5 Mar 2015

Mastering the MBA Essay

Having worked with hundreds of students and professionals applying to business school, I’ve seen it all – essays that are too short, too impersonal (or too personal), too wordy, too packed with data and facts, etc. For many applicants, MBA essays are synonymous with qualifications. They focus on listing out every relevant position, activity, award, and volunteer experience that they can think of to prove their worth. Don’t get me wrong, qualifications are very important, but it’s equally important to strike a balance. What I find is often missing in these essays is the personal aspect. It’s important to remember that all of those qualifications, including your professional experience, are included elsewhere on the application. What there isn’t room for in those boxes is you – your personality, your passions, your struggles, aspirations, and motivation for pursuing an MBA. The essay is where you tell your unique story, beyond the test scores and GPAs and jobs. You have one chance to get it right, so it’s important to dedicate the necessary time and effort to write a sincere, original response, no matter how painful it may be.

The good news for those of you in the running this year is that MBA application season is nearly over, which means that the end is in sight – for now (until school starts, that is). What time you have left should be dedicated to perfecting your essay (or essays – many schools require multiple ones) before the submission date. Here are a few tips for mastering the MBA application essay. Keep in mind that I’m mainly referring to the longer essay required by most schools that is sometimes called the personal statement.

    • Show your uniqueness: Every applicant will describe their professional experiences in detail in these essays, that’s MBA essay uniquenessa given. What’s important is making your unique personality shine through those experiences. Drawing on your background – perhaps your first brush with the business world as a teenager or the moment/event that inspired you to pursue an MBA – is a great way to do this. As Mary Miller, assistant dean of admissions at Columbia, advises, “Be yourself. We’re all unique individuals, we all present ourselves in a unique way,” so it’s important to let that show.
  • Switch up the length of your sentences: This is a little more technical, but it’s a useful strategy. Researchers have found that many authors employ sentences of a similar length throughout an essay or paragraph. The effect? It reads as monotonous. Varying sentence length will engage your reader more and build momentum in your essay. Take this bullet point, for example. By writing sentences of varying lengths, I’ve communicated both simpler and more complex ideas to you, holding your attention.
  • MBA application essay commitmentDemonstrate loyalty and commitment: This is something I’ve heard from several MBA admissions officers. They not only want to see that you’re active and involved, but that your involvement is long-term. This demonstrates staying power and loyalty, which are traits that are highly valued in the business world. Commitment to a cause or organization is equally important. Show that you’re willing to stick with something, in spite of any challenges you may confront along the way. It’s important to tell your story in a way that highlights these characteristics.
  • DON’T use the same exact essay for every school: This is pretty common advice, but I still find that a lot of applicants don’t follow it. While it may seem like a lot of extra work to write an entirely new essay for each school, it’s often the simpler option rather than trying to tweak and cut and paste your essay for another school. Each prompt deserves a unique answer. While it’s fine to cut and paste a sentence or two from a previous essay, you should allow yourself the freedom to craft an entirely new, organic response to each essay prompt. This also helps avoid embarrassing oversights where you mix up details of one program with another.
  • Follow directions: Sounds simple, right? An application is all about following directions. But when it comes to the essay, it’s easier than you think to lose sight of the actual question. A natural part of the writing process is getting immersed in the story. This inevitably means that you’re likely to forget what your main objective was in the first place. It’s extremely important to go back and read the essay prompt after you’ve finished writing the essay. Then reread yourMBA essay essay and make any needed adjustments to ensure that you’ve addressed all the points listed in the question.

While writing the MBA admission essay is still hard work, keeping these tips in mind will
simplify the process and keep you focused on what’s important. Remember, there are countless qualified applicants out there, but are they a good fit? Show your top schools that you have the right balance between character, credentials, and experience. And don’t forget to be yourself.

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Keep Writing,
Katrina Oko-Odoi
Founder & Chief Editor

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