Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Changes in MBA Application Essays

Today’s guest post is from Nicole Lindsay, who holds a JD/MBA from University of Virginia and is a former MBA admissions officer at Yale School of Management. Nicole Lindsay is the Founder of DiversityMBAPrep.com, an online community that supports women and minorities in applying to MBA programs.

 


 

Earlier this summer, a few MBA programs sent admissions insiders into a tizzy when they decided to revamp their application essay questions. Who knew that a move from four required essays to two could be so disruptive!

Business schools experiment with their applications every year and receive little notice from national media.  This year is different because the changes came from the “Big Three” (Harvard, Wharton, Stanford). Application shifts also came from Kellogg, UVA Darden, Columbia, MIT Sloan, and Iowa (which seems to experiment every year.  Last year the school got national publicity when one essay question sought a 140-word tweet response). Ultimately, all MBA programs are looking for better ways to get the most pertinent information with as few hurdles to applicants as possible.  Business schools want to receive more applications so a lot of thought goes into their application process. Many pundits speculated that this year’s application changes were an attempt to outsmart admissions consultants.  I disagree – the formula for gaining admission to business school is no different than in years past.

MBA applications are trending toward reduced essay requirements, either by requiring fewer essays or lowering maximum word count. These changes signal to me that schools are adapting their application components to more closely align with the real weight that each is given in the admissions decision. Transcripts and GMAT directly tie to a candidate’s academic readiness so they are given significant weight. In the same manner, the resume (work experience) and recommendations link to career and leadership potential, which are critical admissions elements. Over the years, essays have become a catch-all without a specific connection to the factors that drive the admissions decision. Going forward, expect that schools will use essays to (a) learn about your career goals (some will ask this in the application form as a short-answer question) and (b) assess your school fit (examples: questions around teamwork, ethics or exploring a statement or video).

Here’s how I suggest that you approach your MBA applications:

  1. Schools want you to submit strong applications so understand what each question is really asking you. On school and other websites, look for tips and suggestions from the Admissions Committee on the application components, particularly the essays. Feel free to get the opinions of others, but remember, they are simply speculating, while Admissions Committee members actually know.
  2. Take a holistic approach to the application –most of this year’s application changes have come in the essay component. Most schools are opting for shorter essays – this just means you need to get to the point faster. Essays are just one of several parts of an application; you must use every inch of the application to communicate your story. If you are afforded fewer words in a career goal essay to discuss your background, use your resume to highlight accomplishments that relate to your future aspirations.
  3. Don’t sweat new application changes – all applicants are required to complete the same application for admission, so don’t worry about what previous applicants had to do. Nothing has really changed in the admissions process – business schools admit candidates that are academically prepared, with tremendous career and leadership potential and are a fit for their MBA programs.

Good luck with your applications!

The Differences Between Not-for-Profit and For-Profit Colleges

Today’s guest post is from Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD Candidate at Emory University, an expert in for profit education and a former admissions and financial aid counselor in two for-profit schools. Ms McMillian Cottom took some time to share with our readers some insight into her research and insights on the growing for-profit college industry.


There are a lot of factors to consider your sophomore and junior year of high school when you embark upon your college application planning. Do you want to move as far away from home as possible or be close enough for Sunday dinners? Do you want the intimate environment of small, liberal arts colleges or the rush of a large, urban campus? What fields of study should your dream college offer? What kind of social life can you build once you get there? The list goes on and on.

One thing rarely considered but, perhaps, equally important to those other considerations is the institutional type of your dream school. Institutional type refers to the mission of the college. By college mission I don’t mean “to live and serve” but “to profit or  not to profit.”  If you don’t know the difference between a for-profit college and a not-for-profit college don’t feel badly. You’re not alone. A new research report found that among adults enrolled in online college degree programs, 17 percent had no idea if their school was for-profit or not-for-profit. More importantly, the question you might be asking is why you should care about the institutional type of your college.

Good question.

B-school Facilitated Test Prep

More and more business schools – whether undergraduate or graduate – are utilizing test preparation to help boost scores on graduate admissions exams like the GMAT and GRE. In the case of graduate schools, more often than not the target market is their likely applicant pool. It’s similar for undergraduate institutions as well, though in the case of undergrads it’s also about bolstering the school’s reputation regardless of whether undergrads ultimately apply to and attend a graduate program at their institution.

Graduate programs direct involvement in providing access to test preparation has grown so much that recently, GMAC (the company that produces the GMAT) held a panel discussion at its annual industry conference in Chicago to discuss this very phenomenon. Three very different programs and three very test preparation methods made up the panel and offered insight into how they provided preparation. In reviewing the discussion, we found that it might be pertinent to point out the differences between the three programs as an example of how varied test preparation offerings could be.

Struggling with GMAT (or GRE) Verbal? Read!

For all prospective GMAT examinees struggling with the Verbal section:  Read!

Reading a quality periodical is one way to beef up your verbal score and maybe even have some interesting things to talk about during an interview.  Jargon filled articles with complex sentences and foreign ideas are very similar to GMAT Reading Comp passages, Critical Reading Prompts, and Sentence Correction problems.  Think about it this way: when you exercise,  varying your workout gives you the most bang for your buck as it stimulates different muscle groups and systems in the body.  This same principle can be applied to studying for the GMAT.  Look outside of traditional test materials to push yourself to that next level.

Integrated Reasoning: 2-month Anniversary Update

On June 5th the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) section debuted on the GMAT, to much consternation and hang-wringing among prospective business school applicants. A couple months on there are a couple points to mention as we look back at the IR.

Initial Integrated Reasoning Percentiles

The scores for the Integrated Reasoning have been known since April, but in order for percentiles to be generated GMAC needed to wait for actual test results. After a few weeks they had given enough to compile and release the first data. From the 6,229 test-takers, GMAC found that the averages score was a 4 on the 1 to 8 scale, corresponding to the 46th percentile.

A top score of 8 would be the 94%, meaning that 6% of all test-takers score an 8. For a complete view of the percentiles, see the graphic (from GMAC), below.

May 2012 SAT Vocabulary: Beleaguered Batman Batters Bungler Bane

On Friday July 20, two exciting things happened in the Bell Curves office; first, we received our copy of the May 2012 SAT and were able to peruse it for lot of fun vocabulary words and second, we went as an office to see the the Dark Knight save Gotham City. What was especially exciting was that in both the May SAT and Dark Knight Rises, bane played a prominent role! In DNK, Bane is the archenemy of our beleaguered hero and on the May SAT bane was one of the beguiling answers maliciously offered to hoodwink unwary test-takers! As we’ve often told our students, most superhero and villain names are English words that reflect their powers or character. As you enjoy your summer movies remember that there are lots of new words to learn which will help your SAT preparation.

To help you get started here are 100 words from the May 2012 SAT that you should learn.  Words which have appeared once on the SAT are very likely to appear again.

The Match Game: Choosing a Tutor

Selecting a tutor is not unlike the process of choosing someone to date.  It seems like there are thousands of options out there, but finding the right one be both difficult and overwhelming – not to mention a serious cash investment!  We want to try to alleviate the stress a bit by providing you with a basic list of questions to ask of a tutor before making the final (and hopefully great) decision: 

 1.       What is your experience with this particular test?

With experience comes an increasing amount of knowledge about not only how to do each question but more importantly how to effectively teach the test to students of different skill levels, backgrounds, and learning styles. Generally, the more experienced the tutor, the more likely you are to get a carefully crafted study plan that will allow you to reach your goals.  Tutoring college-level Calculus for years does not automatically qualify someone as to be a stellar SAT or ACT tutor.  These tests, particularly the SAT, are filled with similar “tricks” year in and year out that experienced test prep teachers will be familiar with and have the ability to explain to students.

Tips from an Expert Tutor

The question I am asked the most often after revealing that I’m a professional standardized test tutor is, “How should I study for Test X?” The reply is always invariably a petition for more information such as the materials being used, past testing history, study habits, and anticipated testing schedule, all of which is just a baseline amount of information that I would then use to offer the most basic and topical plan of action. The reason for such a skeletal plan is because of a very simple reason:  every student’s needs are different and if I haven’t spent any time observing a student’s habits and logical process then I can’t say what he or she needs. The effectiveness of tutoring lies in the customization and personalized guidance. A large part of a tutor’s job is identifying where in the process of answering a question, between reading it to choosing the correct answer, is there a disconnect.  The tutor then formulates a way for that particular student to most effectively bridge that gap. With that said, here are three of the most common issues many of my students face across different tests have.

 

1.            Lacking the fundamental knowledge base that is being tested.

2.            Having difficulty recognizing the topics being tested by the questions.

3.            Executing a strategy for specific question types consistently.

 

The first issue is usually the easiest to diagnose. This issue is most notable with math questions but can manifest with verbal questions (albeit less alarmingly and thus usually more ignored, unfortunately). My opinion on this issue, shared by the pedagogy of Bell Curves, is that regardless of how much test-taking savvy you have, if you don’t know the base content (e.g. geometry formulas, grammar rules, argument structure, etc.) there is absolutely no way to consistently answer questions correctly. The solution is pretty straightforward  – study the material until you understand the rules and their applications.

January 2011 SAT: You Be the (Essay) Judge

One of the best ways to prepare for the SAT essay is to read and write SAT essays. After every SAT, many of our students give us permission to use their actual essays to help others learn from what they did. We’ve posted and discussed this essay to hopefully help you prepare.

A few quick points about the SAT essay for those of you a bit newer to the test:

  • The essay is the very first section of the test.
  • The essay is handwritten in 25 minutes with a pencil on 2 sides of 8.5″x 11″ paper.
  • The essay is worth up to 180 points of the total SAT Writing score.
  • Your full essay will be available on collegeboard.com about 4 weeks after your test date.
  • Each SAT essay consists of a Prompt, which gives some background discussion and context, and an Assignment, which gives the specific assignment they have to complete.

 

Without further ado, here is a January 2011 SAT essay transcribed for your reading pleasure:

Score Select for GRE Starts Next Week

ETS informed the world in April 2012 that ScoreSelect was going to become available in July, and that option is just around the corner.

ScoreSelect allows test-takers greater flexibility in deciding what scores to send to schools. The move is part of ETS’ ongoing push for a more test-taker friendly platform, and will provide test-takers with the comfort and security of knowing that a non-representive score doesn’t ever have to make it to admissions offices at schools. This relief should allow more test-takers to go in feeling confident and put their best foot forward come test day.

The ScoreSelect option is available both on test day and afterwards. Here are the particulars for test-takers, straight from ETS:

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