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MBA Expert Series: How Has the Admissions Process Changed?

Posted in Test Prep on November 9, 2010 by

Welcome to another installment of our MBA expert series! This week, we were fortunate enough to sit down with MBA admissions expert Walter Hutchinson, founder of ApplicationAdvantage.com, the boutique international admissions advisory, and also founder of MBAdashboard.com, the admissions supersite powered by proprietary technology tools designed specifically for global business school applicants. Walter holds degrees from Columbia University and has lived in North America, Asia and Europe while advising professionals and students representing more than 20 countries.

In your view, how has the admissions process changed over the past twenty years? The past decade?

The pace of everything has sped up, become much more sophisticated, and been transformed into a hotbed of innovation by internet technology. In the ’90s, we still had paper applications. Up to 2004 or so, internet submission was still experimental. Now almost everything is done online. Yet each year, admissions committees still want to know answers to the same questions and students continue to enter the admissions process with the same concerns and in many cases, misconceptions.

The main differences between then and now are three-fold: 1) admissions committees now have a broader range of options for getting to know prospective applicants, 2) a number of admissions strategies have evolved with the availability of interactive media, and 3) the internet has turned admissions seasons into a continuous cycle.

Last year, I actually ran an assessment of popular student strategies using my 1990 admissions work as a baseline, and then compared the 2000 and 2009 evolution of those strategies against 15 admissions demographics to which students belonged. Surprisingly, a number of strategies are still current in 2010, but rapid diffusion of information has made it almost impossible for any student to gain an advantage based on gimmickry or superficiality, because even if an admissions committee hasn’t seen an approach, it can probably be found easily on the internet.

Technology, therefore, forces students to play the game by advanced rules and raises the quality of competition, because students must put more effort into genuinely differentiating themselves. Attempted shortcuts can be instantly checked or assessed in ways that were impossible back in 1990 or even as late as 2000. In fact, the need for greater preparation by students and the increase in competitive pressures at top schools, makes it essential for students to begin preparing far in advance of their target admission round. Long gone are the days when a strong application could easily be completed in less than a week.

I think the process is undergoing a shift which actually benefit students in the longer term, because technology combined with the steps required to substantively improve an admission profile, now encourage future applicants to treat the admissions process as an integral part of their ongoing development – raising odds that committees will gravitate toward them – instead of as “something they have to cram for and get over as soon as possible.”