February 18, 2012

US B-Schools Spice Up Essay Questions

In an effort to better determine which applicants will best fit in on campus, business schools are turning to nontraditional MBA admissions essay questions. 

The purpose is to garner information beyond the usual résumé, work experience, and leadership potential featured in the rest of the application. And it doesn’t hurt that these more personal questions call for more interesting and creative responses that capture the attention of the admissions committee members reading them.

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Each business school has crafted its own unique question. The majority of these nontraditional essay questions are meant to unearth personal characteristics, style, and attitude as a means of understanding the type of contribution an applicant would make to his or her class and the campus community.

Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business asks applicants to share either something that is surprising about them or their proudest moment. 

One of the most memorable responses came from someone who participated in the ‘Warrior Dash’, an extreme 5K run that has participants crawling through mud and leaping over fire. 

Many use these essays to discuss family, often to convey their gratitude to their parents for helping them grow into the person they are today, says James Frick, director of MBA admissions.

The admissions committee at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business keeps its interest piqued with a question asking applicants to describe themselves to future classmates in 100 words or less. “We want to see how people present themselves in a quick snapshot,” says Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions. A successful response was one in which the applicant defined himself as though he were an entry in the dictionary. “I really like this question,” she adds. “When I’m doing a final review of applications, this is the one I turn to because it gives you a sense of how applicants view themselves.”

Asking a specific question about life — what brings you the greatest joy — is how the admissions committee at the UC, Berkeley Haas School of Business seeks to understand the personality of applicants better. In its first year, this question has acquired mixed responses, says Stephanie Fujii, director of admissions at Haas. The most successful applicants, she adds, share their authentic selves through the essay.
While many applicants feel overwhelmed by such questions, administrators say there are benefits for the applicants, as well. “Applicants often feel as though their profile is typical. Questions like this help them set themselves apart,” says Isser Gallogly, assistant dean of MBA admissions at Stern.
Source - BusinessWeek

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