HAVING graduated one set of full-time MBA students in the spring, many programmes are readying their application requirements for students planning to enter in the autumn of 2013. Schools that have recently posted their essay questions for applications in the next year include Ross (at the University of Michigan), Tuck, Darden (at the University of Virginia), Goizueta (Emory University), Stern, Haas, Yale School of Management, Booth, Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard.
Those planning to apply should begin immediate work on answering two different questions. First, how does an MBA help further your career goals? Second, have you ever learned from your own failure, and if so, how? Nearly every school asks some variation of these two questions. Harvard’s is the simplest:
Tell us about something you did well.
Tell us about something you wish you had done better.
You have 400 words for each question, by the way. This is less than in the past. Admissions directors, mindful of their staff’s time and their prospective students’ desire to impress, are imposing more parsimonious word limits.
This is why many people, who write better than they think they do—capable of being simultaneously witty and sympathetic in a short email to a distressed friend, say—lie awake at night worrying about application essays, or turn to expensive application consultants for advice. The applicant is charged with meeting the demands yet standing out: appearing as both a unique snowflake and a team player, to mix clichés.
There are some variations. Haas’s staff want to know which song expresses the applicant best. Cornell University’s Johnson School requests the table of contents to Your Life Story (its capitalisation). Booth asks for a four-slide presentation that will “broaden our perspective about who you are.” And Stern, in a question titled “Your Two Paths,” requires applicants to forecast two different career tracks and explain how an MBA fits into both.
(Speaking of clichés, a warning to Stern applicants: avoid quoting the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” Nearly every American has to read it in school, and it thus gets quoted endlessly. Meanwhile there are thousands of other perfectly good poems that go ignored. Odds are the Stern readers are already rather tired of it.)
Stanford’s admissions office includes a host of formatting tips that would serve you well when applying to any of its competitors. For fonts, for example, it recommends 12-point Arial, Courier or Times New Roman. (Of the three, pick Times New Roman. Even if you have a poignant story of leadership, sustainability, and Comic Sans, tell it in Times New Roman.) Stanford also gives advice on what to include in the mysterious “any additional information” section: qualifications not on your CV, such as independent research, or explanations of unflattering past events, such as an arrest.
So how do you present yourself as dignified yet passionate and persuasive in the space of 400 words? One technique is to switch the questions to a different setting. Pretend, say, that your unhappy friend has said, “Distract me. Tell me why you’re applying for an MBA.” And then compose an email answering the question. If your friend will sit over a drink and a tape recorder, listening to your answer, so much the better. The result will be too informal and too rambling for the admissions committee; but it will be in your own voice. And the closer your written application answers sound to your own voice, the less likely you are to be dismissed as stilted and robotic. This is true even if you have to translate from your first language to English.
But also keep in mind that you must satisfy yourself with the answers. This may sound ridiculous: you can impress yourself much more easily than a faceless, forbidding admissions committee. But read your answers back out loud, and if they are thin and unconvincing, you will hear it. And then you may start wondering if an MBA is the best choice for you after all.
At that point you have two options. One is to quit the field, and feel no shame, even if you have already been attending MBA fairs, badgering former bosses for recommendations and telling everyone you plan to apply for an MBA. Better to withdraw now than to find yourself on campus, or graduated, still feeling listless.
The other is to double back down on answering the questions—not for the committee’s sake at this point but for your own. Why do you want an MBA? What do you see yourself doing? Could you do it without an MBA? What are you most afraid of missing out on if you fail to get into the programme of your choice? If you graduate into a rum job market and can’t immediately get a high-paying job to work off your student loans, will you regret having taken the degree?
This self-questioning may prove even less fun than writing the admissions essays in the first place. But having done it, when you sit back down to answer the questions, you will have greater knowledge of your goals and how an MBA might help you meet those goals. Such knowledge is not guaranteed to propel you to a flood of acceptances. But it will stand you in good stead to take advantage of the acceptances (or rejections) you do get.
An increasing number of MBA applications now include the use of online video platforms, where you must either introduce yourself to future classmates, or record responses to one or more short-answer prompts, before your application is considered complete. Why do schools add this extra step?
The goal of using videos from an admissions standpoint is simply 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.
The new format also strengthens the written essays by demonstrating the candidate’s verbal/visual communication skills. The adcom has seen what you have going for you on paper; a video interview can give them a better sense of your personality and help them judge whether or not the “real you” matches the impression you’ve built through your other materials.
This season, MIT Sloan School of Management has joined the ranks of top b-schools including a video statement in the MBA application. All candidates are asked to “Please introduce yourself to your future classmates via a brief video statement.” Sloan requests that videos be shot as a single take (no editing) lasting no more than one minute.
In a video posted to the Sloan admissions blog, adcom member Shauna LaFauci Berry shares some words of advice for applicants nervous about how to approach this new requirement.
She says the admissions committee is really excited about this new application component, because it gives her team the chance to get to know applicants better. “We’ll be looking at your presence, what passions you have, and what interests, so feel free to use professional or personal examples in your 60 seconds,” LaFauci Berry explains.”Be authentic. Be yourself. This is a great opportunity for you to get to tell the admissions committee more about yourself.”
Unfortunately, video statements and essays can also be a source of major stress for already-anxious prospective students. But here’s some good news: the reality is that it’s unlikely you will totally bomb your statement or essay answers. Just make sure you understand what your program’s video “rules” are before you start the camera rolling.
With just a little bit of confidence and preparation, you could give a response that makes the adcom think, “We just have to meet this person!” Here are some video-specific tips:
- Prepare (and practice) succinct responses for all of the typical MBA-related questions: Why Program X, Why an MBA overall, Why now, What are your career goals, Summarize your career to date, and so on.
- Then practice by adding some “fun” questions and responses into the mix: Review the last book you read/movie you saw/TV show you watched; What is your favorite song and why; Where’s the best place you’ve gone on vacation, et cetera.
- Record yourself answering these questions. Have a trusted friend review your responses and tell you how you’re coming off. Tweak your style accordingly.
If you have an upcoming video interview or statement for schools including INSEAD, Yale SOM, Michigan Ross or Wharton, PRACTICE is essential to success. This awkward format requires you to think on your feet and record your answer to a question (or questions) while speaking into your computer screen. It’s a new format for many and one that requires some rehearsal in order to become comfortable conversing with a computer screen.
Stacy Blackman Consulting has an online video platform that grants you unlimited practice doing exactly this. You can answer from a wide menu of questions, record yourself, watch and assess, tweak and try again. Invest 30 minutes a night and reap the benefits of increased comfort level and more articulate answers when you have your live interview. You can even choose an interview to submit to the SBC team for review and professional written feedback.
Set yourself up for success with this small investment and rock your video interviews. Purchase your package here today.
This entry was posted in Application Tips and tagged advice for video essay questions, application advice, MBA application, MIT Sloan School of Management, online video platform, video essay, video interview, video statement.
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