2010-2011 MBA Application Trend: The Importance of the Personal

Most adcoms would agree that the past few years, starting with the "Great Recession", have provided an embarrassment of riches in both the number of MBA applicants and their overall quality. The most difficult issue for adcoms is how to choose a class from among so many people with stellar work accomplishments and eye-popping GMAT scores. It's still early in the season, but I think some of them are approaching this fortuitous problem by demanding from their applicants fewer accomplishments, but more personality and character. Both Columbia and UCLA Anderson did away this year with their fairly standard questions from the past to focus on - in simple terms - your Goals and Personal life. That's a radical streamlining for them. Fuqua is continuing their similar, highly personal approach from last year. Even accomplishment-obsessed HBS is offering what can be interpreted as a more personality-driven question this year.

Please tell us about yourself and your personal interests. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are rather than what you have achieved professionally. (Columbia)

What event or life experience has had the greatest influence in shaping your character and why? (750 words) (UCLA Anderson)

How will your background, values, and non-work activities enhance the experience of other Duke MBA students and add value to Fuqua’s diverse culture? (Fuqua)

When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates? (HBS)

These are "soft" questions in that they probe your demonstrated values, interests, passions, character, ethics, personality, humor and all the other human qualities that can distinguish an accomplished professional from a truly unique individual. The soul-searching aspect of these questions might serve another purpose as well: to make them more impervious to standard essay editing/consulting tricks. (See here for my "backgrounder" on the Personal Essay.) So while you may have fewer essays to write this year, what you do write, particularly about your personal life, will likely take on more importance than ever before. One suggestion - don't just describe "what" you do in your personal life, but "how" and "why" you do it. Your approaches and reasons will often reveal more about you than your activities themselves.