Tuck and Stanford recently released their essay questions for the 2014-2015 application cycle. In what I believe is the wave of the future, both schools eliminated entire questions. Are you wondering why elite schools are dropping essays from their MBA applications, and trying to figure out what this means for you, as a business school applicant?

The answers may surprise you. As a longstanding former member of Tuck’s admission committee, I participated in annual conversations about how to revise the application. I also helped to write the essay questions. If I were applying to business school this year, here is what I would want to know about those conversations, and what schools are really looking for in the essays:

  • Business Schools are Very Concerned With Their Peers.

Schools spend a tremendous amount of time analyzing what their competitors are doing, particularly programs that are a few positions ahead in the rankings. Once Harvard dropped all of their required essays last year, leaving only one optional one, other top schools were very likely to minimize their writing requirements too.

  • Business School Admissions is a Business.

Business schools, even elite ones, are always concerned about applicant volume. They do not want to forfeit the substantial revenue generated by admissions, and selectivity is an important factor in many influential rankings. Therefore, no one wants to lose candidates by making it harder to apply to their school than to a peer school. 

  • Schools Still Want to Know What You are Like as a Person.

Despite how it may seem, admissions officers still want to know more about you, beyond what they can deduce from your grades, test scores, resume and recommendations. In fact, all of these components, along with the remaining essays and the short answers in the application itself, are even more critical now. You need to differentiate yourself, convey passion, depth and resilience, all through your written application.

  • Your Core Essays Really Need to Shine.

It is absolutely crucial for you to persuade the committee that you know what you want to do after you graduate, that you have transferrable skills and experience, that you need an MBA, that you will contribute to the community and that you are genuinely interested in and well suited to your target school. If all of this sounds like a lot to cogently convey in approximately 1000 words, that’s because it is – which is why those core essays are more important than ever.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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