The Rise of the Multimedia MBA Admissions "Essay"

Business School ApplicationImagine the business school application of the future: Rather than spending weeks on dozens of revisions of multiple essays, you sit down at a computer and give short verbal responses to questions, which are recorded via a webcam and uploaded to your target business school’s online application system. Sound crazy? It’s not necessarily as far away as you might think.

Some MBA admissions officers have begun to experiment with wildly different formats that replace the traditional essay. These multimedia questions, which are completed through such platforms as audio, video and sometimes PowerPoint, are an increasingly common tool used by the likes of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and the Anderson School of Business at UCLA to learn about the “real” applicant, or the person behind the resume, GMAT score and undergraduate institution of record.

And it doesn’t stop there. Admissions officers from another top MBA program recently told us that they’re considering an even more radical change, asking applicants to do all of their responses via video, and to do them all in one sitting, in a semi-live format. (Imagine a scenario similar to taking the GMAT in a test center… You walk in, do all of your responses at once, and then you’re done.) While this is still just an idea, it clearly indicates where admissions officers’ minds are.

A shift in the response format of an MBA admissions essay generally indicates that admissions offices were not getting what they needed to make accurate determinations about applicants. Rather than being intimidated by these new multimedia questions, you can think of them as offering a fresh opportunity for applicants to be creative and demonstrate the key qualities that admissions officers look for, including emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”) and capacity for critical thinking and self reflection.

If you’re working on one of these “essays,” keep in mind these tips for making it great:

  1. A well-prepared audio or video response doesn’t come across as an-overly scripted one. While very few applicants can sit down and make a perfect impromptu video or recording in one take, the more an applicant can strike a friendly and not overly formal tone, the more likely the response is to draw in one’s audience. Loosen up and speak from the heart — the last thing an admissions officer wants to see is something that looks or sounds like a hostage reading a prepared statement.
  2. Gimmicks are less effective than you might think. Sure, it’s hard for an admissions officer to forget the video of the guy juggling flaming torches, but if the only thing the video communicates is “This guy likes to juggle flaming torches,” then that applicant has missed a valuable opportunity to share something meaningful about himself.
  3. Less is more. Many applicants mistakenly assume that a video or a PowerPoint deck gives them the chance to communicate a wide variety of information, more than a written essay ever could. But, just as it can with an essay, trying to cram in too many messages will dilute the effectiveness of the whole product. Keep your response concise and single-minded.

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