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Adcom Director on MIT Sloan Application Changes: Video Essay, GMAC Common Recommendation Letter, Increased Word Count for Cover Letter, More

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The 2017-18 MBA application to MIT Sloan School of Management went live last week, featuring a range of changes from last year’s. The debut of a new video statement (required of all applicants), the implementation of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Common Letter of Recommendation form, and an increased word count and expanded instructions for the Cover Letter component were just a few. To learn more about these and other developments in MIT Sloan admissions, we caught up with Director of Admissions Dawna Levenson to walk us through. Read on to learn what she had to share.

More Words Allocated to Cover Letter
For starters, based on applicant feedback, Sloan has upped the word count for its Cover Letter component from 250 to 300 words. Somewhat unique among leading business school applications, Sloan invites applicants to submit a cover letter—as they would if they were applying to a job—that explains their interest in a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program and why they believe their personal characteristics would be valued by the school.

“The amount of stress and anxiety applicants expressed around last year’s 250 word limit was by no means our intention at all,” Levenson told Clear Admit, noting that her office got multiple calls and emails from applicants concerned they couldn’t come in under the limit. While acknowledging that 300 words is also brief, she hopes the extra space will nonetheless be welcomed by this year’s applicant pool.

The application also provides additional guidance on how to approach the cover letter. In a recent blog post, Levenson offered the following additional tip: “Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and include one or more examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria stated in the cover letter instructions!”

Sloan Adopts GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation Form
MIT Sloan will also be using the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation (LOR) form. The form, which was developed by a GMAC committee that included MIT Sloan Senior Director of Admissions Rod Garcia, provides a set of competency ratings and a number of open-ended questions around a candidates’ work performance, personal strengths, and areas for development. GMAC’s goal in developing a common form was to streamline and standardize the process for recommenders, benefiting both the recommenders themselves and the candidates, many of whom have historically had to ask recommenders to complete multiple different forms if they were applying to more than one MBA program. So far, more than 15 leading schools have implemented the GMAC Common LOR form in part or in its entirety, including Columbia Business School, McCombs School of Business, McDonough School of Business, Ross School of Business, NYU Stern School of Business, and Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“It was always our intention to implement the GMAC Common Recommendation Letter form, especially since we were an integral part of its creation,” Levenson says. Having recently returned from a South American admissions tour, she was primed to offer advice on how to approach the recommendation process, thoughts she’d shared four times in the span of a week. “We believe very strongly that the recommendation letter should be one of the first things you do as part of the application process,” she told Clear Admit. “Think about who you want for recommenders and reach out to them early on.”

Advice on Choosing Your Recommenders
As for who makes a good recommender, Levenson also had specific thoughts to share. “It should be someone who can speak in detail to work you have done and an impact you have made on an organization,” she said. “Second, but perhaps more important, it should be someone who is on your side—someone who is truly willing to take the time to write a detailed and comprehensive recommendation.”

Those two things don’t necessarily go hand in hand, she pointed out. For example, in many cases a direct supervisor may not be the best person to choose, because while he or she may be able to speak in detail to your work, not all bosses are eager to see their employees leave for business school. “We are not married to it being an immediate supervisor,” Levenson stressed.

“It needs to be people who are close to you,” she added. For this reason, Sloan discourages the CEO of the company you met once on an elevator who could write a couple of general sentences about you. “Often, applicants think the CEO holds more weight, but that is not the case at all—we are not assessing the recommender, we are assessing you.”

While the school encourage someone who knows you well, Sloan does not want family members providing recommendations—even in the case of candidates who work for family businesses. “In those cases, customers and clients make for great recommenders and can speak to your contributions to the business in a very meaningful way,” Levenson suggested.

She also encourages applicants to meet in person with those they are asking to write letters of recommendation on their behalf. “Sit down with them—you want them to understand why it is important that they spend time writing a meaningful recommendation,” she said. “Not only that, in hearing directly from you why you’re pursuing an MBA and why you chose to apply to MIT Sloan, they often become better advocates for you, whether consciously or not.”

Sloan Takes the Video Essay Plunge
In recent years, schools from Northwestern’s Kellogg to Yale SOM have turned to video statements as a means of getting a clearer sense of who an applicant really is before the interview. MIT Sloan is the latest school to join this movement.

“We are very excited about this,” Levenson said. She notes that applicants to Sloan have in fact had the opportunity for several years to submit a video as part of the application’s optional essay, and a fair number of applicants have chosen to do so. But when Technolutions Slate, a leading provider of admissions software solutions, this past year introduced a video embedded within the application, Sloan piloted it with one of its other degree programs. “We really thought we got some meaningful early data about people in terms of their presence and communication skills that was very valuable to us,” Levenson told Clear Admit. This year, the school has incorporated a video statement into the application for all of its programs.