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McCombs Director of MBA Admissions Weighs in on Essays, Application Changes

rodrigo_maltaThe McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin earlier this week posted its essay questions for the 2015-16 application season. Though the prompts remain largely the same as last year, McCombs Director of MBA Admissions Rodrigo Malta had several interesting tidbits of news to share yesterday in an interview with Clear Admit.

“We really, really, really love our first essay question,” Malta says of the prompt that invites applicants to introduce themselves to members of their future McCombs cohort. “We have had it for three years now, so we had it way before Harvard did,” he adds with a satisfied chuckle.

When the question debuted at McCombs the year before last, applicants were asked to reply in essay form. Last year, McCombs offered greater flexibility, inviting applicants to choose between writing an essay, sharing a video introduction or sharing an profile.  

Malta and his team loved the variety of responses that came in last year. “About 30 percent of applicants submitted something other than a written essay, which far exceeded our expectations,” he says. But his team really does not have a preference for one communication method over another. “We want candidates to choose whichever communication method they think will allow them to put their best foot forward,” he says.

The team has seen some really wonderful examples of each communication method, as well as some really terrible ones. “The terrible ones are usually those in which candidates try to do something they are not comfortable with or be something they are not,” he warns. If you do choose to submit a video, don’t feel like you need a full production studio, he adds. Though they have seen great videos that are really well produced, they have also seen equally as effective videos that are really simple, just a one-person show with the candidate speaking directly into the camera.

For the second essay question, McCombs this year refined its prompt slightly in an effort to encourage applicants to focus their responses on what they hope to achieve while at McCombs, as well as why McCombs is right for them and what they will contribute to their classmates’ experience. This is in contrast to last year, when applicants were asked to share what they hope to gain from the Texas MBA program both personally and professionally, in addition to why McCombs and impact on classmates.

“With just 500 words to reply, we realized that we were asking applicants to try to squeeze a lot in there,” Malta conceded. “We want them to really focus on their time here at McCombs,” he says of the slight shift. This is also the place to show some McCombs love, he underscores. “We bleed burnt orange here in Texas,” he says. “We want to make sure they know this is the right place for them and why.”

As in past years, McCombs will continue to provide an optional essay where candidates can address anything that may not have been covered elsewhere in their application.

New Emphasis on LinkedIn
When the application goes live later this summer, candidates will notice some other changes this year as well, Malta says. For starters, the application will place greater emphasis on candidates sharing their LinkedIn profiles. In the past, as part of the “Getting to Know You” section of the McCombs application, candidates were invited to share LinkedIn profiles, any blogs they have and even a Pinterest page devoted to Why Texas MBA. This year, those contributions are still welcome, but the invitation to share a LinkedIn profile has been moved up to right beside where applicants are asked to upload their resume.

Applicants will also have a new option with regard to letters of recommendation. As in the past, recommenders will be able to submit official letters of recommendation directly to the school. “This year, though, we will also be asking candidates if they want us to use a recommendation they have on their LinkedIn profile,” Malta says. Exactly how this will work from an operational standpoint is still being ironed out, so stay tuned for precise details in the application instructions, he says.

The motive behind this shift in terms of recommendation letters is two-fold, Malta shares. “We want to have something that is useable for the applicant even after they go through the application process,” he says. A recommendation via LinkedIn would have the added benefit of helping applicants strengthen their profiles in preparation for their career searches while at McCombs. But the public nature of a LinkedIn recommendation also stands to benefit the school, Malta notes. “Anything that is out in the public gives us a little more assurance that it is going to be true.”

Looking back at the past year, Malta reports that he is very pleased with an increase in both applicant quality and quantity. Applications were up between 8 and 10 percent, he says, with the majority of growth among domestic applicants. Acknowledging that some admitted candidates have yet to decide where they will ultimately enroll, Malta is cautiously optimistic about the quality of the incoming class. “We know it is a really competitive environment out there, but initial indications are that we will be coming in with a great class profile,” he says.

In the year ahead, McCombs hopes to build on recent success it has had integrating its first- and second-year classes. This year, the school will expand initiatives designed to likewise increase interaction between students in the full-time, part-time and executive MBA programs. Orientation activities have been aligned across the different programs to provide greater opportunities for interaction, ways to connect the leadership from the various programs as part of the Graduate Business Council are being considered and several of the school’s international trips will be open to students from each of its different programs, Malta says.

Increased integration of the first- and second-year classes, as well as of the students within the school’s various MBA programs, serves to strengthen the school’s network and its reach. “When we survey our applicants, we find that one of the biggest reasons they choose to come to Texas is because of that Longhorn network,” says Malta. “So we are always looking for ways to make sure that those connections are there and alive and as far-reaching as they can be.”

Our thanks to Malta for taking time to share these updates with Clear Admit. Stay tuned for our analysis of the McCombs essay questions, as well as further updates on recommendation letters and more when the application goes live later this summer.