Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Business School Applications & Recommendations

Five years ago, I was applying to business school and I find myself today working on recommendations for someone else applying to business school.  Couple thoughts:

  1. I am deeply honored to be writing a recommendation for this person.  I hired him a while back and he turned out to be a star.  Having an opportunity to help him advance his career is a great honor and I am delighted to be writing nice things about him.
  2. All of the top schools ask essentially the same questions for their application essays, but each school words their questions slightly differently.  Prospective students can reuse themes and stories from school to school, but they can't reuse the essays word for word.  Adjusting and tinkering with essays each time was a surprisingly large amount of work for me.  I was originally planning on applying to five schools, but I was so exhausted after four applications that I stopped.  (I suppose the fact that I'd already been accepted to one of the schools made it easier to cross that fifth school off the list...)
  3. The recommendations follow that same pattern.  The schools all want to know basically the same things about the applicant, but they've phrased their questions slightly differently with slightly different word limits.  It's annoying.  I can understand making prospective students do something just for you, fancy business school.  You want applications from people who really want to attend your school, so it shouldn't be too easy to apply.  But when I'm writing recommendations, make it easy.  Have a standard form across all b-schools.  Ask the same questions with the same word limits.  People writing recommendations are busy people.  Give us a break.
  4. I am TREMENDOUSLY grateful to the three people who wrote my recommendations back in the fall of '07.  I was always thankful that they took time to do the work, but I didn't realize how much went into it.  I applied to four schools.  Writing those recommendations was a non-trivial amount of work for three extremely busy people.  Thanks, recommenders!
UPDATE: All b-schools ask recommenders to rate applicants on things like "Works collaboratively with others".  The scale is always something like Top 1%, Top 10%, Top Third, etc.  But almost no schools ask who you're comparing the person to.  Are you comparing them to the ~7 billion people in the world?  The small pool of outliers who pursue MBAs?  Kudos to Chicago's Booth School of Business for being the only school I've seen that asks: "Please indicate the reference group for this comparison."

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