MBA Application Essays: Which Schools Will Change Their Topics in 2023? [CHART]
Maria |
March 21, 2023

Every year, some energetic early-bird candidates want to get an early jump-start on their MBA applications, in particular, prior to the Round 1 deadlines in September / October.

The tricky thing is, most business schools do not release their updated essays until June, July, or sometimes even a bit later!

In this post, I’m going to share with you what you can be doing instead… but also, I will share with you which schools tend to CHANGE essay questions, and which ones tend to stay the SAME, in case you really are looking for a head start!

Things you can do to start strengthening your MBA application, even before the new essays are out:

Which of the top business schools I predict are likely to change their application essays in 2023 [CHART]:

Spoiler alert: I don’t expect huge changes this year overall, since a LOT of admissions offices are in flux — many of the top programs will have NEW admissions heads in 2023 (Harvard, Stanford, Ross… and both Kellogg and Haas have relatively new heads of admissions, only a few years into the role). Admissions officers don’t often like to rock the boat (“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”).

Also, while 2020 saw a number of changes to essay topics, due to the societal upheaval happening at the time (the pandemic; racial justice; increasing awareness of climate change), there have not been many similar major shocks to society this past year, which would create a sense of urgency around creating essay questions that are topically-relevant.

Overall, here is what I DO expect to see:

  • Questions around “diversity and inclusion” as here to stay (continuing to expand)
  • An increase in reliance on video (e.g. video responses to virtual interview questions) as a way to combat the coming scourge of Chat GPT and significant concerns around candidates using it to write their essays
MBA ProgramExpected changes to application essays in 2023?
Harvard (HBS)None. They will have a new head of admissions this year (and the previous one made no substantial changes to the primary essay). Unless they hire in someone who has been working there for years and is itching to shake things up, I foresee no huge changes. And besides, I love their “what else should we know about you?” essay !
Stanford (GSB)None. They will also have a new head of admissions. Plus “What Matters Most” has been around for over 20 years. They’ve added in 3 optional leadership essays AND a sort of “indirect diversity essay” in recent years, making Stanford the US program with the most onerous written application, IMHO. Since they already have SO many essays covering SO many things, I’m not sure that they would add anything. If anything, their new AdCom head may decide to streamline things?
UPenn (Wharton)Probably none. They are (rightfully) obsessed with data analytics, tracking, etc. in a way that I really respect, and changing their essays dramatically from year to year might mess with that. Plus, Blair is apparently going to be out in the early summer on maternity leave (CONGRATS, BLAIR, BTW!!!) … so if I were in her shoes, the last thing I’d want to do in the fall is to face totally new essay questions (admittedly though, she is probably a stronger person than I am!). I mean, ugh, right? Life is hard enough as it is! Why add stress to it for no good reason?? These essays have been the same for years, and so they will probably stay the same in 2023.
Chicago (Booth)Moderate to strong chance for change. This is one of the top schools that most likes to shake things up (no kidding – they used to have a question where you had to look at pictures of Booth — e.g, of people doing yoga or something? — and write about them). SINCE they have had the same essays for a couple of years now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to shake things up again, or even add in something around diversity (?)
Northwestern (Kellogg)Unlikely. While their new(er) head of admissions might be feeling stable enough to make a change, their “leaders who create lasting value” essay has been around for a long time, and frankly it’s the best essay they have, so I’d expect this one to stay. The “values are what guide you” question might be ripe for modification? Also, their “optional” (not truly optional, ha ha) Kira talent video interview questions are interesting — in years past, they’ve TOLD US what the questions will be, which to me pretty much defeats the purpose of even doing video interviews in the first place (in terms of getting an authentic, spontaneous sense of who people are). I’d love to see them switch to non-predictable video questions… but anyway, since you wouldn’t do these until you submit anyway, this is less urgent!
MIT (Sloan)Unlikely. Aside from the fact that I wish their pre-prepared video were instead a spontaneous random question, MIT probably has one of my favorite written applications. I love the forced brevity of the cover letter. I love the requirement of the organizational chart (SO useful!)(why doesn’t EVERY business school ask for this???). Even though Dawna Levinson has only been in the top spot for a few years, she’s been at Sloan for FOREVER, and I expect her to continue (as her predecessor Rod Garcia did before her). Given the impact she has surely had in the evolution of their application up until now, I can’t imagine her making any huge changes this year (it’s already such a good application!)
Columbia (CBS)Historically, essay #3 (currently about a book / movie / song / etc. that means a lot to you) is the one that tends to change from year to year. Frankly, I think it’s probably exhausting to read their essays 1 + 2 together (which combined, are 800 words devoted to “Career Vision” + “Why MBA / Why Our School”); other schools are able to get the same information in essays roughly half that length? Plus, breaking out what SHOULD be a naturally flowing set of topics into 2 discrete essays lends to an abruptness between them. All of this is to say, I can’t help but wonder if they might smush essays 1 & 2 together this year — if for no other reason than to spare THEMSELVES the aggravation of doing so much extra work! Even if they DO change it up, I’d guess there will still be SOMETHING about “Why CBS (and p.s. did you know that we’re in NYC?!)?” — so I’d still do the same amount of Why CBS / Why NYC research as before, even if the specific essay topic changes.
Yale SOMUnlikely. They put a LOT of effort into developing the “biggest commitment” essay, and they seem to like it, given that no real changes have been made to it in recent years. Given that, I expect this essay to remain the same.
Berkeley (Haas)Possible. This is one of the schools that likes to change it up every few years… plus, their (new-ish) head of admissions has been in the role for a couple of years now, so he might be feeling like he’s earned the right to play around with the topic. I’d hold off on starting to draft these essays for now.
Michigan (Ross)Possible. Heck, they even ADDED in a new essay last year, in the midst of their top two admissions officers leaving! One way they’ve been able to “mix it up without going crazy” is that they sometimes will swap around their 100-word essay topics (in other words, they might still keep the 100-word essays, but move around which questions are in which “bucket” to choose from). I would NOT put a lot of effort into the 100 word essays (it’s a lot harder to write 100 words than it is to write 1,000 words!) … UNTIL they have announced their topics!
Dartmouth (Tuck)Possible. While their core values around being “nice”, supportive, etc. are unlikely to change, the specific essay wording / topic might change. What I’d advise you to do for Tuck is to, in Brainstorming / Branding, think about your stories that show you being the sort of person Tuck looks for… but don’t start writing yet until we have the full picture.
Duke (Fuqua)Unlikely. Shari Hubert is still doing incredible work running their admissions office, and “25 Things” is almost more recognizable to the Fuqa brand than the Blue Devil mascot itself! I love their brief, to-the-point career essay, as well as the “contribution to our community” essay… I have a feeling that these are pretty useful, and “25 Things” is fun to read, so I don’t anticipate any big changes here.
NYU (Stern)Possible? They have had their “Pick Six” for a while, so they must like it / find value in it? (Personally I’d go NUTS if I had to review those, but nobody asked me, ha ha!). Then a year or two ago, they mixed it up with their: “CHANGE: ___ IT!” new essay to match their snazzy new tag line. With the tag-line now firmly launched, they might think that they don’t need to pay it so much lip service via the essay? I don’t know if it’s highly likely that they will “CHANGE: IT!” when it comes to the essay topic, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it is replaced with something else.
UVa (Darden)Likely? They were quick to add an “inclusive environment” essay topic a few years ago, plus they have lots of random super-mini essays (e.g. “Where would you like to travel with school? What do you want to do in Charlottesville?”). They haven’t seem “wed” to essay topics in the past, so hold off on writing these for now, until we know more.
Cornell (Johnson)Unlikely. It matters a lot to them that you prove that you’ve gotten to know them via student outreach (I mean, it’s practically begging you to do student outreach in the question verbiage!), which makes sense given the Ithaca location. The specific text of the question might change, but I expect the importance placed on student outreach to remain the same. Plus, Cornell has So! Much! Going! On! (the Tech MBA! the removal of the one-year MBA!) that I suspect their plates might be full enough as it is?
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)Likely. They have a tendency to switch it up these past couple of years. While I like the video part of it, I can’t help but wonder if their current inclusivity essay is giving them ALL of the data they’d like to have on someone via the written application? I wouldn’t be surprised if they maybe add an essay.
UCLA (Anderson) Likely. For almost the exact same reasons I just wrote about Tepper in the box above (smiley face)
UT Austin (McCombs)Likely. Last year, they did what I think MOST business schools should do, and introduced SEVEN video interview questions to their application. They are a school with innovation in their DNA, and they are not afraid to show it via their application! Hold off to see what they might be cooking up next…
UNC Chapel Hill (Kenan Flagler)Likely, for essay #2. I expect the career goal / why our school essay to stay pretty much the same, but their essay 2 about “furthering your growth as an inclusive leader” is just painful. It came out in the throes of 2020, and, like all “inclusion” essays, I think means well, but probably gets manipulated a lot by cynical applicants. Hmm… maybe my “likely” here is less based in actual probability, and is more based on wishful thinking on my part, ha ha?
USC (Marshall)Unlikely. They want to make it as easy as possible for people with high GMAT scores to apply, so then their GMAT average continues to rise, and they hope to rise in the rankings alongside it. No recommendations needed. A super easy essay. Even if they change the essay, it will only be to something equally easy, if not easier.
UT Austin (McCombs)Likely. Last year, they did what I think MOST business schools should do, and introduced SEVEN video interview questions to their application. They are a school with innovation in their DNA, and they are not afraid to show it via their application! Hold off to see what they might be cooking up next…
MBA Application Essays: Which Schools Will Change Their Topics in 2023? [CHART]
Maria |
March 21, 2023


New around here? I’m an HBS graduate and a proud member (and former Board Member) of AIGAC. I considered opening a high-end boutique admissions consulting firm, but I wanted to make high-quality admissions advice accessible to all, so I “scaled myself” by creating ApplicantLab. ApplicantLab provides the SAME advice as high-end consultants at a much more affordable price. Read our rave reviews on GMATClub, and check out our free trial (no credit card required) today!