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 negotiate the writing process.
- Prepare your strategy
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 is an example 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 the extent of and
emphasis used to present each message.
- Note the candidate evaluation criteria ("Admission Drivers") used by the MBA program you are applying to.
- Convey clear messages
Life isn't so clear-cut. Attempts at describing the path we have taken thus far, and our plans for the future, often require complex explanations and descriptions.
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.
- Make use of conjunctions
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.
- Be personal
Use concrete, personal, and factual examples to illustrate your point. It is a good idea to avoid general statements, stereotypical phrases, and clichés.
- Vary your vocabulary
Using a thesaurus is highly recommended.
Essays that make use of a limited vocabulary with often repeated words tend to wear out the reader, and often fail to achieve their objective.
- Do your homework
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 an effective way to ensure rejection. These kinds of sentences show that you failed 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.
- Be unique
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.
- Answer the question
It may seem obvious, but make sure you remembered to do it: Answer the question!
No less, and not much more.
Contact us today and take the first step towards getting into your top-choice business school.
1. Promote the Admission Drivers
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:
Where is our best chance to promote leadership?
- The Episode essay
2. Focus on the Question
Answer all segments of the question.
– Describe one of your greatest achievements and why you view it as such
Remove sentences that go beyond the scope of the question.
3. Focus on Facts
Avoid subjective terms
- Objective = it's either right or not.
- Subjective = it's a matter of opinion.
- “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
- “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.
- “Following my success in the project, I was promoted to Vice President” – This is
- “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.
4. Go Deep
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
5. Make it interesting to read
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"
6. Avoid Introductions and Summaries
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”
– Space is limited
– Patience is limited
7. Less is More
– Because they skim
Keep the paragraphs at 3-5 lines.
Keep the sentences “real short”.
– 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!
8. Use Orphan Sentences for the Key Points
– Because they skim
On April 3 I was appointed Vice Commander of the Submarine.
9. Keep it Authentic
– 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.
10. Modesty Wins
How to be modest?
Focus on the facts
11. Episode essays: tell it as a chapter in a book.
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.
12. Use Optional Space!
Chance to promote candidacy further
Shows commitment to the school
Berkeley MBA Essay Tips
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.
Carnegie Mellon MBA Essay Tips
- 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
- School prides itself on small, close-knit
community and wants to know how you will contribute
- Because of stereotype of students with poor
communication skills, looking for people who
demonstrate strong communication skills.
Chicago MBA Essay Tips
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.
Columbia MBA Essay Tips
- 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
Cornell MBA Essay Tips
- Critical to demonstrate 'fit'- that student is
aware of school atmosphere, wants to be part, and
- Important to show that added value, for self and
for organization, in every work/volunteer position.
- Helpful to discuss Immersion Program in
Darden MBA Essay Tips
- 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
- 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.
Duke MBA Essay Tips
- Fuqua has two leading motifs:
o “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.
o “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 MBA Essay Tips
- 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
- 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
IESE MBA Essay Tips
- 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.
IMD MBA Essay Tips
- Must show leadership.
- Want to see international orientation as
demonstrated by working & living outside of home
country / international focus in career / knowledge
- Important to show career progression
INSEAD MBA Essay Tips
- Very important to show international
orientation, preferably international business
- Career progression is important.
- School is putting strong emphasis on
entrepreneurship. Good to show entrepreneurial
experience/spirit in application.
Kellogg MBA Essay Tips
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.
LBS MBA Essay Tips
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.
Michigan MBA Essay Tips
- 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.
MIT MBA Essay Tips
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.
NYU MBA Essay Tips
- 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
- 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 MBA Essay Tips
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.
Tuck MBA Essay Tips
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.
UCLA MBA Essay Tips
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.
UNC MBA Essay Tips
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.
Wharton MBA Essay Tips
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.
Yale MBA Essay Tips
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.
Why MBA Essay Tips
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.
Career Goals MBA Essay Tips
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:
• Specific industry
o Specific enough to make it unique and concrete.
o For example, banking is “too broad” an industry, whereas Project Finance or Biotech
Finance is more specific and therefore more unique and concrete.
• Specific positions
• Connection to past
• Assured first step
o Rather senior position
o A company you work with / worked with
o Impressive company description (i.e. largest…)
• Unique career plan
• Rich, famous or both in the long term
• Likely and natural connection of goals.
• Community agenda
• Sexy industry
In general, the more specific and personal the essay is, the better.
The key to the Career Essay:
Connect most sentences with the future goals and the industry name.
o Most of the sentences should relate to the goals.
o For example:
Why School X? Because Professor X is the world's best in Y, and I need Y to achieve my goal Z.
The Aringo Team
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