Adcom members’ backgrounds and personalities – who are they really?

As an MBA applicant one of the things to get straight is who you are talking to, in general, when you write your essays. This doesn’t mean you should be looking to target or “game” your essays in a narrow sense. But getting your head around who is on the other end is a crucial part of your role in creating effective communication and therein getting admitted.

I was struck by this introduction to a Business Week interview with UCLA Anderson director of MBA admissions, Mae Jennifer Shores. [The full text of the interview is here: UCLA Anderson: Admissions Q&A – BusinessWeek.]

“The assistant dean and director of MBA Admissions at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, says she ended up an admissions officer the way most people do—unintentionally. She went to Russia to teach public policy, but was assigned to teach negotiations at a business school at the last minute. After two years, she wanted to continue her Eastern European stay and almost took a job teaching in Kazakhstan. Her graduate school loans, however, forced her back to the U.S. There, Shores’ international and business-school experience eventually led her into the admissions department at Anderson.”

Every admissions officer is different of course. But what they have in common is, well, it is unlikely that a person plans and studies for this career. Most come to it “sideways.” They typically have broad interests, are people-focused, and are good communicators. They have lived life in more than one industry and often more than one country. They are generally not business trained, although many have some background in HR or marketing.

This makes the MBA applicant essay writer’s job harder and easier. It’s easier to engage an interesting person. Almost anything topic you raise will be “valid” for them. But it’s harder if all your stories are highly technical, or closely work-oriented. If your life experience or perspective is limited, and so your ability to reflect deeply and persuasively on your life and career path is therefore also limited, you’re not going to fool the likes of Mae Jennifer Shores.

Stanford GSB essays 2009/2010: the focus is tightened towards results and successes

Stanford’s essays are notoriously “introspective” and give many applicants trouble. Stanford Adcom do really want to get to know the real you through your writing. This year the flavor is the same, but (and possibly to avoid waffle) some important tweaks have been made in the optional essays to shift the focus squarely towards communicating successful results.

Why results? Because successful outcomes are hard to achieve. Anyone can tell a good story, particularly about what great things they may do in the future. That’s important. But if you can twin it with proof of past success, then it sounds like you are likely to hit your targets in life.

Stanford GSB Application Essays

  1. What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended)
  2. What are your career aspirations? How will your education at Stanford help you achieve them? (450 words recommended)
  3. Answer two of the four questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years. (300 words recommended).
    Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
    Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
    Option C: Tell us about a time when you motivated others to support your vision or initiative.
    Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected

Here is where successful outcomes results-orientation has been upgraded. In Option A they have added “whose performance exceeded expectations.” Option B used to be “Tell us about a time when you felt most effective as a leader.” Now “the lasting impact” demands a results-oriented perspective. Option D remains from last year: this is a directly results-oriented question.

Stanford GSB Application Deadlines are:
Round 1: October 7, 2009
Round 2: January 6, 2010
Round 3: April 7, 2010

Harvard Business School essays (2009-10) add a cover letter just like MIT Sloan’s

Harvard has released their new essay questions, and deadlines for 2009-10, adding a cover letter essay (optional) which MIT Sloan’s has as a standard request for years. Still only four essays are required for HBS, and the first two compulsory questions remain the same:

1. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600)
2. What have you learned from a mistake? (400)

For essays essays 3 and 4, applicants now have five topics to choose from (up from four) two of which are new. One , a cover letter “introducing yourself to the Admissions Board,” is equivalent to the MIT Sloan signature essay.

This is no surprise. Cover letters are deeply difficult to get right because they require acute balance between brevity and detail. They test your ability to extract and communicate what is really important – demonstrating a key management skill.

The other new question: “Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision,” is familiar ground in admissions, and something well covered in MBA Studio’s profiling process that focuses on your key life transitions (why?) and prepares you for questions like this in your essays and interview.

The full set of options for HBS essays 3 & 4 are:

Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):
1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?
2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
3. Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.
4. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.
5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

The deadlines are (all 5pm EST) R1: October 1, 2009; R2: January 19, 2010; R3: April 8, 2010


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