From Instagram to Emotional Intelligence, How the MBA Application is Changing

How the MBA Application is Changing

Securing a spot at a top business school has always been challenging — the very best US MBA programs typically admit just 15% of the tens of thousands who collectively apply.

But at least it used to be straightforward.

Those with the pre-requisite entry requirements — an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school and several years’ experience working for a blue-chip firm would help — write a few essays, take an admissions exam, cajole bosses to write favorable recommendation letters and, with a little luck, hey presto. 

Not anymore.

With the 2017 application season in full swing, the top US schools are changing up their requirements. Many have shaken up their application processes by adding new elements such as videos, while others are highlighting “emotional intelligence” as a key attribute they want to see from candidates this year. 

What does that mean for an aspiring MBA student? At first glance, more application components may seem like another barrier to entry in what is an already arduous process. But Chioma Isiadinso, author of The Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets, argues that greater use of technology in the application process can be a boon for prospective students:

“Videos, for example, are in line with the medium that millennials are comfortable expressing themselves, and many top MBA programs are embracing this new format as a way to vet candidates to ensure they are getting their real perspective.” 

Perhaps the best example of the change underway is the 2017 MBA application at NYU Stern School in New York City. The school has “Instagrammed” part of its application, asking candidates to submit six images — which could be pictures, charts, infographics or artwork — along with six short captions to express who they are to the admissions team.

Isser Gallogly, associate dean of MBA admissions and innovation at NYU Stern, says: “Ultimately we’re trying to get insight into the applicant and what makes them unique and special. The written format is constrained when you think about how people share information about themselves, which these days is social media and mobile generated. That’s the new lexicon.” 


Schools demand “emotional intelligence” from would-be MBAs

In another change to its admissions process, NYU Stern unveiled a new emotional intelligence (EQ) endorsement — a testimonial provided by an advocate of an applicant that illustrates a specific example of demonstrated EQ. Unlike typical recommendations, which are frequently restricted to supervisors, the EQ endorsement can also come from a team member, colleague or peer.

Emotional intelligence is essentially how you notice, evaluate and regulate emotions, which includes empathy and self-awareness. Business schools say this is crucial for business leaders, as it enables them to motivate and mobilize a team to work toward a common goal. “These so-called ‘soft skills’ are essential for executives who need to deal with people from other countries,” adds Amaury de Buchet, affiliate professor at French school ESCP Europe

So this year’s crop of MBAs may need to highlight their EQ throughout an application, and not just at NYU Stern. Many business schools are looking beyond traditional measures, such as the GMAT, to evaluate candidates. Yale School of Management, for instance, began testing MBA applicants on their ability to understand and manage emotionsDartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, meanwhile, asks those recommending applicants to score the candidate on their ability to cope under pressure and their intellectual curiosity.


Schools explore video for vetting candidates

Another challenge for would-be business school students is understanding how to navigate the technology increasingly being used in the MBA admissions process. Take London Business School (LBS), which has introduced a video element to its application. Candidates to its MBA are required to answer via video a series of questions through an online platform called Kira. 

Other top schools — including Northwestern’s Kellogg School, INSEAD and Toronto’s Rotman School — require applicants to jump through a similar video hoop. “Applicants have limited time to give us answers to the questions. That shows us their charisma and ability to communicate on-the-fly,” says David Simpson, LBS’ MBA admissions director. 

There may be another benefit to the video process. At many schools the video has replaced a written essay component, which most MBAs would agree is a much lengthier element of the application. 

However, Kurt Ahlm, associate dean of full-time admissions at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, says the essays are just one piece of the larger admissions puzzle used to assess MBA applicants. 

“As part of the application process, we also have face-to-face interviews. This conversation, coupled with the written application, allows us to assess how each applicant authentically communicates from a ‘pen-to-paper’ perspective as well as in the form of direct conversation, both of which are essential,” Ahlm says. 

“We believe those elements bundled together can provide a more complete view of a candidate’s unique approach to life and of their potential for success as a part of this program and beyond.”

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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