Essays are an incredibly important part of the application process, says Stacy Blackman, an MBA admissions consultant. Seemingly straightforward questions require a great deal of introspection. Make sure you budget time to draft and redraft, try new approaches and carefully edit so that each line packs the maximum punch
1 As soon as you know that you are going to apply to business school, you can start to prepare in a low-stress way. Keep a notebook and jot down anything interesting that comes to mind. An inspiring lecture, a disappointing performance review, an enlightening conversation with a friend, a travel experience, running a marathon, a stimulating book—all of these can be terrific material for your essays. Don't agonise over whether it will make a great topic, just jot it down. You will find that you quickly have a plethora of material to choose from.
2 As you begin to approach essay-writing time, consider putting together a “brag sheet”. Write down all of the things about you that would not necessarily appear on a résumé: languages you speak, all extracurricular involvements, family traditions and more. This can also be mined for essay content.
3 Once you have the essay questions in hand, there may still be a few stumpers. Even with lots of content, when you are faced with answering a question such as “What matters most to you?” it is difficult to decide. Here is an exercise that stops you from over-thinking: set your alarm clock for 3am. When you wake up, ask yourself the question. The first thing that comes to mind might surprise you. Do this for a couple of nights and you may come up with a few options or find that you are building a consensus around a certain topic.
4 Before you actually write the essays, take the final step of mapping out the general topics you will cover in each essay. As you map a topic to a question, check it off on a master list of stories you want to cover. This way, you can make sure that a given school is receiving all of your key stories, and that you are spreading out different stories across an application and not being repetitive.
5 Everyone works in different ways: some work best first thing in the morning, others are night owls. Some need to outline concepts on paper, others go straight to computer. So develop a plan that supports your individual style. Many find that the first application can take around 40 hours of work—brainstorming, drafting, editing, refining. As you approach this process, make sure you have the time. Tackle one application at a go. Do not take work leave or attempt it in a single week. Essays require time to gel. Therefore make sure that you have plenty of time to do it right. You may require six weeks, or you may even want 12.
6 Many applicants are inhibited by perfectionism. They can sit at the computer for hours, unable to generate that “perfect” essay, rewriting so furiously that they don't get past the first few sentences. It is often easier to edit than to write. So just type. A page full of so-so text is less intimidating than that blank page.
7 It is essential that you research your target schools and understand how to appeal to each of them. Each will have a slightly different ethos and look for something different in their students. But…
8 …you can also save yourself a bit of work. There are certain qualities that all business schools want to see in a successful applicant:
- team skills
- communication skills
Just saying “I am a strong leader” is not enough. Every claim you make must have supporting stories that help the reader believe you. You do not need to check off every quality on the list. Select a few that apply to you and reinforce those in an honest and compelling way.
9 Nobody is perfect. The schools know this and you need to show them that you are realistic and self-aware. Revealing your humanity—in the form of quirks, weaknesses and flaws—can often help the admissions committee to like you. A story about how you learned from a failure, improved upon a weakness or struggled with challenges can be compelling. The other side of this is the ability to demonstrate that you can really benefit from the MBA degree. If you know everything already, an admissions committee may wonder why you want to return to school.
10 Get some help. Even the most meticulous writers benefit from a second or third set of eyes. Ask someone to review your essays, look for typos and tell you if you are hitting all of the points in the right way. Is your attempt at humour coming off correctly? Do you seem too humble, too cocky, too serious, not serious enough? After you have been buried with your essays for weeks, a fresh perspective can often help you see the application as an admissions-committee member does: for the first time. Enlist someone who knows about the application process and make sure they are not just reassuring you that all is well, but are actually giving you some quality feedback.
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Business school admissions committees care about more than (just) your GMAT scores and GPA —they want to know who you are and why you belong in their program .
Your MBA essays are your best chance to sell the person behind the résumé. They should tie all the pieces of your business school application together and create a comprehensive picture of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.
Here's a roundup of our best MBA essay tips to keep in mind as you begin to write.
How to Write an Unforgettable B-School Essay
1. Communicate that you are a proactive, can-do sort of person.
Business schools want leaders, not applicants content with following the herd.
2. Put yourself on ego-alert.
Stress what makes you unique, not what makes you number one.
3. Communicate specific reasons why you're great fit for each school.
Simply stating "I am the ideal candidate for your program" won't convince the admission committee to push you into the admit pile.
4. Bring passion to your writing.
Admissions officers want to know what excites you. And if you'll bring a similar enthusiasm to the classroom.
5. Break the mold.
Challenge perceptions with unexpected essays that say, "There's more to me than you think."
6. If you've taken an unorthodox path to business school, play it up.
Admissions officers appreciate risk-takers.
7. Talk about your gender, ethnicity, minority status or foreign background....
But only if it has affected your outlook or experiences.
8. Fill your essays with plenty of real-life examples.
Specific anecdotes and vivid details make a much greater impact than general claims and broad summaries.
9. Demonstrate a sense of humor or vulnerability.
You're a real person, and it's okay to show it!
BONUS: Don't Make These MBA Essay Mistakes
1. Write about your high school glory days.
Admissions committees don't care if you were editor of the yearbook or captain of the varsity team. They expect their candidates to have moved onto more current, professional achievements.
2. Submit essays that don't answer the questions.
An off-topic essay, or one that merely restates your résumé, will frustrate and bore the admissions committee. More importantly, it won't lead to any new insight about you.
3. Fill essays with industry jargon.
Construct your essays with only enough detail about your job to frame your story and make your point.
4. Reveal half-baked reasons for wanting the MBA.
Admissions officers favor applicants who have well-defined goals. However unsure you are about your future, it's critical that you demonstrate that you have a plan.
5. Exceed the recommended word limits.
This suggests you don't know how to follow directions, operate within constraints or organize your thoughts.
6. Submit an application full of typos and grammatical errors.
A sloppy application suggests a sloppy attitude.
7. Send one school an essay intended for another—or forget to change the school name when using the same essay for several applications.
Admissions committees are (understandably) insulted when they see another school's name or forms.
8. Make excuses.
If your undergraduate experience was one long party, be honest. Discuss how you've matured, both personally and professionally.
9. Be impersonal in the personal statement.
Many applicants avoid the personal like the plague. Instead of talking about how putting themselves through school lowered their GPA, they talk about the rising cost of tuition in America. Admissions officers want to know about YOU.
10. Make too many generalizations.
An essay full of generalizations is a giveaway that you don't have anything to say.
11. Write in a vacuum.
Make sure that each of your essays reinforce and build on the others to present a consistent and compelling representation of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.
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