Mollie Wolin has worked as an Expartus consultant since 2011. Prior to joining our team she was on the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School, where she served for four years. She has many years of experience in marketing, working as Marketing Brand Manager at Gillette Company in Boston, MA. Mollie earned her MBA in 1997 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Expartus: You have been involved in admissions for a long time. What are some changes you foresee for the 2015 cycle and how would you advise students to adapt to those changes?
Mollie Wolin: 2014 saw so many changes, from dramatic word count reductions in the essay section to more video-based interviewing. I think that 2015 will mostly be about refining and further testing those changes. To succeed in that environment, applicants must be able to communicate what they want in a more succinct way and share the main themes of their brand in fewer words. With some schools, such as Harvard Business School, you now only get one shot in the essay section. You must make this count.
Shorter essay sections also mean that the interview will continue to play a bigger role in 2015. Schools are not getting quite as much information from the essays, and so they are asking more personal questions during the interview round, wanting to know the why of each major decision applicants have made. Successful applicants will be able to explain their motivations clearly and cohesively. They will also tailor their preparation to each school. It is no longer appropriate to prepare for different interviews in the same manner, as the formats are now so wide-ranging. For example, Wharton incorporates a group interview, HBS interviewers tend to go through the entire application with targeted questions, and Stanford GSB interviews are conducted by alumni, asking mostly behavioral questions. To do well in each format, you need to specialize your preparation for each school you are invited to interview with.
E: What is the best thing applicants can do to get a head start in the application process?
M.W.: To me, there are three broad things that must be done early in the application process. First, you should spend a lot of time thinking about why you are applying to business school. This question is at the core of the entire application process, and “this is a good time for me” is not always the best answer. You need to have clear, compelling reasons that you can articulate both on paper and in person.
Second, after identifying their reasons for applying, you should spend some time thinking about your brand themes. What motivates you and defines your personality? What do you want to highlight for the admissions board? How are you going to get that message across?
Finally, try to fill in any gaps in your work experience. If you want to change careers, start an activity or project that furthers this transition. If you need to brush up on a particular subject, start taking a few classes. Be proactive and seek out what you need now.
E: In your experience, which part of the application typically proves the most troublesome for students?
M.W.: During my time on the HBS admissions board, I saw so many candidates who were not willing to get personal enough in their application, and consequently turned in bland or generic statements. You need to make each question extremely personal. This can be intimidating, but it is the only way to make your application unique. I often work with candidates who wonder how they will ever differentiate themselves amid such a competitive applicant pool. You don’t have to have been an astronaut or written a novel to stand out, though it can seem that way sometimes. How you think, your natural tendencies, and the characteristics that you bring to a project are unique, and focusing on those will help you to stand out. Don’t just tell the committee what you have done- tell them why you have done it. Don’t just tell them you want an MBA- tell them how you hope it will transform you, and how you see yourself in two years, five years, and ten years. Tell them a story- people love to read stories, and admissions officers are no different. You need to give them a story to cheer for.