Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part III: Getting to Know the Applicant

It was decided long ago, in graduate business school admissions, that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first student’s at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

Getting to Know You: The Interview and Essays

Another application staple, the essays, are often cited by admissions directors to be the most important part of the application.  They play a critical role in painting a picture of your potential by telling your personal and professional story and setting the stage for the other application components.  A well-written essay examines the value you can bring in terms of leadership, innovation and teamwork, your fit with a particular program and how you stand out overall.    

The interview, too, is arguably one of the most important parts of the business school application.  Not only must you look an admissions officer in the eye to discuss the contents of the paper application you’ve been refining for months, but you must also convince them of your strong communication abilities and the value you will bring into the classroom.

Behavioral interviews are the most widely used in graduate business programs, but could there be a better way?  For applicants, the behavioral interview is usually preferred because it is easier, but in the long run, a case format could prove to be a better evaluative tool.  Ultimately, being surrounded by top talent will make your experience as a student more enriching. 

Case interviews are typically the work of consulting companies and prominent financial firms, largely because they force an applicant to think on their feet, respond under pressure and analyze a complex situation in a finite amount of time.  Then, why wouldn’t case interviews be an important evaluative tool for MBA programs?

“The biggest concern, says Bouffides, are efficiency issues.  With so many applicants in full-time MBA admissions, it would pose a resource challenge to ask admissions officers to conduct a case interview for each and every student they are considering.  EMBA admissions are different, he says, so case interviews may provide a great tool for differentiation. The EMBA applicant pool is self-selecting and, therefore, much smaller.”

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger.