What’s New In MBA Admissions
Maria |
June 28, 2023

In this episode of Business Casual, our hosts will bring you the insightful highlights from the recent AIGAC conference attended by Maria, with of course a special focus on the MBA admissions industry. Discover the notable shift discussed as Columbia Business School transitions from rolling admissions to a three-round format and valuable insights on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in admissions.

They also dive into the acceptance of alternate tests like the new GMAT and GRE formats. Explore the rise of older applicants, potentially a result of pandemic-related delays, and the potential for tailored full-time MBA options for individuals at different career stages. Lastly, they touch upon the challenge of “summer melt” and its implications for admissions officers when admitted candidates opt not to enroll after submitting deposits.

Don’t miss out on captivating discussions about MBA admissions, AI in education, GMAT, GRE, and the evolving landscape of business education.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.370] – John

Hello everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co hosts Maria Wich-Vila and Caroline Diarte Edwards. We want to talk about a couple things today. One is AIGAC. Now, you probably don’t know what AIGAC is, and I hate acronyms, but it stands for the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants. And in late May they met. And these are largely MBA admission consultants, not necessarily all graduate schools. And one thing that they do is they talk about the industry, they talk about trends, and they meet with admission directors of various schools who often kind of tell what they expect in the marketplace, as well as how they’re going to maybe change their application requirements or their essays. One of the big changes this year at a major school is Columbia Business School, which for years has had a rolling admissions policy and for the first time in memory, for sure, has gone to a traditional three round format. Maria attended the AIGAC conference and I wonder if you might share some of the highlights.

[00:01:25.620] – Maria

Yeah, absolutely. It was a super packed I mean, these are conferences that go from 08:00 A.m. Until 10:00 p.m. At night, well, including meals. It’s not all conference stuff, but yeah, a few of the takeaways that were really surprising to me that I can share were first of all, we have talked here on this podcast several times about AI and Generative, AI and ChatGPT and what is that going to mean for writing essays, et cetera. And it was interesting. There was sort of a range of opinions from admissions officers. Some of them seemed, on average, a lot less freaked out about it or concerned about it than I expected them to be. For example, one of the officers said something like, well, we can tell if a candidate has written an application for another school, so I feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to tell if a candidate has written one with ChatGPT. Another officer sort of likened it to using Grammarly. Right? It’s sort of the natural evolution. We started with spell check and that little paperclip in Microsoft, probably before a lot of listeners to this podcast were born. You guys, there used to be a little paperclip in Microsoft that would appear and try to help you and it was not helpful.

[00:02:34.270] – Maria

We started with spell check and then we went to grammar check and then it was Grammarly. And so this person just said, well, this is just sort of a natural evolution of that because the ChatGPT cannot invent the content for you, no matter how good it is. But maybe it could be sort of a writing tool to help people become better writers. As a side note, this is not AIGAC related necessarily, but I know an English teacher who’s a high school English teacher in Los Angeles who said that she’s actually starting to incorporate ChatGPT into some of her lessons because she’s like, it’s here to stay. And if it can help my students learn to become better writers themselves, then we just have to embrace it anyway. I was like, oh, I hadn’t thought.

[00:03:10.670] – Maria

Of it being a tool to help people. Like, if you write it your way and then you put it in the ChatGPT and it spits back something that’s a lot better, then maybe it teaches you. I think that’s overly optimistic because I think people may or may not want to put in that level of effort and they’re just tell me, Just do it for me.

[00:03:26.370] – John

Maria I was recently at Cambridge and a professor told me that he wrote an article and then he put it into ChatGPT and he asked the bot to edit the article and it really functioned as an editor as well, and a rewrite person. So there is that.

[00:03:45.190] – Maria

Yeah, hopefully. I think the challenge, though, would be if ChatGPT, it might know how to cut out words, but how do we know that it’s cutting out the best words in terms of what’s relevant for an MBA admissions reader and what isn’t? It might just cut out words willy nilly, but also cut out really good stuff in addition to really irrelevant stuff.

[00:04:04.750] – John

As we know it makes up stuff too.

[00:04:07.550] – Maria

Sometimes it just makes it what was some of the stuff? Yeah. Listeners can find that old podcast episode and the one where it made up some fun facts about John randomly. I think it was your 25.

[00:04:22.710] – John

What’s interesting is OpenAI calls this hallucinations and they basically justify ChatGPT making up stuff when when it can’t find information as exactly what humans would do. They just make up stuff. I find the whole notion of hallucinations fascinating.

[00:04:44.030] – Caroline

That’s like it’s on drugs.

[00:04:47.130] – Maria

From now on, whenever I make any sort of mistake at all, I’m just going to call it a hallucination should be my excuse for Noah. So in general, I was really surprised because I thought there was going to be a lot of hand wringing and gnashing of teeth and stress, but overall it was a pretty much spell check. But on steroids or on LSD as a case. Another thing that was interesting was different opinions about the alternate tests that are coming up. So, in other words, the new GMAT, the new GRE. I think Harvard has said that they will not accept the new GMAT this year just because it’s coming out a little too close to the round one deadline. And then they want our people should they wait, should they not wait? Just like, let’s just not even introduce that variable into the mix. I believe that’s been their position so far. But another school said something like, I’ll take any measure of academic horsepower I can get. And so whether it’s a short GMAT, a long GMAT, a short GRE, I don’t care I just want to know that they can handle the work in my program.

[00:05:56.160] – Maria

So overall, I was also surprised by just there sort of seemed to be kind of a yeah, sure, bring it on attitude about the new test. And then another trend that I had sort of I think some of us who work in this field had noticed anecdotally, but they confirmed it was that there was a larger influx of older candidates in this year’s applicant poll, sort of noticeably so. And I think the theory was that because of the pandemic, perhaps people were either waiting to see what would happen with the pandemic, or perhaps they had to care for elderly parents or for whatever reason, they suspect that. What happened is that there was a build up of people, maybe in their late 20s, early 30s, who were thinking of applying to business school and then did not apply to business school. And now with the Pandemic quote unquote over, they all kind of appeared this year. So the hope is that things will level out a bit more in the next year or two, and that will not continue. Although someone from one of the schools said it seems to him that perhaps the current MBA, as it stands, given that it is targeting people at a certain point in their lives, at a certain point in their careers, maybe some of the schools should start reconsidering what they offer and what is the MBA.

[00:07:09.680] – Maria

And maybe there is a full time MBA option, not just the executive MBA, but maybe a full time MBA option for people who might be a little bit later in their lives versus what we think of as the typical MBA candidate. I don’t think anyone jumped up and said, yes, we’re going to offer that tomorrow. We’re going to restructure everything to cater to this audience. But it was an interesting thought exercise, right? We’ve seen a proliferation of the Master’s programs targeting more early stage people in their career. So it would be interesting to see if that then follows with more full time types of options for people who might be a little bit later. But so those were the three things that I took away.

[00:07:51.540] – John

That’s interesting. Was there any talk about volume of applicants in the current or in the forthcoming application cycle? Do people expect apps to go up, down, stay the same?

[00:08:06.490] – Maria

I think it’s really anyone’s guess. I think that there’s just everyone kind of like, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the upcoming season. We don’t know what’s going to happen. I think right now, honestly, a lot of the admissions officers are just so worried about summer melt. And that is to say, like, the people they give the offers to. Oh, here’s another thing that a couple of them shared, is that they’ve found a lot of people have started putting in multiple deposit goals. In other words, that’s always happened, right? People will always take the bird in the hand or three birds in the hand versus why not put in a bunch of deposits? But one of them noted that that’s happening a lot, and that makes sense from a candidate’s perspective. Right. Why not play the field a little bit longer? But it also makes it very stressful for an admissions officer who doesn’t know just because you have $1,500 in hand from someone, they might still disappear on you. And so I do think that I think the summer is not going to be a fun one for a lot of our colleagues and peers and people that we like who work in admissions, because I think they’re people that they thought were going to apply or sorry, who were going to enroll, just might vanish.

[00:09:21.070] – Maria

And that is very stressful.

[00:09:22.970] – John

Yeah. Caroline, what are your thoughts about Maria’s observations?

[00:09:27.490] – Caroline

Yeah, it was very interesting. I was particularly interested to hear what they had to say about AI. I do think that the schools are still trying to figure it out, and that may be why they didn’t have a clear policy. I was checking online what the schools say about their policies on AI, and it’s sort of a moving target at the moment. And I think the schools are sort of struggling how to juggle. There’s a fine line to tread right. For business schools, because on one hand, they need to embrace AI, because their students need to understand how it works and understand how to leverage this technology for their future roles.

[00:10:14.170] – Caroline

Right? That needs to be sort of integrated into the curriculum so that they can really know how to use that strategically in whatever role they’re going into. But at the same time, they’re academic institutions with standards to uphold. And I can imagine that professors are not too keen on students using AI willy-nilly to do all of their assignments. And I would imagine that there would have to be some consistency at some point in policies that they have on the academic side and in admissions.

[00:10:48.590] – Caroline

From what I understand, I think the schools are sort of trying to figure this out. It sort of all happens so quickly, and it’s not easy to figure out what the implications are for admissions and then academically as regards academic policies, and then also as regards helping students learn about it and be able to understand how they can leverage AI in the future. So I think it’s a very complex issue for schools, and I suspect that there are a lot more discussions going on behind closed doors that they’re not necessarily sharing in public yet.

[00:11:27.630] – John

Yeah. Right now, this year’s conference was in New York and Connecticut, which probably means Yale and the New York schools. Did you pick up any intelligence, Maria, as to why Columbia went to a more traditional three round format for their deadlines this year?

[00:11:48.130] – Maria

I don’t want to speak for them on this. I would suspect that just in terms of the complexity involved with having to manage rolling deadlines and the early decision. And if what one of the admissions officers said is true about people putting in multiple deposits, then the early action, the binding early decision of Columbia perhaps was starting to become essentially meaningless, right. As more and more candidates were, I think, applying early to Columbia, getting in and then saying, woohoo, I now have a 6000 for $6,000, I have a call option on an amazing school. Now it’s time to apply to some other schools in round one and see how well I do. I suspect that’s how a lot of people were using early decision recently. And if that started increasing, then it effectively, from a yield management perspective, it makes the early decision not nearly as useful as it is intended to be. But one quick thing. Caroline mentioned a second ago, she made the great point that AI tools are here to stay, as if schools need to be able to train their students to adapt to it. The Dean of Columbia Business School spoke to us and here’s a little plug for Columbia.

[00:12:52.570] – Maria

He pointed out that they are incorporating a ton of AI, a whole bunch of technology and forward facing classes into their curriculum and something like a huge percentage of their electives didn’t even exist five years ago, that they are constantly refreshing. I can’t remember if it was 2030. 40% of their electives are constantly being refreshed. And obviously every school is going to always keep up with the times. But it did seem like an overwhelmingly high number of elective refreshes. And it’s something like they introduced a class on Python programming for MBAs, and again, a huge, I want to say roughly 30% or more perhaps, of MBA students have taken that Python class as sort of a sign that students realizing that these skills are just going to be valuable. And so business schools, I think, are instead of saying like, well, go take Computer Science 101 down at the undergrad campus, I think schools are going to increasingly incorporate that. So we can definitely start seeing more out of that from Columbia’s curriculum. All schools well, but it’s just their.

[00:13:57.070] – John

Top of mind because they hosted us exactly now. And of course, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of schools are now posting their application deadlines for this forthcoming admission cycle. And a number of them, most of them who have posted deadlines have posted their essays. We see any interesting changes on the essay front and what is expected of applicants this forthcoming season. Caroline, do you see anything interesting?

[00:14:29.750] – Caroline

So HAAS has introduced a video question. So I think that’s interesting. And we’ve discussed before that there has been a trend for increasing use of video in applications over the past few years and that with the advent of AI that it makes sense for schools to perhaps rely more heavily. On tools like video because it’s perhaps harder to gain that than it is a written application with AI tools, ChatGPT and so on. So unlike some of the other schools which use the Kira platform to generate questions that you would need to respond to fairly spontaneously in a sort of interview style. So schools like Inclusive, for example, use the Cura platform and they will give you 45 seconds to prepare and then 60 seconds to respond, right? And they would cut you off after that. So it’s more of a sort of spontaneous exercise with this half video. You can prepare it in your own time and record it and I think you can prepare a two minute video to introduce yourself. So it asks you to briefly introduce yourself to the Admissions Committee, explain which leadership principle resonates most with you. So it’s referring back to the Berkeley defining leadership principles and I think you mentioned earlier, Maria, that that was one of their interview questions before so that they’ve brought this forward from interview into the initial application and incorporated that as a video question.

[00:16:11.370] – Caroline

So I think those video questions are very useful. And of course, as an Admissions Committee member or as a file reader, you often don’t get to meet a candidate in person because it’ll often be other people who will be conducting the interviews, given the volume of interviews that are being done. So videos can be a really nice way to get a glimpse of the candidates, right? So that two minute glimpse can be a very useful way to sort of cross check things like communication skills. How does the person get their story across? And is there some coherence between how they present themselves in video and how they present themselves in the written application? How they present themselves and how the recommender presents themselves? So it’s a very interesting addition to the overall puzzle that comes together to build a picture of the candidate. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of those pre recorded videos that candidates put together. I personally prefer the Kira format where it’s more of a sort of spontaneous exercise which although that can be quite stressful for candidates, right? It’s not easy to have to respond to those spontaneous questions where you have just a few seconds to prepare and then you have to deliver your response, then you’ve got 60 seconds and it cuts you off.

[00:17:35.750] – Caroline

It’s not an easy exercise, but I do feel that sometimes candidates tie themselves up in knots in thinking this has to be beautifully produced, it has to be professionally produced and they do like 1000 different cuts of their video and that is not necessary. But I think they feel pressure to look like a movie star in their video, right? And maybe if you’re Maria and you live in Hollywood then that’s very doable. But to the average candidate then that’s quite an intimidating exercise, I think. So I prefer the more spontaneous type of videos, where I think that also the schools get a better sense for how the candidate communicates in a more spontaneous format, rather than something where they’ve perhaps just learned a script and they are delivering a script that they’ve pre prepared.

[00:18:35.510] – John

Right. That’s interesting. Any other new things that you’ve noticed, Maria?

[00:18:41.970] – Maria

Well, at Poets and Quants, you guys already ran a great article about the changes to Columbia’s application. So getting rid of early decision, moving to rounds. I also think they got rid of their question on what’s your favorite movie, song or book and why, which was sort of a chance for a bit of creative expression in the past. And now they’ve replaced it with a question around diversity, equity and inclusion, which actually was a question they had a few years ago. They’ve resurrected it, and I was actually analyzing it a couple of days ago. And if you look more closely at the wording, the bar, I think has raised. So when they introduced that question, I believe in either 2020 or 2021, it was more around when have you been challenged around diversity, equity, inclusion? They list out these sorts of kind of four or five different things that they look for, like advocating for others or trying to end systemic prejudice or things along those lines. And then the question used to say, talk about a time you were challenged around one of these, and now the wording is much more around, tell us what actions you took.

[00:19:49.050] – Maria

So I thought that was really interesting. Right. Because I think the school is indirectly saying, like, look, it’s one thing if two years ago you had no idea systemic racism, it was all news to you, but we’re now in 2023, and hopefully you’re trying to lose others more in things like conversations. You don’t all have to save the world. Like I tell people, this is not a Nobel Prize Prize competition, this is a business school competition, but hopefully you’re at least trying to become somewhat more inclusive, even if you broadly define that inclusivity. So I did think that that was an interesting change as well.

[00:20:26.250] – John

Yes. So for all of you out there who are tracking this and intend to apply either round One, round Two, round Three in the forthcoming admission season, you can check out Story. It’s called MBA application deadlines for the 2023-2024 admission cycle. Harvard, Stanford and Wharton are already done with their deadlines, and so is Yale and Duke and UVA. Darden in Michigan and new other schools are posting them. As we move forward and closer to those round One deadlines, we update the story every single day when a new deadline comes out or when new essays come out. So it’s a good place to just see put in your calendar those dates when you’re going to have to meet these deadlines and get your application underway.

[00:21:22.890] – John

Otherwise, thank you for listening. And Maria, and Caroline, a joy as always. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual, our  weekly podcast. See you next week.

What’s New In MBA Admissions
Maria |
June 28, 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!