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B-Schools Seem to Downplay Writing Skills

One b-school professor calls her students’ essay writing skills ‘horrendous’ and ‘painful.’

mba, business school, writing, essays, e-mail, typos, communication
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In a business world where executives' E-mails increasingly conclude with a caveat that the message was sent from a BlackBerry, iPhone, or Android, and a customized footer apologizing for any typos, writing skills appear to be an anachronism. 

Deans and professors at business schools have long complained about students' poor writing skills, but some MBA admissions experts suggest that b-schools are now downplaying the importance of solid written communications skills. 

Both Harvard Business School and Stanford University's Graduate School of Business trimmed the number and length of their required application essays. The move was to prepare students for the "real world," where they will increasingly need to write concisely, says Dee Leopold, Harvard's managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid

"That's what most of my life is like, and I'm sure that that's not unreflective of the real world," she says. 

But Jane LeClair, the dean of the School of Business & Technology at Excelsior College, in Albany, N.Y., says Harvard's and Stanford's application changes may send the "wrong message" to applicants. "It may indicate to them that writing is decreasing in importance," LeClair says. 

[Check out 6 résumé writing tips for b-school grads.] 

Students often bring "bad habits" from E-mailing, text messaging, and social media use to the classroom and to their jobs, which is why schools such as Excelsior are adding writing programs to their curricula, LeClair says. 

But those schools may be the exceptions to the rule, according to Catharine Curran, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth's Charlton College of Business

"I can tell you in two words: functionally illiterate," says Curran, who has taught MBA and college students for 14 years. "The student writing is painful." 

Not only are the English skills of Curran's international students "horrendous," she says, it's even tough to grade the papers of her American students. 

[Read 3 tips for MBA applicants from China.] 

"Many of the international students tell me that they seek help, but there is no help for MBA students with writing," she says. "This leads some to turn to bad behavior—either plagiarism or buying papers online, or hiring a student to write their papers for them." 

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