Admissions Tip: Data Forms
As we approach January and many of our readers begin to work in earnest on their R2 applications for the January deadlines, we would like to turn our attention to an oft overlooked element of the MBA application process: the application data forms. These forms – typically referred to as ‘data forms’ for short – are the online forms that one fills out when applying to a business school. While the forms used to be straightforward and brief (essentially amounting to contact information, academic information, and work history), they have been expanding in some areas and have become an increasingly important part of the mix of application materials. In the wake of an industry-wide reduction in the number of essays required by each school, many programs have actually shifted questions away from the essays and into these forms (as ‘short answer’ questions). As such, it is important to pay close attention and address the data forms early – and to avoid leaving them for completion on application deadline day. In fact, it can be rather dangerous to not give data forms the same amount of time and care you would afford any other component of your application.
In this tip we will address the commonly asked questions across all school’s data forms. Next week, we will examine some of the more unusual questions asked by a few schools.
Schools need to communicate with applicants at various stages of the admissions process. It is important that they are able to do so, so the contact information questions address this issue. Most communication these days will occur online, so obviously the e-mail address is important. It is probably best to use a personal e-mail address, rather than a work e-mail address, so schools can continue to communicate with you once you have left your work. You should also make sure the e-mail address is appropriate, [email protected] might not send the right signals. For those students who are admitted, a regular mailing address will be used to send out more detailed information in the form of an “admissions packet.” Often times, schools will ask for a current address, and a permanent address. These can be the same, but the difference will occur, for example, when a candidate is working on a temporary assignment.
Schools will ask a set of questions to better understand your background. They will generally ask about your parents, specifically their employment status and their highest level of educational attainment. This can be meaningful for the admissions committees who might be seeking out those candidates who have achieved careers that are very different from the achievements of their parents. It also signals those who are first generation in terms of attending college. This may signal a candidate’s grit and determination. On the other hand, a candidate who has parents who are highly successful and went to elite schools may benefit from a bit of an “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” bias. Some schools will also ask about siblings, partners and children.
The majority of schools also seek to learn if your relatives have connections with their program, or the wider institution.
The key to addressing the academics questions is to follow the specific directions of each school. They may want a PDF of a transcript to be uploaded of your undergraduate school record, or they may want all transcripts from all schools you have attended, whether for additional coursework, transfer credits and so forth. Most schools will ask for your overall GPA, and also will be explicit on whether to convert a GPA that is not on a 4.0 scale; the common rule in this regard is to not convert, and to identify what the scale is. Some schools ask specifically if you have covered course work in accounting, statistics, calculus and economics. These are not pre-requisites, but help schools identify your analytic skills. The majority of schools will ask for self-reported transcripts upon application and only require official transcripts after they have made an admissions decision, but some might ask you to bring those documents if you are invited to interview.
All schools will ask you to upload a resume. While some programs will be specific about the length of the resume, keep in mind that they generally prefer one page. Beyond uploading a resume, you will also be able to complete a work history section in the online application, where you enter each of your work positions. Most schools do allow a new entry for each new position, regardless of whether it is for the same company, a few require just one entry per employer. Each school will tell you specifically how it wants you to enter this data. For most schools you are asked a variety of questions, including beginning and ending salary, bonuses, and so forth. You should also have an option to complete your job function and role. This is a very important text box to complete with considerable thought. You will have a limited number of characters, usually, to establish your growth and impact. One or two schools do not have this option, which places more weight on your resume and essays. Schools will generally ask you how many years work experience you will have, at the time of matriculation, rather than the time of application. Some will also ask how many years of management experience you have.
All the schools we cover accept both the GMAT and the GRE tests. It is important to read the instructions for each school in terms of how to report your test scores. A few schools want to know all your scores, and may look at the individual breakdowns of components of the scores. A few schools also ask whether you plan to retake the test, after you submit your application, at least one school asks if you would retake the test if asked. Schools will also require a test for English communications for those who are not native English speakers (unless the language of instruction for undergraduate was English, in which case most schools will offer a waiver). While the TOEFL is the most commonly used test, there are also other tests that schools will use like the IELTS, so it is important to review the requirements of each school you are interested in.
Most, but not all schools will ask you about your activities outside of work, and your extra-curricular activities while you were an undergraduate student. They want to see if you are well-rounded, and seek to identify other passions you might have, that will make for a richer MBA learning environment for all. It is also a good place to show case additional opportunities for your leadership and ability to make an impact. Each school asks these questions slightly differently. Some schools ask about hobbies, some do not. Some schools ask you to list the most important activities in which you have been involved, forcing you to prioritize with a limited number, some schools have free-flowing text boxes for you to answer the questions. One school does not ask about these activities at all, but their instructions for the resume clearly state to include them in that document. Regardless, it is important to read directions carefully, and consider your application in a holistic manner.
Probably the biggest shift in the use of data forms in the last few years is the increasing use of this medium to examine your career goals. You may be asked about your short-term goal (e.g. your career path directly out of the MBA program) and some schools also ask about your long-term goal (the position you would like to hold 5+ years after earning the MBA). A few schools will also ask for an alternative short-term goal if your preferred goal does not work out. Addressing these questions with considerable thought will be crucial. Schools really want candidates that have thought thoroughly regarding why they are applying. Some school have stopped asking these questions in the essays, so they rely on the data form answers.
Finally, a few schools use the data forms to understand how you first learned about the program, and what other marketing events you may have attended. They might also asked who you met and know, from the school, during the process of putting your application together. If you have developed a network of alumni at the school and these questions are being asked, make sure you highlight who they are. Much like the questions for background information, any time you can highlight your connections to the school can only be an advantage.
Next week, we will explore more of the unusual questions that a few schools ask in their data forms, which cover issues like the feared “To which other schools are you applying?” as well a move to ask more internationally focused questions.