Some General MBA Essay Tips

Writing the application essays is usually the hardest part of the MBA admission process. Below are a few MBA essay tips and guidelines to help you successfully navigate the writing process.

Before writing the MBA essays, take some time to familiarize yourself with the MBA program’s requirements of its candidates and with your qualities as a candidate. Below are examples of some recommended basic steps:

  • Note the candidate evaluation criteria (“Admission Drivers”) used by the MBA program you are applying to. You may consult the program’s website, current students, alumni, online forums, guidebooks, and services such as ARINGO in order to draft an up-to-date list of criteria. Next to each criterion, estimate the weight given to it in the application process.
  • Write down what you, as a candidate, can offer in respect to each one of these criteria.
    These are the main messages you seek to convey through the MBA essays.
  • Allocate each message to one or more essays. Use the aforementioned criteria weights to determine how much emphasis to give to each message.
Life isn’t so clear-cut. Describing the paths we have taken thus far, and our plans for the future, often require complex explanations.

It is important to remember that the reader of your essays may be unfamiliar with your industry. Moreover, remember that application essay readers go through hundreds of essays within a short period of time. Your messages must be clear, crisp, short, focused, and easily identifiable in order to help the reader, whose task is to evaluate your candidacy based on the Admission Committee’s evaluation criteria.

Use conjunctions (such as However, Therefore, Thus, Furthermore, Moreover, Nevertheless) to connect phrases and/or paragraphs. Smooth transitions will help you write clearly and coherently. Moreover, such transitions help the reader follow the text and stay focused.
Use concrete, personal, and factual examples to illustrate your point. It is better to avoid general statements, stereotypical phrases, and clichés.
Using a thesaurus is highly recommended. Essays comprised of limited vocabulary and frequently repeated words tend to wear out the reader, and often fail to achieve their objective.
Writing a strong “Why our school” essay requires comprehensive research on each university you apply to.

Sentences such as “I made Columbia my top choice because of its strong alumni network, distinguished faculty, and excellent reputation” are unlikely to impress the admissions officers. Vague statements that can be applied to almost any school reflect a failure to recognize the program’s unique character. They also suggest that you did not devote enough time to identifying why you are a strong candidate for this particular school, rather than any other program.

In addition to reviewing the university’s website, speak to students and alumni. Make use of online forums to gather up-to-date information about the school, so that you can present a compelling case as to why you chose this specific MBA program.

Write a unique, personal essay. You want the readers to pore over your essay not only as part of their duty as Admissions Committee members, but also because they are intrigued. Like any good author, use techniques such as suspense, subheadings, an intriguing introduction and a little humor to capture the reader’s attention. The last thing you want to write is an essay that sounds exactly like the five others read by the Admissions Committee member that week.
It may seem obvious, but make sure you remembered to do it: Answer the question! No less, and not much more.

The Twelve Advanced MBA Essay Tips

  • Admission Drivers are the traits that admission committees look for in a candidate. For Example:
    • Leader/Manager – Led/managed/recruited people.
    • Team Player/Relationship Builder – Worked well with others, built relationships under difficult circumstances.
    • Smart – GPA/academic distinctions, GMAT, recommender reviews.
    • Initiates – Initiated successful projects / changes.
    • International/Cultural – International orientation/experience, cultural sensitivity.
    • Presentation Skills – Public speaking (large audience is strongest – state the number of people), presenting to senior people, presenting to team.
    • Persuasion Skills – Persuaded people (senior people in particular).
  • If a sentence doesn’t promote an Admission Driver:
    • Is it required in order to answer the question?
    • If not, remove or replace it!
  • The king of Admission Drivers:
    • Leadership
  • Where is our best chance to promote leadership?
    • The Episode essay
  • Answer all segments of the question.
  • Example:
    • Describe one of your greatest achievements and why you view it as such
  • Remove sentences that go beyond the scope of the question.
  • Avoid subjective terms
    • Objective = it’s either right or not.
    • Subjective = it’s a matter of opinion.
  • Examples:
    • “We completed the project 6 days ahead of schedule” – objective
    • “We completed the project quickly” – subjective
    • “Singcom is a large company” – subjective
    • “Singcom is Singapore’s second largest company” – objective
    • “The project succeeded” – subjective
    • “I felt that the project succeeded” – objective (this is what I felt) but not “hard facts.”
    • “In the company’s 2002 annual conference, the CEO cited the project as one of the company’s 5 main successes of the year” – objective, hard facts – this is the most effective of the above three.

… and Let the Reader Conclude

  • Avoid “spoon-feeding” the reader with conclusions.
  • Let the reader reach the conclusions.
  • For example:
    • “Following my success in the project, I was promoted to Vice President” – This is spoon feeding.
    • “Four weeks after the project ended, the CEO announced my promotion to Vice President” – This is good! Let the reader conclude the project was successful.
  • Go deep into the details
  • Be as specific as possible
    • I have learned how to delegate responsibilities” – shallow
    • “I have learned that effective delegation of responsibilities requires clear definition of sub-goals” – deep
    • “Singcom is one of Singapore’s largest companies” – shallow
    • “Singcom is Singapore’s third-largest company” – deep
  • Make the essay unique/bold/funny/suspenseful. Some ways to achieve this:
    • Suspense, drama
    • Short paragraphs, short sentences, section titles
    • By writing it as a script for a great movie
    • By writing it as a chapter in a book
    • By using unique, bold and funny ideas, stuff they never saw before. For example:
      • Essay Question: “What would you do if you had 1 hour with our dean”?
      • Answer: “I would lock the room from the inside. Until the security people break in, I will have at least two hours to convince him why Kellogg is my #1 choice.”
  • What do we mean by “introduction”?
    • “here’s what I will tell you about”
  • What do we mean by “summary”?
    • “here’s what I told you about”
  • Why?
    • Space is limited
    • Patience is limited
  • Why?
    • Because they skim
  • Keep the paragraphs at 3-5 lines.
  • Keep the sentences “real short.”
  • Avoid “AND.”
    • What two things can you do to avoid “and”?
    • “I presented the background and my analysis.”
      • Break sentences into two: “I presented my background. I explained my analysis.”
      • Cut one “wing”: “I presented my analysis.” – This is best!
  • Why?
    • Because they skim

Paragraph
Paragraph
Paragraph

On April 3, I was appointed Vice Commander of the Submarine.

Paragraph
Paragraph
Paragraph

  • Why?
    • It helps chances
  • How do we keep the essay authentic?
    • The essays shouldn’t present the candidate as a perfect person.
    • If possible, some of the essays should be moving, sincere, introspective, emotional. Less so for Harvard.
  • How to be modest?
    • Admit mistakes
    • Criticize yourself
    • Be sincere
    • Focus on the facts
  • Episode essays are stories (like: “My greatest achievement”).
  • Episode essay questions often begin with: “tell us about a time when…”.
  • Effective episode essays are told like chapters in a book. They often use quotes.
  • Why?
    • Chance to promote candidacy further
    • Shows commitment to the school

MBA Essay Tips by School

  • Important to demonstrate innovative and creative leadership. Does not necessarily have to be something ground-breaking, can be “something as simple as a new process for doing something or a new way to think about clients or an untapped market”. Preferable to show it in professional context, if not can be in volunteer or personal context.
  • Should show proficiency in quantitative areas.
  • Possibly helpful to discuss experiential learning opportunities.
  • Want to see that you have taken the time to learn about the school – great way to do this is to travel to campus during early part of application season and request an interview with an adcom member (can also request interview when they travel to recruiting events).
  • School prides itself on small, close-knit community and wants to know how you will contribute to it.
  • Because of stereotype of students with poor communication skills, looking for people who demonstrate strong communication skills.
  • Essay questions are creatively designed to get a well-rounded picture of applicant’s personality, to see how they think, and to see whether they have a good sense of the school’s character.
  • In past the perception was that community at the school was weak. Therefore may be helpful to show that you are someone who will actively contribute to the community.
  • School very much values strength of its academic program – may be good to talk about how program will serve you and how you will contribute to it.
  • Like to see entrepreneurial mindset.
  • International orientation, multiple languages, openness to diversity, are plusses.
  • Like people who took part in activities and have actively contributed to the well-being of their communities.
  • Critical to demonstrate ‘fit’- that student is aware of school atmosphere, wants to be part, and will contribute.
  • Important to show that added value, for self and for organization, in every work/volunteer position.
  • Helpful to discuss Immersion Program in application.
  • Need to show that you will fit well with the case study method – have strong interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills.
    Because of case method, school pays attention to writing and language skills as demonstrated in application/interview.
  • School looks favorably on military experience (which school sees as teaching integrity and honor as well as leadership and work ethic). Show how army leadership experience will make you a better business leader.
  • Want people who will be involved in school activities so look for involvement in extracurricular or community service. Good to show that you have been involved alum of institutions in past and that know how to work with alumni.
  • Fuqua has two leading motifs:
    • Team Fuqua” – this is the slogan of the school and its mission – show in the application that you were and still are a part of a team and a leader of a team.
    • Leaders of Consequence” – show how as a leader you look at the bigger picture and understand the consequences of you actions on classmates/business/society etc.
  • Want to see students who will be both collaborators and leaders. Believes that the two are not contradictory but rather complementary.
  • Make sure to directly answer the question asked – the admissions director advises to write essays in such a way that one could tell the question simply by reading the answer.
  • Harvard’s primary concern is leadership. The school is for leadership potential, and not necessarily leadership per se.
  • Harvard is particularly interested in ‘Leadership without Authority’- your ability to influence, motivate, initiate and convince others to effect change without being in a traditional leadership position.
  • Have a generalist viewpoint – it’s better to be good at many things than to be extraordinarily good at just one thing (unless that one thing happens to be leadership).
  • Important to show how you are different or unique (i.e. via a great achievement in music or sports, a significant international experience, interesting work experience, etc.), and how this will allow you contribute to the program.
  • Show open-mindedness.
  • Show willingness to learn from differences.
  • Must show leadership.
  • Want to see international orientation as demonstrated by working & living outside of home country / international focus in career / knowledge of languages.
  • Important to show career progression (promotions).
  • Very important to show international orientation, preferably international business experience.
  • Career progression is important.
  • School is putting strong emphasis on entrepreneurship. Good to show entrepreneurial experience/spirit in application.
  • Kellogg is looking for someone who ideates clear self reflection, speaks with conviction about goals, who they are, why they are interested in MBA, their role and fit with school. Not looking for one-dimensional people.
  • Be yourself, be confident, without arrogance. Think what your experience means for other students, what you can share and how you can contribute.
  • School emphasizes that essays should be insightful, reflective, authentic and honest – don’t write simply what think adcom wants to hear.
  • Particularly important to research the school and MBA thoroughly, show understanding of what makes school unique.
  • Show international experience/orientation/ambitions.
  • Emphasize what you will contribute to campus. Mention clubs/activities that you hope to take part in.
  • Exhibit team-play and collaboration skills.
  • Emphasize your interest in the action-based component, show that it’s the right study method for you. Show you are familiar with MAP and other unique aspects of curriculum.
  • School putting more emphasis on entrepreneurship- good to show entrepreneurial spirit.
  • It is recommended that non-techies emphasize quantitative skills. In general, quantitative skills are very important to Sloan.
  • Essays are very behavioral, as is the rest of the application. Talk about feelings, emotions, motives, thoughts. Looking for very specific details and examples, above all.
  • Bad essays are mostly about situation and outcome. Good essays are mostly about process. All their applicants are successful – the school wants to see the process that led to the success.
  • Important to show that you have undertaken thorough research to learn what the Stern community is like, and that you have an idea as to how you will contribute to it. Show passion and clarity in essays. Show that you fully understand the NYC advantage.
  • Your chances are significantly higher if you are able to convince Stern that they are your first choice and that you will surely matriculate if you are admitted (yield management.) The “Why Our School” essay section is key to this.
  • Show that you have a good idea of what you want to do after school, why you want to do it, and why/how will you be successful in recruiting for that position.
  • Stanford wants to see applicant’s ideals, passions and aspirations. Looking for students who have been successful as a by-product of pursuing their passions and interests, as opposed to just pursuing success after success as a goal in itself.
  • They like community involvement and public-service-oriented people.
  • In essays, show insight taken away from experiences, not just experiences themselves. Discuss both specific entrepreneurial ambitions, and the way those ambitions will have a positive impact on society.
  • Value teamwork, especially because of their Study Group system.
  • Seems that they are looking to take more students who have a ‘global mindset’.
  • Like tangible anecdotes, examples and vignettes in essays.
  • Due to the program’s strength in entrepreneurship, it is recommended to discuss your own entrepreneurial spirit/ambitions, and how school’s resources will help you reach them.
  • Have strong emphasis on getting to know applicant through essays – essays ask how family or community influenced applicant and about important life experiences.
  • Looking for authentic, genuine and introspective essays – don’t be overly verbose.
  • Important to show a well-developed sense of self-knowledge, to show that you have asked yourself questions like ‘who am I’ and ‘what do I want to accomplish.
  • Like to see involvement with community.
  • Very important to show WHO you are (hobbies, community service, etc.), beyond professional accomplishments and stats. Be yourself and be candid.
  • Like to see international perspective.
  • Applicants should be very careful as to how they shape the group of essays: they are interrelated and will be taken together as a whole.
  • Write clear, concise essays which clearly answer the question asked, paying attention to word limits.
  • Show interest in the school’s finance and marketing programs.
  • Show interest in business ethics and corporate social responsibility.

MBA Essay Tips by Essay Topic

When writing such an essay, the candidate has to make it clear to the admissions committee why an MBA is a crucial step for him or her, in order to achieve his or her career goals.

Mainly you need to explain:

  • What skills do you still lack in order to achieve your stated goals, and how will the MBA/school enable you to get each of these skills?
  • What knowledge do you still lack in order to achieve your stated goals? Will the MBA enable you to get this knowledge? For example: I still lack knowledge of X to achieve my goal Y.
  • What else do you still lack in order to achieve your stated goals? Experience? Contacts? How will the MBA enable you to get these things?

Your candidacy is likely to be stronger if you are more specific about what it is exactly that you are lacking in light of your goals. For instance, what exactly within marketing do you need to achieve your stated goals? Positioning? Distribution? Advertising? Strategy? Pricing? Etc.

In general, a strong career plan is one that brings the candidate to a very successful future, and one that is very likely to happen. This translates to 9 foundations for a strong career plan:

  1. Specific industry
    • Specific enough to make it unique and concrete.
    • For example, banking is “too broad” an industry, whereas Project Finance or Biotech Finance is more specific and therefore more unique and concrete.
  2. Specific positions
  3. Connection to past
  4. Assured first step
    • Rather senior position
    • A company you work with/worked with
    • Impressive company description (i.e. largest…)
  5. Unique career plan
  6. Rich, famous or both in the long term
  7. Likely and natural connection of goals.
  8. Community agenda
  9. Sexy industry

In general, the more specific and personal the essay is, the better.

The key to the Career EssayConnect most sentences with the future goals and the industry name.

  • Most of the sentences should relate to the goals.
  • For example:
    Why School X?
    Because Professor X is the world’s best in Y, and I need Y to achieve my goal Z.

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