Last week, MER (myEssayReview) had the opportunity to participate in the three-day AIGAC Virtual Conference- 2021 from May 04 to May 06.
The annual AIGAC conference provides a unique platform to facilitate interaction among admissions consultants, admissions officers, and prospective applicants. Over 50 admissions officers from the top European and US Business schools and 60+ AIGAC members attended the conference this year. The wide variety of interactive sessions, Breakout Rooms, and panel discussions on various aspects of the MBA applications such as the impact of the COVID-19 on admissions in the past year, admission trends in recent times, recruitment, changes in the engagement with prospective students, test waivers, deferrals and much more- offered us valuable insights from prime stakeholders in the business school ecosystem.
Three deans of leading business schools (Berkeley Haas, LBS, and Tuck) were brought together in Dean's Panel to discuss how they navigated through a year of unprecedented changes and the future of MBA in times to come.
Like last year, AIGAC brought together applicants, consultants, and admissions representatives on one platform in the Applicant Fair. Over 260+ applicants participated in this one-hour fair. In the two breakout sessions, admissions representatives from 20+ top business schools answered applicants' questions and gave them tips to navigate the competitive application journey. The conference ended with an AIGAC afternoon; wherein AIGAC members shared their experiences and best practices to serve their clients more effectively.
Here are our key takeaways from the conference:
- A Surge in Application Volume: A majority of schools reported a record number of increases in applications last year (LBS, Duke, Kellogg, Georgetown, Yale, UCLA, Haas, Booth, Stanford, etc.). The economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic led many to advance their education to strengthen their candidacy. The surge in applications made some schools increase class size. For example, Kellogg's incoming MBA class grew to 559 students from 475 students. The increase in application volume also made the competition fiercer, and schools had to turn down many strong applicants.
- Significant Increase in Virtual Engagement: Online classes have opened up more opportunities for personal one-on-one interaction with applicants and reapplicants. They like to see the prospective applicants engaging in webinars. Students are making connections with others on a virtual platform. They organized coffee chat networking opportunities in virtual format. Since schools have successfully conducted virtual events throughout the year, school representatives were optimistic that virtual interactions are here to stay even in post COVID era. Zoom has brought together people from all over the world. Alumni may not be able to attend in person, but it is easy for them to attend the Zoom platform. Through Zoom, they can now bring speakers from all over the world who were often unable to participate because of geographical boundaries.
- Many Schools Granted Deferrals: To adapt to the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic, many schools granted deferrals (Darden- 94, Duke- 50, Kellogg-70, Georgetown- 60, UCLA- 25). They feel that they will be flexible and compassionate in granting deferral this year, especially with students from India and Brazil. However, a few schools conservative with referrals earlier (Imperial, LBS) may consider them this year, if required.
- Test Waivers: For the first time, a vast majority of the top 100 ranked programs granted Test waivers last year to adapt to the challenges amid COVID 19. Schools are broadening their criteria to assess academic caliber and looking at other parts of the application that can replace GMAT/ GRE. However, each school has its criteria for granting test waivers, and they confirmed that waivers would not change the competitive landscape. Some schools did not grant waivers- Tuck, Booth, SD Bocconi, and IMD- to name a few.
- GMAT/ GRE or EA: The number of GMAT test-takers has gone down slightly because of test waivers, uncertainty, and pivot to GRE. A lot of people still take the GMAT. Executive assessment is coming up in predictability. A majority of schools are accepting EA for all programs except full-time MBA. NYU and Darden accept EA in place of GMAT for the full-time MBA program as well.
- Reapplicants and Waitlisted Candidates: All school representatives strongly suggested that reapplicants should seriously work on their weak areas and submit enhancements to their previous application. Some schools complained that the reapplicants do not work on the feedback and submit the same application. Some schools (McCombs and Tuck) provide feedback to reapplicants, while some schools hold a session for the reapplicants at the end of the admission cycle. 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.
- Diversity/ 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. In contrast, the competition for applicants from overrepresented industries and demographics (namely Indian, male, IT) has become tougher. All schools are welcoming of international students. However, second MBA candidates are not favorites of a majority of schools unless there are compelling reasons for pursuing a second MBA. Schools don't want applicants to do the same courses they had already done.
- Essays for Next Year: Most schools (MIT, Yale, Imperial, Booth, UCLA, Duke) confirmed that there would not be any dramatic changes in the essay questions. Haas shared that they will slightly tweak their essay questions. Stanford and LBS shared that there will not be any changes in the essay questions.
- On-Campus vs. virtual Instruction: Some schools will be fully back on campus in the fall and will continue providing pre-taped lectures to those who cannot make it to campus on time because of travel restrictions (Booth, Haas, Duke). For part-time programs, Haas will introduce some virtual formats that most students look for. IMD has been on campus since May 2020. Stanford will follow the hybrid model but try to be more on campus. Imperial will be more on campus but provide remote learning to those who have travel restrictions. Overall, schools will make decisions based on circumstances to give students the best learning experience.
- Recruitment: More recruiting companies have been able to attend virtual events so schools will continue with virtual recruitment. Companies reach out to students virtually, and even internships were virtual. Schools hope that there may be more companies coming virtually for recruitment compared to last year.
- Interviews: All schools conducted virtual interviews last year, and they found that online interviews were fantastic as the alumni could conveniently conduct interviews from their geographical location. Haas was doing video interviews in the pre-COVID era as well.
Overall, the conference was a valuable experience for MER to connect with admission officers of the top MBA programs and learn from them about various aspects of 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 email@example.com with questions about your application for the 2021- 22 application cycle.