Common Essays for Candidates Applying in 2018

(Last updated: February 2018)

Schools usually publish their up-to-date essay topics during the summer.
On average, about one third of the questions change (in terms of wording or subject) from one year to the next.

The advantages of working on the Common Essays:

– Your essays will be “cultivated” over a longer period of time. This extended “cultivation process” sometimes creates stronger essays (more improvements, greater maturation).
– The early preparation will allow you to practice effective writing.
– Your chances of submitting 4-5 high-quality applications in the first round (August-October) are higher.

Despite these three advantages, there are also two prominent disadvantages

– A roughly 10% chance that ultimately you will not submit at least one essay you prepared.
– A roughly 50% chance that you will have to change or update some of the essays, for the following reasons:
        1) Possible changes to essay questions (the up-to-date questions will be published in the summer).
        2) Developments in your career.
        3) New insights you’ll come up with in the coming months.

We recommend MAXIMUM two rounds of consultant comments on Common School essays (normally one round is enough, given the chance that you wont need some of these essays).  

1. Describe your greatest achievement. Why do you view it as such? (200-250 words)

2. Describe yourself / introduce yourself to your classmates / share an interesting or fun fact about you. (100-150 words)

3. What are your short term and long term career goals? Why are these your goals? How can an MBA from the specific program you are applying to help you reach your goals? (500-700 words)[If your budget is limited, consider skipping the outline for the career essay – its value may be less significant compared to other outlines].

4. Write one separate, unique essay for each program you are applying to:
(200-270 words per program)

A. How will our MBA program help you achieve your goals?
B. Are there any other reasons why you are applying to our program? What do you know about our program?


For UCLA, WHARTON prepare only part A above. For TUCK, STANFORD, DUKE and NYU prepare only part B.

See some pointers for preparing this essay at:

5. If applying to Harvard – this question appeared in the past 3 years (with several variations):

2016 variation – It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting. Introduce yourself.

2017-2018 variation – As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?

6. If applying to Stanford – Stanford asked this essay question in the past 6 years:
What matters most to you, and why? (recommended length – around 750 words)

7. If applying to Kellogg – Kellogg asked this essay question in the past 3 years:

Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (450 words)

8. If applying to Kellogg – Kellogg asked this essay question in the past 3 years (with several variations):

2017 variation – Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience. Describe a recent and meaningful time you were a leader. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

2018 variation – Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Tell us about a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

9. If applying to INSEAD – INSEAD asked these essay questions in the past 6 years:

-Job Essay 1-
Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/products and results achieved. What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (short answer)
-Job Essay 2-
Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. Discuss your short and long term career aspirations with or without an MBA from INSEAD (short answer)

10. If applying to INSEAD – INSEAD asked this essay question in the past 6 years:

Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (500 words max.)

11. If applying to INSEAD – INSEAD asked this essay question in the past 3 years:

Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc). How are you enriched by these activities? (approximately 300 words)

12. If applying to IE – IE asked this essay question in the past 3 years:

In this second part of the section “More about You” you have the chance to show us in a freer, more personalized way characteristics of the way you think and work, which will help us analyze your candidacy in more depth.
You have to choose and respond to three questions. At least one of these responses must be in text format. You have the option of responding to the rest of the questions through the following forms of human expression: poetry, photography, drawing, video (with a response that is spoken, sung, danced or played on a musical instrument), animation or presentation. With the exception of compositions in text format, all the rest of the responses must be linked to content hosting platforms. You may also choose to tweet your response using the hashtag #IEApplication and copy the link of your tweet in the bottom of this page.

We suggest the following platforms:
photography or drawing: Picasa / Flickr
video or animation: Youtube / Vimeo
presentation: Prezi / Slideshare

All your compositions must be absolutely original and specifically intended for this admission application. The compositions must be composed, executed and completed by you alone, without the direct help of outside experts. Before submitting the links, check that they work correctly. The links must be active and available for consultation for a minimum of 18 months after the date the application is submitted.

13. If applying to Duke – Duke asked this essay question in the past 5 years:

– The Admissions Committee also wants to get to know you – beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of ’25 Random Things’ about you. Please present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25.

14. If applying to NYU – NYU asked this essay question in the past 6 years with several variations:

2017 variation – Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use almost any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative. If you submit a non-written piece for this Essay (i.e., artwork or multimedia) or if you submit it via mail, please upload a brief description of your submission with your online application. (check for instructions on the website)

2018 variation – Describe yourself to the Admissions Committee and to your future classmates using six images and corresponding captions. Your uploaded PDF should contain all of the following elements:

  • A brief introduction or overview of your “Pick Six” (no more than 3 sentences).
  • Six images that help illustrate who you are.
  • A one-sentence caption for each of the six images that helps explain why they were selected and are significant to you.

15. If applying to Cornell – Cornell asked this essay question in the past 6 years:

You are the author for the book of Your Life Story. Please create the table of contents for the book in the space provided or upload it as an attachment. We value creativity and authenticity and encourage you to approach this essay with your unique style. Alternative submission formats may include a slide presentation, links to pre-existing media (personal website, digital portfolio, YouTube etc.), as well as visually enhanced written submissions.
Maximum file size is 5 MB. We recommend that you upload your submission in MS Word, PowerPoint, or PDF format. We cannot accept .zip or .exe files. If you choose to submit a written Table of Contents, please limit your submission to 500 words or fewer.


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