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To get into this elite business school, you have to prove you’re not a psychopath

Reuters/Mike Segar
The empathy exams?
  • Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Requirements for attending NYU’s Stern School of Business include a killer résumé and top-notch grades—as well as evidence that you’re a functional, socially-integrated human not totally devoid of empathy.

Stern, which is among the top-ranked business schools in the US, has this summer started asking applicants to send in letters from friends or coworkers that speak to their social skills and emotional intelligence. These endorsements “should be in the words of the recommender” and are meant to get to the heart of who applicants really are, Isser Gallogly, associate dean of MBA admissions at Stern, told the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

He added that friends’ letters often offer more insight than recommendations from professors or previous bosses—which is reasonable, as applicants to any school are likely to misrepresent themselves on paper, whether by inflating their accomplishments or self-consciously tamping them down. Researchers in 2015 who interviewed several senior investment bankers in London suggested they engaged in  “teflonic identity maneuvering“—effectively shutting off their emotions and becoming expensively dressed amoral drones.

And according to a 2014 survey from the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, 40% of MBA applicants have drafted their managers’ recommendation letters themselves.

Friends and colleagues fulfilling Stern’s new requirements have to write a 250-word statement describing the applicant’s empathy, self-awareness, and other personal traits. Best of luck, Martin Shkrelis of the future.

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