Three Predictions About 2012-2013 MBA Admissions Essays

Every January, we make predictions about the coming year in this space. Our 2012 edition includes predictions for weaker international application volume at U.S. business schools and growth in non-traditional graduate management programs. It’s still far too early to see how those predictions will pan out, but today we want to get a little more down in the weeds and make several predictions about what MBA admissions essays might look like in the coming year.

Every spring Harvard normally leads the charge by releasing its application essays first, firing the symbolic starter pistol for the new application season. In fact, last year HBS released its essays in the second week of May, so we may be just days away from the 2012-2013 admissions season getting underway. With that in mind, here are three predictions for what we’ll see in business school application essays in the coming year:

Essays will go on a diet.
Admissions essays seem to be like cars: They tend to grow and shrink based on environmental factors and the tastes of the day. While long, flowing essays such as the answer to Stanford’s famous “What matters most to you and why?” seemed to capture applicants’ (and admissions officers’) imagination in years past, schools now seem to have an appetite for shorter essays. In some cases, one long essay gets replaced by a couple of shorter ones, such as what happened at Darden last year. Why? Admissions officers keep telling us that they’re tired of seeing the same answers over and over, and coming at applicants with a bunch of shorter, more focuses questions is one way to try to avoid this.

Essays will get “softer.”
We loved it when we first saw Haas’s “What brings you the greatest joy?” essay prompt. (In fact, some people at Veritas Prep probably got their greatest joy from reading that very question.) Admissions officers aren’t tying to be cute or throw you a curve ball. Rather, they really want to get to know you, and “Tell us about your greatest professional achievement” doesn’t really get the job done. So, expect to see more of these “soft” questions that hit on dimensions that admissions officers can’t gather from your resume.

At least one new school will try out audio or video responses.
Two years ago, UCLA Anderson made news by inviting applicants to submit video responses to one of the school’s questions, but last year Anderson dropped this question, citing concerns about keeping the playing field level for all applicants. Schools are anxious to get out in front of this trend, however, and we expect that at least one prominent MBA program will take a shot at adding a multimedia component to its application. With some schools (including Anderson and MIT Sloan) going to an all-electronic, iPad-based application review process, it will get far easier for schools to seamlessly work multimedia into their applications.

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