Now, some graduate schools are aiming for just such a goal — at least in the applications process for their M.B.A. programs.
Columbia Business School this year is asking applicants to respond in no more than 200 characters to the following question: ‘What is your post-M.B.A. professional goal?’ (The answer would be shorter than the length of this paragraph.)
Admissions officers review their application processes regularly, but have picked up the pace in recent years as they seek more creative responses via essays, PowerPoint presentations, Twitter and even in-person.
Admissions officers say they are looking for more authenticity and honesty, since essays can be carefully crafted, often with help from a professional M.B.A. admissions consultant.
Beginning this winter, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School will invite a random sampling of M.B.A. applicants to participate in a staff-moderated on-campus group discussion with fellow applicants. They will be encouraged to discuss and debate current topics in business, as chosen by the school.
For the class entering in the fall of 2012, the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business began asking prospective students what gives them the greatest joy, a change from its prior ‘What are you most passionate about?’ query. The school is hoping to tap into issues that excite applicants — the pleasure of a certain hobby, for example — rather than a self-impressed treatise on solving world hunger.
Harvard Business School this year began directing current applicants to ‘Answer a question you wish we’d asked,’ an open-ended prompt that could be intimidating.
The University of Iowa’s Henry B. Tippie School of Management this summer offered a full scholarship valued at $37,240 to the applicant who best answered, ‘What makes you an exceptional Tippie full-time M.B.A. candidate and future M.B.A. hire?’ via a tweet.
However, even the quirkiest questions can get uninspiring responses.
The Haas School, bringing back an old prompt, asked applicants for the class entering in fall 2008, ‘If you could have dinner with one individual in the past, present or future, who would it be and why?’
But Haas’s Ms. Fujii was underwhelmed by the answers. She believes an admissions consultant told clients to say ‘yourself, 30 years in the future,’ a response that quickly cluttered her office.
The admission offices have not got it: The key point is not to use any particular way of screening but to use them all. The best way is to ask candidates to think as a consultant for a real case and provide answers to the challenge questions.