MER (myEssayReview) had the opportunity to participate in the three-day AIGAC Virtual Conference last week- from May 03 to May 05, 2022. The theme of this year's conference was -The Changing Trends in MBA Applications.
The annual AIGAC conference provides a unique platform to facilitate interaction among admissions consultants, admissions officers, and prospective applicants. Admissions officers from the top US (Tepper, CBS, Fuqua, McDonough, Cornell, Stanford, Haas, Darden, Ross, UNC, McCombs), European Business schools (SDA Bocconi, HEC), and AIGAC members attended the conference this year. The wide variety of interactive sessions, breakout rooms, panel discussions, and workshops on various aspects of the MBA applications, such as diversity in candidate profiles/backgrounds, the hybrid format of program delivery, assessments, increase in the range of programs offered by business schools, GMAT/GRE/EA, and test waivers- offered us valuable insights from prime stakeholders in the business school ecosystem.
Three deans of the leading business schools (Berkeley Haas, Duke Fuqua, and Darden) were brought together on Dean's Panel to discuss their vision for the schools, their thoughts about the changing face of management education, and its role in shaping future leaders. Like last year, AIGAC brought together applicants, consultants, and admissions representatives on one platform in a one-hour Applicant Fair. In the breakout sessions, admissions representatives from the top business schools answered applicants' questions and gave them tips to navigate the competitive application journey. The conference ended with two interesting professional development workshops conducted by the representatives of Duke Fuqua and Berkely Haas.
Here are MER's key takeaways from the conference:
- The Role of Business in Society: The deans of the three schools -Ann Harrison (Haas), Bill Boulding (Duke), and Scott Beardsley (Darden) stressed that business played a more prominent role in dealing with the key societal issues in this changing world, and business schools are providing tools to students- our future leaders- to handle these issues. For example, Haas Dean, Ann Harrison said that Haas is preparing leaders in these three areas- innovation, sustainability, and inclusion. Now students can do a certification in sustainability which is new and popular.
- A Surge in International Application Volume: A majority of schools reported a significant increase in international applications last year, while the volume of domestic applications went down. However, the increase in application volume also made the competition fiercer.
- Many Schools Granted Deferrals: To adapt to the unprecedented circumstances, many schools granted deferrals. Some admitted students asked for deferrals because they got an amazing job opportunity. A few schools that were conservative with referrals earlier may consider them this year if required.
- Test Waivers: Like last year, some top 100 ranked programs continued to grant test waivers to adapt to the challenges of standardized testing, which is a pain point for some candidates. Schools are broadening their criteria to assess academic caliber and looking at other parts of the application that can replace the GMAT/ GRE. However, each school has its criteria for granting test waivers, and they confirmed that waivers would not change the competitive landscape.
- GMAT/GRE/EA– Schools accept both GRE and GMAT, so students can take the test they are comfortable with. Executive assessment is coming up in predictability. A majority of schools are accepting EA for all programs except full-time MBA. NYU, Duke, and Darden accept EA in place of GMAT for the full-time MBA program. Darden is also accepting MCAT and LSAT to assess academic proficiency.
- Waitlisted Candidates: Waitlisted candidates should stay in touch with schools and update them if they need to share anything new in their applications. Some schools also conduct webinars for guiding waitlisted candidates. Schools go through the waitlist in later stages of the admission process, so they want waitlisted candidates to wait. Some schools told international candidates that they would not keep them on the waitlist after May.
- DEI (Diversity/ Equity/ Inclusion): Diversity and inclusion have always been a priority for schools. It has gained more importance in the light of changing circumstances. Schools are following different pathways to ensure diversity in staff, alumni, and students. As schools focus on creating diverse classes, applicants from non-traditional backgrounds have better chances of success. Schools are developing DEI concentrations and organizing diversity events (minority events, military workshops, etc.) to ensure everybody feels welcome. Some schools also ask about diversity in their applications (Wharton, Haas, and Darden).
- Hybrid Format of Program Delivery: Some schools will be fully back on campus in the fall and will continue providing online options to those who cannot make it to campus on time because of travel/visa restrictions. There will be many in-person events, but they will also do virtual events for international students. Overall, schools will make decisions based on circumstances to give students the best learning experience.
- MBA vs. Specialized Masters Programs: When asked if the rise of shorter specialized Master's programs can undermine the value of an MBA degree in some way, all the school representatives numinously emphasized the relevance and value of a two-year MBA degree in teaching leadership skills to prepare future leaders. In contrast, one-year Masters programs are more focused on tech skills in specific areas. Also, MBA programs have an additional advantage of providing internship opportunities that Master's programs don't.
- Essays for Next Year: Most schools confirmed that there would not be any dramatic changes in the essay questions. CBS will change essay 3 and release new essays in the last week of May. Darden will release new essays on May 18 with no significant change. Ross will release essays this month and will continue to evaluate students for the same attributes, i.e., resilience and ability to navigate diversity. Stanford shared that the first and the second questions will remain the same while they are considering tweaking the optional essay.
The conference ended with a fun interactive workshop about Duke Fuqua's iconic 25 random things essay. The two Fuqua admission officers shared insights on what they are looking for in this essay; the workshop allowed AIGAC members to share their own random things in small groups of three members. Also, there was an exciting workshop by Mark Friedfeld of Berkley Haas on story-telling wherein he reviewed exercises and frameworks to help students self-reflect and tell their stories.
Overall, the conference was a valuable experience for MER to connect with admission officers of the top MBA programs and learn about various aspects of the changing trends in the MBA application landscape in these challenging times.
Since 2011, MER has assisted hundreds of applicants in getting accepted into the top 20 MBA programs. (Poonam, President, and founder of MER is one of the 5 highest-reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)
You may email Poonam at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about your application for the 2022- 23 application cycle.