After years of receiving scripted answers to questions from would-be business school students re: why they want to go to Harvard/Wharton/Stanford/Sloan or what they think of a company's earnings potential or where they see themselves in five to ten years or what they ate for breakfast, admissions officers have lately been taking a new tack in an attempt to see the "real" side of applicants. Hoping to get a little "unrehearsed honesty" and insight into who these people really are, prospective students are being asked to submit "reflections" ("a short, off-the-cut note that must be submitted within 24 hours of an admissions interview") and take part in "team-based discussions," for which they're told to "relax, be genuine," not worry about giving the "right" answer, and just say what they really think, rather than what a coach told them to say they think. Unfortunately, Harvard and Wharton officials apparently have no idea who they're dealing with here. You can't make future b-school students relax and be genuine! You can't! You won't!
After a brief pilot, Wharton this year introduced a team-based discussion to its application process, inviting candidates to participate in a six-person, 35-minute discussion on a pre-assigned topic, such as how the school might invest in new projects...Days after interview invitations were released, scores of applicants turned to online message boards seeking fellow M.B.A. hopefuls with whom they could practice group-discussion tactics. And it wasn't long before consultants moved in, too. Last month Accepted.com, a Los Angeles-based firm, began offering a $500 online mock interview for Wharton applicants modeled on the group sessions. Another admission consulting firm, mbaMission, is charging $400 for a practice group discussion. About 100 applicants have run through that firm's trials so far.
Applicants have also frantically sought help with Harvard Business School's new "reflection," a short, off-the-cuff note that must be submitted within 24 hours of an admissions interview. Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, says some naturally strong writers have expressed concern that their reflections will be flagged as having received extra help. "HBS may ironically have people rewriting to make their reflections 'better' by being 'worse'," he says. Dee Leopold, managing director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid at HBS, says she's disturbed that applicants feel the need to seek assistance on something intended to be an impromptu exercise. "I would be surprised and disappointed," she says, "if candidates invited to interview at HBS didn't feel confident and capable of writing an email to answer the prompt: 'You've just had your HBS interview. Did we get to know you?'"