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Get to the Point: MBA Application Short Answer Questions

Too often, the short answer portion of the MBA application is treated as an afterthought when it actually plays a vital role in the way you present yourself as a business school candidate. Did you know that the short answer section is one of the first reviewed parts of your application (along with your resume)? 

It’s true.

Little known fact: The way you answer the short answer section of your application can either make or break your first impression with the admissions committee.

 Listen — We know that you’re a hard working, go-getter with the willingness to go the extra mile, but the Adcom doesn’t… So it’s up to you to craft an application that communicates these qualities. Unless you want your application to demonstrate that you are a person who only puts in 85%, you better plan ahead and set aside ample time to complete your short answer questions.

Answering MBA Short Answer Questions: THE GIST

While short answer questions do require fewer words, don’t be fooled into thinking they will take less time than your essays. 

Okay, fine… They may take some less time, but they still require the same amount of planning and consideration. Whether the criteria is less than 300 words or less than 300 characters, the time you put into writing your responses should be about the same.

We’ll get into the step-by-step of short answer questions in just a moment but here’s the gist of what you need to know: 

When answering short answer questions, it’s important to thoughtfully reflect on each question, create a map of how you’d like to answer, write your response freely, and then cut it down to meet the word requirement. 

Answering MBA Short Answer Questions: THE PROCESS

Know What They’re Asking.

Half the battle when it comes to MBA application short answer questions is truly understanding what the question is asking. While the prompts may seem simple at first, never submit an answer born out of a knee-jerk reaction. As you review the questions, try to get inside the minds of the admissions committee. Why are they asking this question? What information are they trying to learn about you?

Create a Plan.

Once you fully understand the motives behind the short answer questions in your MBA application, it’s time to map out your answers. Even if you think you have clear topics you’d like to discuss, it’s still a good idea to have a short brainstorming session and explore all your options. Once you’ve created a list of ideas, select the one that best answers each question at hand, fills in gaps in your application, and showcases your personal brand.

Wondering what we mean by ‘gaps in your application’?: Your responses to short answer questions should complement the rest of your application, but they should not repeat it. Use this section of your application to share additional information about yourself that will strengthen your applicant profile (this may include mitigating weaknesses).

Free Write.

Now that you know what the question is asking and how you plan to respond, it’s time to dive in. Start writing your response and resist the urge to check the word count. Let your thoughts flow freely to ensure you provide a well-rounded and thorough answer. Continue writing until you’ve written down every last drop of information you’d like to share. Don’t circle back and edit until you’re done.

Cut It Down.

Here’s the part where you take your hard-earned thoughts, dissect them, and meet that pesky word count. 

Before you break apart the bulk of your response, begin by making sure you didn’t repeat the question. Diving right in to your answer will save you precious space and grab the admissions committee’s interest. Pare your response down even further by eliminating any redundant information. The Adcom will be reading your entire application so there’s no need to repeat yourself. 

When you’ve managed to tailor your answer down to the point where it’s hovering just above the required word count, it’s time to use grammatical space saving tricks. First off, eliminate adverbs. For example: ‘really good’ can be switched to ‘incredible’. This small change will not only eliminate a word, it’ll make a greater impact. Rearrange sentences to cut out passive words. Avoid using words like ‘could’ or ‘might’. Remove connective words like ‘and’ or ‘but’ and instead use two sentences.

If you find yourself struggling to meet the word requirement, take a break and revisit it later. A pair of fresh eyes may be all you need to cut out the last few fluff words and eke in under the required word count. If you find you’re still struggling, you might need to reevaluate your answer and eliminate some unnecessary information.

Answering MBA Short Answer Questions: EXAMPLE QUESTIONS

While all MBA applications present the short answer section differently, a little preparation can go a long way. Whether you are given a generous word count that allows you to write a short paragraph or a measly character count that amounts to just a handful of words, practicing your responses to sample questions can help you formulate relevant, articulate answers when the pressure is on. 

When Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan released their 2018 MBA application, they published the short answer questions and instructions online. This year, Ross provided three groups of prompts, each with two questions. Applicants were able to choose one question from each group to respond to. Each answer had to be 100 words or fewer, meaning they had 300 words total for their answers.

Michigan Ross Short Answer Questions: 2018-19 MBA Application

Group 1

I want people to know that I:

I made a difference when I:

​Group 2

I was humbled when:

I am out of my comfort zone when:

Group 3

I was aware that I am different when:

I find it challenging when people:

We strongly recommend answering at least one of these questions to get a feel for the process of responding to short answer questions before you have a deadline breathing down your neck. The more you practice, the better off you’ll be when the time comes to complete the short answer section on your dream school’s application. 

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