable using video technology, with Skype and FaceTime ubiquitous, but Shelly advises that they use the video to define their personal brand: “Are you the person who aspires to do investment banking and likes to run marathons?” she says. “Are you the person whose passion is to work in analytics for a CPG company and you happen to have a private pilot’s license? Summarize who you are and what you want people to remember about you.”
Toronto’s Rotman School of Management recently announced that it was ‘Instagramming’ part of its essay process, with MBA applicants from this year required to submit pictures that demonstrate a so-called ‘spike factor’; ‘what are the things that you have done in your life that demonstrate passion/grit/resilience/ innovation/drive/ambition?’
Along with the video essay that Rotman pioneered back in 2012, the school hopes to ultimately make better decisions about who to admit. “Having a three-dimensional view of an applicant during the initial review has been a game-changer for us,” says Jamie Young, director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA.
“The types of questions that we ask are about values, experiences, and interests. We think that this gives us a lot more insight into the candidate and allows us to get to know who they are much earlier in the process than we had been able to historically.”
Another trending topic among admissions committees is social media, which schools are using to screen MBA applicants’ backgrounds, so it has never been more vital to ensure that you present a polished and professional digital presence, along with videos and pictures that you may be asked to submit with an MBA application.
Alex says: “It’s been reported that approximately one-third of admissions officers claim to visit applicants’ social media profiles during the decision-making process. So, applicants should eliminate any questionable content from online platforms.”
Technology may be used to attract generation Z, but it could also prevent them from being admitted, should they fail to use it properly.