Published Jun 2, 2004

There’s one more thing I wouldn’t do: apply to business school online. I’m a nerd, I’ve liked computers more than (most) people since 1982 or so, and I can say with conviction that the simple act of applying online may have as much as doubled the hassle of filling out b-school apps.

There’s no good justification for that. Applications are a systematic, structured activity. You do one thing, then you do another thing, you input information in a specific and specified way, and information goes from you to a recipient in a structured way. This is exactly what a forms-based interface, as you get on the Web, is perfect for.

Sadly, the business school applications process also shows what the Web is worst at. Both application ASPs (strangely, not redundant), Embark and Apply Yourself are slooooow. Molasses. Trailing even the Greek Olympic construction organization, the Microsoft security patching team, Japanese economic recovery, the Chicago Bulls’ rebuilding project, etc. Slow. There’s nothing as nerve-wracking as waiting and waiting for the server to tell you that, yes, we received the 500 words of information that you just gave us fine, thank you, please proceed on to the next step. I’d imagine that many people give up when they tire of waiting, and more give up when their precious application times out, with the loss of all the information they just entered. It didn’t have to be this way; schools know about how many people will apply every year, and infrastructure could be built to support the expected number of users.

The benefit of waiting for these slow servers to be of some use is also minimized because the various schools don’t share a single application infrastructure like, say, law schools do. This means that every time I entered my resume, I had to do it a little differently to follow each school’s slightly different format for the same information. Each essay that was shared between two schools had to be uploaded twice. Everybody needed my name, social security number, birth date, and everybody needed it separately. That’s a hassle for me and probably costs the school accepting the application more, because each school needs to invest in setting up their own online application or pay one of the ASPs to give them one.

Now, for the same investment in time (filling out each school’s birth date, resume, etc., individually), I could’ve avoided the wait and ensured data integrity by filling out the paper application. When the Web designer says he won’t use the Web application, that’s not a good sign.