“Why This School” Essays Are More Important Than Ever
Over the past five years, admissions committees have slashed the number of essays required to apply. But despite the reduction, one essay question persists among top programs: Why do you want to attend this school?
Stanford asks applicants, “Why Stanford?” Wharton asks applicants what they hope to gain “from a Wharton MBA?”. Columbia, for all practical purposes, asks applicants the question twice, once in its first essay prompt and again in its second.
Despite this, MBA applicants too often seem to invest limited effort in crafting a well-thought-out answer as to why they want to go to a particular program. Too many provide the same generic response: they name a few classes, clubs, and professors that align with their interests; they compliment the school’s energetic student body and expansive alumni network; and then they move on.
Well, business schools aren’t satisfied. So they’ve begun to try to get at this question another way. Using software like Talisma and Slate, admissions committees have started tracking how often applicants engage with the school as a means of discerning how badly candidates really even want to attend.
Schools will track everything from the number of emails you’ve sent the admissions committee to the number of events and webinars you’ve attended. According to a recent Businessweek article, some schools even track whether you’ve interviewed alumni.
So, why do business schools care so much, and what should applicants do about it?
Why Business Schools Care
As much as admissions committees may profess otherwise, business schools never stop caring about their place in annual rankings. Every program wants to stay among the top ten, and every school wants to move up. And while lots of factors go in to determining a school’s rank, not all of those factors are equally in their control.
It’s all about yield. Yield is one of the most influential factors that admissions committees can control. It’s incredibly influential in the rankings since it is not only a measure of how desirable a school is, but it also influences a school’s admittance rate (i.e. how selective the school is). This makes sense: as fewer applicants accept an admissions offers (decreasing yield), schools must admit more applicants (increasing the admittance rate):
What This Means for Applicants
Be an Engaged Applicant. First, and hopefully this is obvious, you should engage with an admissions committee before you apply. Each school is different in the channels it offers applicants to do this, but look for opportunities to take school tours, attend info sessions, sign up for webinars, and email the admissions committee if you have a thoughtful question or are planning to be on campus.
Obviously, quantity does not equal quality here. Your goal should be to have a few thoughtful interactions with the admissions committee, demonstrating a genuine interest in the program.
Write a More Thoughtful Essay on “Why This School?”. Second, take more time in crafting a unique essay response when the school is asking why you want to attend its program specifically. Don’t fall back on the typical go-to answers here. Leverage the personal interactions you’ve had with alumni, students, and admissions committee members; this will simultaneously demonstrate that you’ve engaged with the program, and it ensures that the answer you’re providing is one that no other applicant could replicate, since it’s based on your own personal interactions.
Most importantly, think carefully about the differences between MBA programs, and how they align (or don’t align) with your background and career vision.
If you’d like, we’d be happy to share some of our own knowledge about what makes each MBA program unique, as well as answer any questions you have about your own application and chances of admission. Reach out through our free consultation service, and let us know how we can help.