Business Week last week put out an illuminating story about how MBA Adcoms set about thinking up MBA admissions essay questions.
The context is business schools are asking fewer essay questions in total, often swapping text questions for multimedia input. Part of the reason b-school adcoms are asking for fewer questions is they don’t get what they want from the answers.
What they very often get is a generic “promo-style” answer from the applicant, telling the admissions committee what they think the committee wants to hear.
If an essay prompt results in thousands of formulaic responses it will be pulled, as year-on-year Adcoms sit down to refine their questions based on the quality of answers they got the previous year.
There’s a lot MBA applicants can learn from knowing what Adcom’s task themselves to achieve (or more specifically, what they try to avoid) in composing a good question.
Liz Riley Hargrove, Associate Dean for admissions at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, tells Business Week how admissions officers pass boardroom hours lobbing edits back and forth to craft the perfect question.
They answer each other’s questions. If Adcom members themselves answer the question generically, it’s back to the drawing board.
What they don’t want is your elegantly varnished cookie-cutter answer that takes no risks. What they do want is an authentic expression of self, something that reveals a piece of who you really are and what shaped you.
Taking risks doesn’t mean you can make mistakes in grammar or tone or style, or you can discuss inappropriate topics or waste words capturing little admissions value. That’s taking a bad risk.
It does mean you can be yourself. Really, truly. Being who you really are, and saying what your really want is a good risk.
How can you “be yourself?” By saying things about you that are honest and self-revealing, that are specific in time and place and unique only to you. This is the way to achieve an authentic voice and intimate tone into your communications.
If what you say could just as easily be in the next applicant’s essay, you’ve failed an important test in MBA admissions essay writing.