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The Brass Tacks of the Business School Essay

We’ll admit it... We are occasionally surprised by the business school essay prompts provided on some b-school applications. However, most questions fall under the Who, What, When, Where, Why umbrella. We’ve compiled essay guidelines that will apply to you no matter where you apply. Read this before writing a single word.


How to Write Business School Essays That Will Set You Apart


→ WHO

Admissions officers want to know who you are — what makes you different from the rest of the pile. When tackling questions about your experience, community activities, and hobbies, be sure to talk about your extracurricular life.

Succeeding in business school is much more than being a good student. The applicants who are most likely to gain admittance are those who have unique experience outside of their studies. They exhibit talent and creativity that make them a valuable part of a community.

Another important way to properly portray who you are to the admissions committee is to embrace your diversity. Many business schools pride themselves in their culturally rich student bodies and want to know a) how you will contribute and b) how comfortable you are with the diverse backgrounds of other students.

Use these types of essay questions as an opportunity to talk about your background. If you are the close descendant of an immigrant, discuss your experience. If a relationship with a close friend who grew up in a different culture has shaped your perspective, share that story. Perhaps you are the first person in your family to pursue higher education or you had to overcome adversity to reach your current stage in life. Dig deep to uncover any experiences that have impacted you, and then exemplify how your viewpoint will contribute to the business school community.

What should you not do? Don’t regurgitate your resume — tell the admissions committee something they can’t learn from anywhere else on your application. They can read your work experience and education on your resume. This is your opportunity to give them some insight into who you are as a person outside of those factors.


→ WHAT

Don’t be surprised when an MBA application essay asks you about your career goals up front. Many schools want to know what you plan to accomplish by getting an MBA, both long and short term. Answering this sort of essay question successfully can be a bit tricky. There is a fine line between being too vague and being overly calculated or unrealistic.

Here are some general guidelines: 

Short term goals commonly fall within the next five years. Consider your goals in both your personal life and in your education. Use the application essay as an opportunity to share the ways you hope to contribute as a part of a student body. Keep in mind that short term goals don’t need to be lofty... stick to discussing the skills you hope to learn in order to progress.

Long term goals are where the waters get murky. It’s okay to dream about being the CEO at a multi-billion dollar company, but it’s best to avoid getting into specifics in your essay. Speak about your aspirations in general terms to avoid coming off as idealistic, or worse, arrogant.


→ WHEN

It’s likely that you will see a business school essay prompt beginning with “Describe a time when…”. Those four words are enough to instill dread into the hearts of many applicants, but we have some tips on how to talk about your personal experiences gracefully and effectively. 

Here are a couple examples of these types of essays and how to answer them:

“Describe a time when you failed and what you learned from it.”  — This one can feel quite disorienting as the majority of your application will require you present your best side to the admissions committee. Switching modes and sharing where you have fallen short may be uncomfortable, but, when done well, will actually strengthen your application. Warning: Do not use this prompt as an opportunity to humble brag by sharing a “failure” that was actually more of a hidden success. Be honest about a time you actually messed up and discuss how you grew through that experience.

“Describe a situation in which you demonstrated leadership.” — This is your cue to start talking about how you are capable of working on a team. Yes, being the leader means that you were overseeing a project, but admissions officers want to know that you do not put your own desires first when other individuals are involved. Discuss how you successfully fostered a collaborative environment in which all team members felt their contribution mattered. Even though you are discussing a specific instance, speak in a manner that shows you understand the importance of leadership in all areas of your life, not just in this particular situation.


 → WHERE

There’s a good chance the school you are applying to will want to know why you are applying to their program. Even if this does not come up in an essay, it will surely be asked in an interview, so it’s a wise idea to spend some time formulating a thoughtful response.

When business schools ask this question, they want to be convinced you have something to offer outside of their standard requirements for admission. Make sure you do plenty of research before tackling this essay! Simply repeating the information on the school’s website will do nothing to show the one-of-a-kind contributions you can offer. 

When writing your response, don’t make it your mission to fit the mold of the students who are already a part of the program you are applying to. Instead, explain how you will bring something unique to the table. Get specific. Show that you have done your research by discussing a particular class, teacher, learning method, etc. that has prompted you to apply. Make it clear that you understand the school’s values and that you share those values.


→ WHY

Another question you will have to answer time and time again: Why do you want to get your MBA? Chances are, if you are applying to MBA programs, you have already answered this question for yourself (if you haven’t, you should start here). The trick is to articulate your reasoning in a way that showcases your personal brand.

Approach the business school essay as your greatest opportunity to convince the admissions committee that, despite all the competition, you are the person who deserves to be accepted to their program. Be sure to spend time sharing your personal background, specific skills, and unique experience. 

Get into the past, present, and future or your decision making. Explain the specific events, professionally and personally, that led you to your current ambition, and why now is the right time for you to get your MBA. Revisit your short and long term goals to explain why an MBA will help you achieve your aspirations.


Above all, when approaching your business school essays, it is important to remember that business schools are looking to build a student body of diverse backgrounds and unique contributions. Because of this, always focus on what makes you an individual when writing your essays. Exhibit passion, check your ego, and don’t be afraid to get real.




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