Conventional wisdom holds that there are three possible outcomes when you apply to business school: admissions, rejection, or waitlist. There is a fourth possible outcome, however, that comes up every year: the conditional admission. Also known as a “provisional admission,” this happens when a business school likes your application, but sees one weakness that admissions officers want you to improve upon before you can enroll.
First of all, this is not a bad thing. The school wants you, so much so that it’s willing to admit you despite a pretty big weakness. Keep in mind that the acceptance rate at most top business schools is at or below 20%, and you can appreciate how good this feels. Instead of saying, “Never mind” and moving on to the next application in the pile, admissions officers said, “We like this applicant so much that we are willing to admit him if he can just take care of this one thing.”
That “one thing” is typically one of the following:
- A Low GMAT Score — This is especially common among MBA programs outside of the top ten. Even though business schools will seldom admit it publicly, they do care about the average GMAT scores of their incoming classes, and if they really want an applicant who would otherwise bring down their average, they will ask him to retake the GMAT. Every year we hear from at least one applicant who says something like, “I was told that if I can just get a 650, I’m in.”
- A Lack of Quantitative/Analytical Background — Business schools will sometimes grant conditional admission to a candidate whom they know can do the MBA coursework, but who doesn’t quite have enough experience in this area. Admissions officers know that the applicant is bright, but want her to be able to hit the ground running, rather than risk spending the better part of the first year getting ramped up on quantitative subjects. The solution here is normally to require the student to take (and earn at least a “B” grade) in a course such as accounting or business statistics.
- Weak English Skills — At American MBA programs, a frequent reason for offering conditional admission is mild concern about an applicant’s English skills. Wharton even calls this out as a common reason for granting conditional admission on its website. In this case, the school may require the student to complete additional coursework in English, with an emphasis on speaking and understanding speech. Many business schools even offer these programs themselves, or through their parent universities.
Again, conditional admissions is not a bad thing. Being provisionally admitted means that you’re 99% of the way there, and you just need to confirm that admissions officers made the right decision in betting on you. Now prove them right and check off that last requirement for admission!
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Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article written by an anonymous “hired gun” who writes admissions essays, term papers, and even doctoral theses for paying students, who in turn pass these off as their own. Bloomberg Businessweek also ran a similar piece that profiled a couple of similar services that write essays for business school applicants.
Are these services unethical? Yes, we think so, but that’s so obvious that we won’t devote any more words to it here. (If you’re reading this because you’re looking to hire someone to write your admissions essays for you, then you can keep looking.)
What really concerns us is that schools and admissions offices seemingly don’t question how someone with a horrible command or English could create a perfectly constructed essay or research paper. If you are to believe the sources quoted in both article, these services work well enough (i.e., students get caught rarely enough) that they have thriving businesses with repeat customers. Again, the students who submit these and the hired guns who write them are flaunting the rules of the system, but where the hell the admissions officers, professors, and university department heads who should easily catch this sort of behavior? You mean to tell me that, as a student with broken English clumsily defends a doctoral thesis that he’s barely read all the way through, the thought of, “I wonder if this is his work,” never crosses their minds?
Again, that doesn’t excuse such behavior, but we really wonder about who’s minding the shop at these supposedly academically challenging institutions. Just like the TSA may never catch every pen knife that goes through airport security, it’s understandable if a handful of forged academic papers slip through the system now and then. But, if the practice is as commonplace as the Chronicle piece makes it out to be (just look at the business this guy’s company supposedly does), then someone is not doing their job. This isn’t even a question of what the penalties should be for students who are caught cheating — those penalties should of course be steep — but a question of why more of these students don’t get caught in the first place.
Another concern of ours: It bothers us is that such services cause the whole industry of admissions consultants and coaches to get painted with the same broad brush. As mentioned in the Bloomberg Businessweek article, AIGAC is an international organization devoted to upholding ethical standards among admissions consultants. Bring admitted to AIGAC is no small task — a company and its individual members have to jump through many hoops to be admitted — and maintaining one’s membership is just as involved.
Although AIGAC now has dozens of members around the world, it takes just one or two bad actors (like the ones profiled in these articles) to cause some admissions officer to go off half-cocked and ban any type of application assistance, no matter what the circumstances. We’d hate to see that happen because of these services.
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Last week’s Economix blog from the New York Times featured the latest growth trends for the LSAT, GMAT, and GRE. Not surprisingly, the number of LSAT exams taken in 2008-2009 grew more than 5%, which coincides with the National Law Journal’s report that applications were up 4% vs. last year.
While the Graduate Management Admission Council hasn’t yet released its numbers for 2008-2009, it is expected to show steady growth vs. the previous year. It will be interesting to see if the overall number of MBA applicants grows much this year, given the uneven preliminary numbers we have heard from some of the nation’s top programs.
Not all of National Law Journal’s numbers point to strong growth. Interestingly, the actual number of law school applicants increased by less than 1%. So, not many more people applied to law school vs. last year, although those who did apply seemed to apply to more schools. Also, the number of GRE exams taken in 2008 actually was actually lower than the number taken in 2007, although that may have more to do with a change to the exam, which may have unnaturally increased the number of people who took the exam in 2007.
It’s uncertain how exactly the recession will impact application numbers when all is said and done, but it will be interesting to see where the numbers end up at the end of this application season. Will a surge actually come next year, or will this recession prove to be different than others? We will probably need to wait a few more months, when most top business schools start sharing their 2008-2009 numbers, before we know for sure.
If you decide to take the plunge and apply now, see how Veritas Prep’s admissions consulting services can help you.
An article in last week’s Cornell Daily Sun described what may initially seem like a surprising trend, but one that more than one top business school has described. Despite the sagging economy, overall business school application numbers have dropped this year as the financial crisis has discouraged international applicants from applying because of the difficulty they will likely face in getting student loans.
According to the article, while Johnson has seen a 10-15% in domestic applications vs. last year, that has been more than offset by a 30% decrease in applications from international applicants, resulting in an overall 14% decrease in the number of applications that Cornell has seen so far this year. The school’s academic dean, Joseph Thomas, attributes this decline in international applicants to the tightening credit situation for international students at U.S. schools.
Domestically, not surprisingly, the school has seen a surge in applications from the financial sector. According to Randall Sawyer, director of admissions and financial aid at Johnson, the school has seen more laid-off applicants than it has seen in many years. This trend is consistent with what all of the other top business schools have described.
On the flip side, while Cornell’s overall application numbers are down, the school’s yield (the percentage of admitted students who matriculate) from the first round is near 70%, which is pretty strong. It seems that those who are lucky enough to get into a top MBA program this year aren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Last week we released the results of Veritas Prep’s first annual survey of MBA admissions officers, to uncover what’s happening in the field today and to help business school applicants anticipate future trends.
We enlisted the help of an independent third party to survey admissions officers at the top 30 business schools in the U.S. (as defined by BusinessWeek’s ranking system). The survey ran in October and November, and covered more than half of the admissions officers at these MBA programs.
Some findings were surprising, while others confirmed what we have been telling our clients for years. Among the most interesting results:
- The biggest challenges institutions face are attracting more, better-qualified candidates, and supporting cultural diversity in their student bodies. Among desired changes that admissions officers would like to see in their applicant pool, diversity ranks first (87%), while 57 percent of respondents would like to see a larger applicant pool at their institutions.
- The number of international applicants to leading U.S. business schools has increased over the past five years. Ninety-four percent of responding admissions officers report a moderate to significant increase in international applicants during the last five admissions cycles.
- The number of admits straight out of undergraduate studies is on the rise. Despite the fact that 63 percent of respondents say professional experience is the most important factor in student selection, almost half (47%) report that the number of admits straight out of college has significantly or moderately increased compared to five years ago.
- Careless errors ranked as the top faux pas committed by students during the application process. Inconsistency between institutional choice and students’ educational objectives and ambitions ranked second, and the inclusion of unrequested items and inappropriate interview conduct tie for the third most commonly witnessed application blunder.
- Admissions officers view students that enlist the assistance of admissions consultants neutrally. While seven percent of respondents said that they view applicants who use admissions consultants positively, 80 percent view such students neutrally. In general, most admissions officers feel that admissions consultants help students identify the programs with which they fit best and clarify their career goals.
- Admissions officers anticipate changes in the student application process in coming years. Most respondents believe the student application process will include more face-to-face or telephone interviews in the next five years (60%). While over half of admissions officers foresee the application process becoming less complex (53%), another forty percent predict the application process will become increasingly intricate in the coming years.
We especially found the learnings around diversity and the trend toward younger applicants to be most interesting. And while we were glad to see that nearly all MBA admissions officers view applicants who use admissions consultants neutrally or positively, we will continue to work to ensure that our clients get a great deal of value from their relationship with us — but only in a 100% ethical way. As always, we will never write our applicants’ essays or tell them what to say.
Visit Veritas Prep to learn more about how we can help you in the MBA admissions process.
Take Yale Daily news reported on Thursday that Round One applications to Yale SOM increased by 4% vs. Round One last year.
According to Yale SOM Director of Admissions Bruce DelMonico, the school received 928 applications by its October deadline, compared to 894 received in October, 2007. That puts Yale on pace to pace to receive more than 3,000 applications in the 2008-2009 MBA admissions season.
On top of the growing numbers, DelMonino also reports that the admissions office is “seeing not only greater numbers, but also greater quality.” As one indicator of this quality, the average GMAT score of Yale’s Round One applicants was 698, two points higher than last year’s average.
Yale SOM’s Round 1 pool also included 78 applicants from The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, reflecting the results of a push by the school to attarct more minority candidates. And while Yale has actually been shrinking its class size recently, the school has publicly stated that it may take on a few more students to increase tuition revenues to offset declining returns from Yale’s endowment. DelMonico expects next year’s class to have up to 200 students, up from 193 students this year.
For more information on applying to Yale, visit the Veritas Prep Yale SOM information page. And if you’re working Yale essays now, see Veritas Prep’s sample MBA essays.