However these essays are all too often a neglected aspect of the MBA admissions process, as candidates devote far more attention to other key areas, such as the GMAT test.
Avi Gordon, author of MBA Admissions Strategy: from Profile Building to Essay Writing explains that applicants should try to set themselves apart from other applicants, drawing attention to “anything that will get you noticed or make you stand out as a worthwhile addition to the classroom, on campus, and one day in the alumni network.
"What not to include? Don't praise the school (they know they're good),” Gordon continues. “Don't repeat items on your résumé; don't denigrate anyone or any organization; don't whine about life's obstacles or blame others. Finally, don't state the obvious -- if you are talking about water you needn't add that it is also wet.”
Frequently, admissions directors see high calibre applicants that write uniform cover letters and MBA admissions essays to use in applications for multiple business schools. While this may leave more time to study for the GMAT, or prepare for other parts of the MBA admissions process, it does mean that potential business school students are discounting an important opportunity to impress admissions committees.
Dirk Buyens, academic dean at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium explains to TopMBA.com that sometimes a lack of attention to detail can really hinder an application.
“Standardized letters sent out to different schools are really obvious, and show a lack of dedication... Some applications even contain the name of different schools,” he says.
Anna Farrus, head of admissions for Saїd Business School at the University of Oxford agrees, explaining that the school requires two admissions essays; one on the applicant’s career, and the other on how outside events have shaped the candidate’s thinking.
“Essays help the MBA admissions committee to better understand the goals and motivations of our candidates,” says Farrus. “Our essays are very open, and there is no right or wrong answer.”
While it is true that MBA admissions essays can cover a wide range of subjects and still be deemed of value, there are many pitfalls that successful candidates usually avoid.
“A failure to not properly address the question asked is probably one of the most common mistakes, along with too much embellishment,” explains Lynn Thornber, marketing and development coordinator at Durham Business School. “The admissions team want to learn about you as you are, so be truthful and honest, but above all, be yourself.”
Some business school admissions criteria give their candidates the opportunity to supply an optional essay. Often, this creates even greater anxiety, as applicants mull over the pros and cons of writing an extra admissions essay.
“Optional essays are used to mitigate a weakness or explain something that may be confusing about your background or career path,” says Gordon. “They are not a way to get more text in. It is a statement of strength as an applicant not to have to use the optional essay. Only use it if you have something specific to address, and when you've addressed it, stop writing -- there is no requirement to go to full essay length.”