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MIT Sloan Admissions Director Provides Insight into New Essay Question, Third Round

dawna_levensonIn an interview today with Clear Admit, the admissions director at the MIT Sloan School of Management shared the reasoning behind the school’s decision to add an additional round to its admissions process and reduce the number of required essays applicants must answer to just one.

For the first time in its history, MIT Sloan will give applicants the opportunity to apply as part of a third admissions round, which will feature a deadline of April 11th and a notification date of May 18th. The change comes in response to requests from multiple applicants, according to MIT Sloan Admissions Director Dawna Levenson. “Many of our peer schools, if not all of them, have a Round 3,” says Levenson. By adding a third round, she says, MIT Sloan provides greater options to prospective applicants whose work situation may have changed after earlier round deadlines passed, for example.

International applicants, however, are strongly encouraged to apply as part of Round 1 or 2, Levenson says. “We will not travel for interviews in this final round,” she notes. Visa requirements and the school’s housing lottery, which takes place in May, also make the new round a better option for U.S. applicants.

At many peer schools, the third round is far more competitive than Rounds 1 or 2, by virtue of the fact that many available slots will already have gone to applicants in earlier rounds. Asked whether only the very strongest candidates should consider Round 3, Levenson replied, “I like to think we are always looking for really strong candidates.”

And Then There Was One

Also like many peer schools, MIT Sloan has reduced the number of essay questions applicants are required to answer before hitting submit. This year, the school features just one as part of the initial application process, which applicants will have 500 words to answer:

“Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have?

Why just one? “We talk a lot about this every year,” Levenson says. “It is not our intent to make our application process unnecessarily difficult and time consuming. We decided this year that with the right one essay we can gather all the data we need.”

Specifically, Levenson and team are looking in applicants’ responses to the essay for evidence of a series of competencies they believe make people successful at Sloan and in a future workplace. Those competencies include leadership (not necessarily supervising people but being able to influence people), relationship building, an ability to identify goals and work toward them despite obstacles, and an ability to have an impact.

“Our question is really very direct,” Levenson says. “We are actually asking people—very directly—for information that we find is important and that helps us with our decision-making process. There are no tricks here.”

A Second Essay for Some

Applicants who are invited to interview at MIT Sloan will also be invited (and required) to provide a written answer (in 250 words or less) to a second essay question:

“The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission.”

This question is really all about an individual’s fit with MIT Sloan, Levenson points out. “I am very excited about the way we have structured things this year,” she says of the decision to only ask the second question of applicants who are invited to interview. “I think it makes a lot of sense both for applicants and for us,” she says.

Applicants will likely receive the essay question when they are invited to interview and have until just before they interview to submit an answer, usually about a week’s time, Levenson says, though the precise details have yet to be worked out.

As part of this year’s changes to the admission process, MIT Sloan is moving away from an essay question introduced last year that invited applicants to write their own letters of recommendation from the point of view of a supervisor. The question proved unpopular among some applicants, although Levenson says the decision to substitute a new question this year is not a reflection of that fact. “We just like to change things every year,” she says. “We know there are a lot of people out there supporting the application process, and in some instances you can even buy an essay. We experiment with different essay questions to make that as difficult as possible.”

In terms of advice to applicants as they sit down to answer this year’s essay questions, Levenson kept it simple. “We want people to be honest and sincere,” she says. “First and foremost, we are looking for people who would be successful in the classroom. We believe very strongly that past behavior is an indicator of future success.”