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Admissions Tip: Unusual MBA Data Form Questions

In this admissions tip, we explore a selection of the more unusual questions that schools have been known to ask in their data forms, providing insight into why these questions are being asked and how to answer them.  For the more standard question types that most MBA programs’ data forms tackle and how applicants should approach those questions, see this admissions tip.

Read on for unusual data form questions in MBA applications.

Which Other Schools are you Applying to?

MBA programs that historically asked this question include Berkeley HaasCornell JohnsonDuke Fuqua and London Business School. There are three reasons why schools will ask this type of question.

  • Some schools claim to ask this question purely for market research and do not factor in your reply as part of the admissions process. These schools simply want to better understand how their programs are perceived by applicants, by tracking which other programs their candidates apply to.
  • Schools ask this question to learn how thoughtful your school choices are. Make sure that you do not come across as someone who is only selecting schools based on rankings, but selecting schools based on common themes, schools that can truly enable you to pursue the goals that you express in your application.
  • Frankly, some programs may be concerned about their yield, so they ask this question to get a sense of whether you will attend, if offered admission.

Regardless of why schools ask this question, the best approach to answering this question is obviously to be truthful, and to be thoughtful in the choices of schools you are considering at the time you apply to the school asking the question.

One of the schools listed above goes one step further, and explicitly asks you why you have selected your group of schools. This further supports the notion that it is important to be thoughtful with your selections. Obviously in other aspects of your application, you will want to reinforce why the school you are applying to is an excellent fit for you, regardless of the other schools on your list.

International Questions

It is surprising that only a few U.S.-based MBA programs ask candidates directly about their international experiences. Northwestern Kellogg is one of the few US-based programs that asks candidates directly about their international experiences. Programs based outside the United States, like London Business School, are more apt to ask these types of questions. The question itself is a signal, no matter how small, of the importance of international experiences for the MBA candidates, and it’s likely that more U.S.-based schools will add these types of questions.

Answering these questions is very straightforward. The schools provide explicit instruction in terms of what they consider an international experience, which may include study abroad, work abroad or extended travel abroad. It rarely includes vacations.

Unique Questions

Yale SOMUVA Darden and Stanford GSB each ask unique questions that we thought we should share here to help applicants give these questions the proper level of consideration.

  • Stanford: Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background influenced your participation at work or school. 1200 characters.

This short question explores how your background has shaped your decisions with respect to work or your education, and importantly, in the last two years. Without that last qualifier, the temptation may be to use the question to explain the influence of your background with respect to undergraduate school choice, or your first job out of school. Clearly Stanford is looking for something different. So what have you done, in the last two years, that has been influenced by your background? Have you increased your involvement in community activities that serve an issue that is important to you, or have you designed a work initiative that supports issues that are important to your background? These would be good examples of things to address with this short answer.

While answering this question, it will also be important to take into consideration Stanford’s mission statement: “Change lives, change organizations, change the world.”

  • Yale: Below is a list of some of the qualities that describe Yale SOM students and alumni. Please review the list and select the three (3) qualities that you feel best describe you. Please note that there are no right or wrong answers. We are not looking for any specific qualities, but simply trying to get a better sense of who you are. Qualities: Adaptable, Analytical, Creative, Curious, Hard-working, Humble, Intuitive, Level-headed, Open-minded, Persistent, Positive, Resilient, Responsible, Self-motivated, Smart, Socially adept.

As Yale clearly states, there is no right answer here. All the qualities listed are qualities that are desired for MBA candidates, as well as business leaders more generally. The key to answering this question effectively is to review the rest of your Yale application, and see which qualities round out and support your story. Yale only has one essay, “Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)” so you want to make sure your response to the essay, as well as your responses to the other sections of the data form support the three attributes you select.

Darden has four short personal questions:

  • Each year, Darden connects with over 80 countries. If you could choose any location in the world, where would you want to travel? (5 words)
  • And why? (50 words)
  • Tell us what you would want your learning team to know about you – personal, professional or both. (100 words)
  • Watch “This is Charlottesville” video in the application. What are you excited to explore in Charlottesville? (25 words)

These questions help the schools to better understand your personality and your fit for the schools. You should answer these short questions thoughtfully, recognizing what the answers say about who you are, and why Darden is a good fit for you. It is also important to note that the final two questions also have a bit of a marketing orientation for Darden itself. In essence, these queries force you to learn more about Darden’s overseas offerings, as well as Charlottesville’s breadth of cultural offerings.

We hope these tips on Data Forms helps you better understand the importance of this often-overlooked part of the MBA application process. We wish you the best of luck in coming weeks.

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