Should there be a common application for American MBA programs?

Should there be a common application for American MBA programs?

Like it is with most matters, humanity acts not at the right time, but reacts when the damage has been done. There are econometric theories that prove we follow the herd, mostly because we don’t understand what we are doing, until the bubble bursts. The easiest analogy is the financial market. Are they efficient? Does the price of the stock represent the true value of the asset? These anomalies have been observed and studied, and these questions have been discussed in finance and behavioral science classes for ages. What is – is not always real. But change does not happen with observation. We also love what is – to follow the status quo. Few have the muscle, the will, the intelligence, and the time to move away from stability and challenge existing systems and power structures. Change happens when it’s late. And late it is, for an age-old admissions process in which applications are created by consultants, who are now available at every corner of the world and at every price point. The industry has zero barriers to entry.

Admissions Offices can read an application and find out whether the applicant has written it. Business Schools even know that most recommendations are gamed; applicants have drafted them and their consultants or editors have added behavioral touches and cleaned them up. Where is the originality business schools once sought? Where is the applicant’s real voice? More so, why are schools putting up with this?

Essays were introduced at a time when telecommunications systems were not developed. Admissions offices substituted essays as a means to evaluate interpersonal skills because face-to-face meetings were not possible. Interviews were not required. Essays were a reflection of the candidate’s motivations. But now, and for quite some time, things have been different. People can meet, interact, and do video interviews. When a picture speaks a thousand words, and when a sequence of moving images can easily be created on your phone, what role does a 500-word essay serve?

‘Why do you want to do an MBA, why now, and why from our oh so great School?’ Give me a break! Is it fair to expect original answers to questions that are so unoriginal? Are schools going to admit a candidate simply because they are interested in them? I’m not sure. You can talk about starting clubs and driving global treks, you can discuss the superior leadership skills you developed in the extensive four years you spent post college, you can drop alum names in your essays, and you can try to project the perfect image of a candidate who so wishes to make the world a better place and give back to his community, but you know what, the prom queen is not going to date you because you are begging to be with her? She wants a rockstar – a genetic structure superior to hers, a personal brand bigger than her own.

Adcom officers too can humor themselves reading fake answers about big plans candidates have to solve the world’s problems, admire the pretense they are projecting of a utopian world viewed through rose-tinted glasses, or even empathize with each other on their contribution to human development, but even they know you only want the brand, the network, and oh, I almost forgot, that job in consulting. And why not – who will hire you later if you don’t have top brands earlier? Even founders without pedigreed backgrounds have preference for people with experience in top firms. If anyone tells you that brands are not important, or that grades are not important, or that education is not important, be wary, because most of them are really successful or they are naysayers. Read the requirements of jobs posted even by startups, and you will frequently find ‘Consulting,’ ‘I-banking’ and ‘top-tier MBA’ on their descriptions.

The entire process is also not geared for any efficiency. Great candidates land up not applying to B-schools because navigating recommenders again and again, and coming up with innovative answers to an array of essay questions for each application is difficult. Even the GMAT could be a roadblock for many, those who would otherwise make great candidates but who haven’t been able to score well on tests because of socio-cultural, economic, also diverse academic backgrounds. Many applicants, even the smartest, land up taking the GMAT multiple times, adding another layer of stress, and wasted time, energy, and money.

One solution – A common application created and managed by the T20 schools. One written essay, such as Yale’s ‘Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made’ or MIT’s cover letter, one video essay, and one recommendation. GRE/ GMAT to be made optional for those who cannot validate their quantitative aptitude through prior coursework. Think about it – if you graduate with a 3.8 GPA from the Ivy Leagues or another top school, do you need to prove you are intelligent? If you attended the IITs, can someone claim you have no brain?

This common application, managed by the Schools, should allow the candidate to apply to all the places she wishes to apply to – in one go. She saves time, energy, and effort. But this cannot be done by a profiteering private company that is claiming to solve problems in the name of humanity and making millions on the side. This has to be a non-profit controlled by the Schools. Else it will be one more company driven by a profit-maximizing agenda that will suit some but not all, ultimately creating more problems and more divide.

MIT’s process is admirable:-

  • A cover letter allows you the freedom to talk about whatever you feel is relevant
  • It asks for a video essay, which they have not outsourced to a private company; they retain control.
  • It only requires one letter of recommendation.
  • It has made the GMAT optional, which will now allow many great candidates to apply. I have come across many who have sound business acumen and would make great MBA candidates, but haven’t scored high on standardized tests. Many of these candidates should be given a shot. A great artist can come from anywhere – Ratatouille, the movie!
  • The interviewing process is holistic and mirrors a conversation, rather than a series of checkmarks.

Life is not a series of checkboxes. All boxes checked do not maketh a great candidate. Likewise, few boxes checked do not make an undeserving one. Who would know that better than MIT, the school that brought us System Dynamics!


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