This season, my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions and I celebrated our 10th anniversary of mentoring MBA candidates to achieve their business school dreams. Introspect on Fortuna’s Origin Story inspired us to reflect on the MBA admissions landscape and what has changed for business school applicants over the past decade
More importantly, how do these changing trends impact how candidates should approach their MBA applications today?
From fewer and shorter essays to greater gender parity and the rise of GRE testing (compared to GMAT), several trends in MBA admissions offer insight for today’s applicants. There have been major changes to the candidates and what sets them apart. How do these changes affect you? Here are five key trends to watch and what they mean to you.
- Fewer and shorter trials: less is more
Over the past decade, schools have gradually adjusted their essay question requirements, dramatically reducing not only the number of questions but also the word count. As Fortuna’s Matt Symonds said, “Schools have really honed in on what they’re looking for and they don’t expect the app to be a writing marathon.”
Take Harvard Business School: If you applied to HBS in 2012, you had to tackle no less than four essays totaling around 2,000 words. Today, HBS has a singular essay recently capped at 900 words. Ten years ago, Stanford MBA applicants had to answer four questions, while current GSB applicants only have two. MIT Sloan wins the “less is more” jump. From three essay questions with a total of 1,500 words in 2012, current MIT applicants submit a 300-word cover letter.
Fewer words and essays may seem easier to complete your business school application. Yet, as legendary author Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Conveying a story that is both succinct and compelling takes discipline and skill. As we observe with our Fortuna clients, the ever-shrinking word count poses a formidable challenge in capturing everything you want to convey in MBA admissions.
Additionally, the best business schools are asking questions that aren’t as straightforward as they once were. You have to do a lot more self-introspection, asking yourself really valid but imposing questions such as: Who am I?, How did I get to where I am now?, and What is really important for me ?
- A more holistic and nuanced approach to assessment
In 2012, the assessment of MBA candidates was largely based on fairly simple and comparable measures, including test scores and GPAs. While these standard metrics are still important, most schools place great emphasis on knowing more about who you really are beyond your track record of academic and professional excellence. What are your motivations, your life experiences, your guiding values? Admissions boards assess your emotional intelligence and capacity for change as much as your intellectual intelligence. Indeed, business education has evolved over the past decade and schools are conscious of their role in developing thoughtful and ethical leaders who will shape our world of tomorrow.
Ten years ago, for example, Harvard asked you to write about your career goals, accomplishments, setbacks, and why you wanted an MBA. Today, HBS asks an open and intimidating question: “What else would you like us to know as we review your application for the HBS MBA program”? As Karla Cohen of Fortuna, former Associate Director of HBS, notes, “HBS seeks passionate, principled individuals who have the potential to fulfill HBS’s mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world.”
Indeed, business schools have developed more holistic and nuanced methods to assess candidates. From formal emotional intelligence assessments (Yale SOM Inter and Intrapersonal Skills Assessment) to letters of recommendation (NYU Stern EQ specific question) to key attributes (Dartmouth Tuck’s “niceness” criteria), to videos (Kellogg, LBS, INSEAD, and MIT), programs want to learn more about your character and interpersonal skills to predict your leadership potential and readiness for the MBA class. Berkeley Haas, for example, is explicit in assessing the program’s fit with the school’s culture and key tenets – Challenge the Status Quo, Trust Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond yourself.
- Slow but real progress on gender parity
While they may not have admitted it, 10 years ago most business schools believed that by 2022 they would have achieved gender parity. And while many top US MBA programs have made good progress, and some are closing in, widespread gender parity in the MBA classroom remains a distant goal. And among the most elite programs, last year Wharton became the only top MBA program to achieve gender parity in 2021.
In November 2021, a study by the Forté Foundation showed that female enrollment in MBA programs has increased in 14 of the 26 top-ranked business schools in the United States, and that 15 of these 26 schools have more than 40% more women in their MBA cohorts. . The burden of funding an MBA has often been cited as one of the main reasons why women are reluctant to embark on an MBA path, along with the constraints of completing a full-time program and the desire maintain a work-life balance. Schools have gone to great lengths to address these concerns, from offering more scholarships to developing programs and communities to meet the specific needs of women.
Wharton and USC Marshall, proud outliers who recently achieved (and in Wharton’s case, maintained) gender parity, are clearly doing something right. For Wharton, last year marked the first time in the school’s 100-year history that a class is female-dominated. Wharton has moved the needle 7% over the past decade; then, as now, 45% was considered a real feat.
Over the past decade, America’s top schools have gained ground in balancing male and female enrollments. Female enrollment among top schools: Kellogg (48%), Stanford GSB (47%), MIT Sloan and HBS at (46%), NYU Stern (45%) and CBS (44%).
Generally speaking, schools in Europe and the UK lag behind their US counterparts when it comes to gender parity. The exception is Oxford University’s Said who leads with 48% and Cambridge University’s Judge just behind with 47% (both schools have grown significantly in recent years). The percentage of women is much lower in the other Grandes Ecoles: IESE (38%), LBS (37%), INSEAD (36%), IMD (35%) and HEC (34%).
- Rise of the GRE
Until 2006, if you wanted to apply for an MBA, you had to present a GMAT score.
That year, a few forward-thinking schools such as Stanford GSB and Berkeley Haas decided that one test wasn’t right for everyone and also started accepting the GRE. Then, about 10 years ago, more and more schools started accepting the GRE. Although it was not said at the time and even until very recently people inside the system knew that schools had a strong preference for the GMAT unless the candidate was a candidate unusually interesting and untraditional.
Those days are over. The GRE is now widely recognized as a perfectly acceptable test score to submit with your application. The GRE has indeed gained traction and legitimacy with MBA admissions teams. Today, more than 1,300 business schools – including Wharton, Kellogg and London Business School (LBS) – accept the exam in applications. A staggering 29% of the HBS Class of 2023 were admitted with a GRE score, up from 22% the previous year.
There are, of course, some schools that still prefer the GMAT, but they are a shrinking minority. INSEAD, one of the top schools that has been most hesitant about the GRE, welcomes candidates who have taken this test, but likes to see a higher percentile on the quant GRE section than they would accept for the GMAT. The vexing trend in MBA admissions this year is the drop in applications to top US business schools. However, this drop represents an unprecedented opportunity for candidates applying in the second round. As co-founder of Fortuna Matt Symonds recently wrote in Forbes, “This year could be your best chance in a generation to get into an M7 business school like Harvard, Stanford GSB, Wharton or Columbia.” So while a strong U.S. job market retards the national appetite for an MBA and employers urge top talent to speak out, demand for an MBA from the world’s top business schools remains. strong. And with potentially fewer applicants vying for limited seats on the world’s top programs, the odds may also be better than ever.
lemon balm Joelson is a former director of communications at INSEAD and an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions, a dream team of former MBA admissions directors from top business schools around the world. Our DNA hasn’t changed since Fortuna was founded ten years ago: our goal is to provide in-house expertise to candidates and leverage insights from those who really know the schools inside out. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission to one of the best MBA programs, contact a free consultation.