PowerPoint vs. Essay: Which Best Conveys Today’s MBA Applicant?

Posted on October 25, 2008 | Filed in Admissions

The addition of a presentation component in the University of Chicago’s graduate application also acknowledges Microsoft’s PowerPoint as an essential tool for today’s tech-savvy, business world. “No one in business today could pretend to be facile in business communications without PowerPoint,” said a declarative Clarke L. Caywood, associate professor of integrated marketing at Northwestern University in an interview with The Chicago Tribune. “It’s like being able to read.”

First created in 1984 at Forethought, a small software company in the Silicon Valley, the visual aid program was originally titled Presenter. In 1987, Presenter was acquired by Microsoft, where it quickly became known as PowerPoint. Now PowerPoint is an internationally recognized program, with 500 million registered copies creating an estimated 30 million presentations a day, but despite PowerPoint’s obvious popularity in the corporate world at large, until Chicago’s recent addition PowerPoint hasn’t been utilized in MBA graduate applications.

Surveying other top B schools recently to see if they too are eagerly adding the presentation element to their own graduate applications, surprisingly, many are doggedly sticking to the essay question. Brent Chrite, associate dean and director of the MBA program at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, recently told The Arizona Daily Star, “[the PowerPoint presentation’s] an innovative and interesting idea. It’s just not clear to me how that format lets you capture the [applicant’s] depth of insight that’s important to us.” A recent email from the admissions committee at Dartmouth College’s Tuck [SCHOOL OF BUSINESS] shares a similar, albeit frank response to the PowerPoint-presentations-in-future-applications query, “We do not require and do not envision requiring a powerpoint.”

Countering this, Martinelli asserts that today’s business environment consistently demands brief yet informative communication. MBA applicants should then readily reflect their capacity to work under these constraints, and a PowerPoint presentation is the best means of judging that quality. “Whether it be e-mail, PowerPoint or a two-minute elevator speech, successful businesspeople need to learn how to express their full ideas in very restrictive formats. We feel the new application requirement represents this very common challenge,” said Martinelli in an interview with EditorsChoice.

Perhaps, as Martinelli told BusinessWeek, there is a “buzz in the market,” and more B schools in future MBA graduate applications will eventually adopt the PowerPoint presentation as a valid form of an applicant’s disposition and achievements. For now, though, many B schools are concerning themselves with enhancing their essay questions. Many top B schools now have more contemporary essay queries like Harvard’s, “How have you experienced culture shock?” and the University of California, Berkley’s Haas {SCHOOL OF BUSINESS}’s, “If you could have dinner with one individual in the past, present, or future, who would it be and why?” that provoke more personal responses.

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