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MBA Admissions Essays


A Few Tips For Writing Strong MBA Essays

1. Introspection

Before beginning the long and painstaking process of writing each essay, we strongly encourage you to take a  bit of time out for yourself. No, we don’t mean that you should hide out on a small Greek island far from the rest of the world, but more so that you should take the time to go through a process of self-reflection.

Most importantly, the idea is for you to take the time out to think about the reasons motivating you to do an MBA and to conclude what you will get out of it. On the other hand, considering what doing an MBA is going to cost you, not only the financial and professional implications (from interrupting your career), but also the consequences for your social and personal life.

After this first stage of reflection (the cost-benefit analysis), we encourage you to reflect on your leadership style and skills. You have to understand that most business schools’ primary selection criterion is the leadership potential that the Admissions sees in you. So it makes sense the you should start thinking about your leadership potential. Don’t worry if you have not officially been a team leader or responsible for a department. The Admissions Office is aware that you professional experience and that you might not have had the opportunity to be in an official leadership position. But it is waiting to see that you have been in “unofficial” leadership situations, such as being responsible for a project in which you collaborated with or supervised other individuals. Once you have come up with such a situation, we encourage you to analyze it to better understand exactly how you lead the project (Were objectives clearly established? How did you determine your objectives? How did you communicate them to others? What techniques did you use to motivate people? How did you follow along with the evolution of the project?)

Above all, this self-reflection may seem like a waste of time, but you will gain from it mature thinking and generate a wealth of examples and situations. Play the game, because this introspection is indispensable for you to be able to talk about and reflect on your personal experience. It’s this reflection that is going to make your essays stand out and the Admissions will reward your mature thinking. It’s obviously hardly worth mentioning that the worst thing you can do is to copy someone else’s essays.

Beyond the final goal of being in to an MBA, I find that it’s healthy to put aside the time to take stock of your professional experience and what sense you are trying to give to your life by your choice of careers. Start thinking about this as soon as possible because you will be asking yourself such questions throughout your MBA.

2. The Strategy of Positioning

Writing the essays really seems to be an exercise in marketing in the sense that the image that you communicate through your essays has to make you stand out from other candidates. Most candidates have similar experiences (there is a plethora of consultants, bankers, marketing executives and so on who apply each year). This means you will talk about more or less the same things! It is critical, therefore, that you come up with a specific positioning in order to distinguish yourself. For those among you who are not familiar with the concept of positioning, the idea is to make your personality stand out by choosing a few distinctive qualities. These qualities can be your distinguishing factors, areas of expertise or your passionate interests. You need to be on the lookout for building up these themes throughout your entire application (during the essays, letters, and resume). The positioning of a candidate should be summed up in three or four chosen themes.

Positioning isn’t helpful unless it enables you to show that you are what the consumer wants (here the consumer is the school because it chooses!). Be careful, because having a theme is not the goal in itself. A theme is looking for (leadership potential for Harvard). For example, if one of the themes you choose is multiculturalism, don’t hesitate to show that your knowledge of other cultures has per you to refine your ability to listen to others or even to form a solid value system which guides you during ambiguous situations – these are the qualities of a leader.

3. Don’t forget the results.

For most of the MBA essays, you are asked to describe and analyze your actions (examples: Describe your three most substantial accomplishments and why you view it as such” or “How have you helped a group to change?”). For this type of essays, it is absolutely indispensable that you talk about the results you attained. For example, if you explain that you have led a radical change in your department, do not forget to discuss precisely what the results of your actions were. On this point, I encourage you to not only indicate your results numerically (with “hard date” such as the figures on increased sales) but also the human results (the “soft date” such as a better working environment). It is important you show that you know how to “make the numbers”, but not to the detriment of others.

4. Form and format

Respecting certain rules about the form of your essay is important because if you do not follow the given guidelines you will distinguish yourself from others, but not to your benefit!

  • Respect the word  an Admissions Officers explained to us that the number of words per essay is not counted. Readers look only to see if the essay seems to be more or less within the guidelines; they are not, therefore, going to realize that your essay is 10% over the word . However, if you go way past the (more than 20% over) this will be noticed and held against you because it will be perceived as an inability to synthesize your ideas in among the space.
  • Your essay should be well structured and concise. Get right to the point and do so in a very structured manner. Use linking words to indicate your different ideas (First, Second, Third, etc.) and to show the logic of your argument (therefore, but, yet, on the other hand).