Dos and Don’ts of Writing the Business School Admission Essay |

Dos and Don’ts of Writing the Business School Admission Essay

By Francesca Di

Updated March 22, 2021 Updated March 22, 2021

Admission essays are as much for the schools considering your candidacy as they are for you. This is the part of the application that allows you to reflect on your major reasons for returning to school. Going to business school – especially in a full-time program – means uprooting your life, becoming a student again, and investing lots of time and money. It requires thoughtfulness and confidence.

Considering how to respond to various application essay questions is an opportunity to contemplate your motivations, the schools in question, and what you bring to the table. You should look at the essays as a blessing, rather than a hindrance.

“Essays are more than just a box to check on the application,” says Emily French Thomas, director of admissions at Columbia Business School. “They are a great opportunity for you to look inward and think about your goals, who you would like to be on campus, and more broadly, who you would like to be in the world.”

In addition to finding yourself, you will be explaining who you are to the admissions committee. Take a deep breath and give great thought to what you want to reveal. Discover the dos and don’ts of admission essays, according to experts:


Do ask yourself the big questions

Many business school students are logical and data-oriented. They don’t often wax philosophical. But that’s exactly the order of the day when you’re writing an admission essay. Get a little out of your comfort zone, and try to answer some big questions. What’s my purpose? Why do I want to attend business school? Why now? Why this particular school? Think bigger, too. Ultimately, what do I want to do with my life? What do I bring to the table?

“In truth, we want 760 individuals,” says French Thomas. “Every candidate will have different strengths, and even those of you with similar backgrounds may have vastly different goals or different reasons why Columbia is a good fit for you.”


Do honest talk

Schools want to get to know the real you. The admissions committees are swift. They’ve been at this a long time, so they will see through hyperbole, or flat out lies, designed to make you look better. Forget about telling them what you think they want to hear. Just as it was in kindergarten, honesty remains the best policy.

“Our essay asks you to describe your biggest commitment, which is an inherently personal question,” says Laurel Grodman, director of Admissions, Analytics, and Evaluation at Yale School of Management. “Use this opportunity to speak in your own voice about something that really matters to you, and to which you’ve dedicated your significant time and talents. The subject matter should come naturally; if you’re spending hours trying to craft the ‘perfect’ topic, you’re overthinking it.”


Do demonstrate your strengths

Use specific examples to support details you share about yourself. For example, instead of writing you are financially savvy, supply a relevant anecdote about a time you saved your company a significant amount of money. Include how you managed this feat and add specifics in terms of just how much money you saved.

“Sometimes applicants spend a lot of time talking about why their commitments matters to them in a philosophical sense, but not enough on showing how they have approached those commitments in concrete terms,” adds Grodman. “Tell us what you set out to do and how you have gone about doing it, ensuring you are specific and detailed in describing that approach.”


Do edit

This one might seem obvious. But admissions committees will write you off if your essay is riddled with grammatical errors or typos. There’s no excuse for those kinds of mistakes. You should be taking time to write and edit. And you should have someone else – someone you trust to proofread accurately – look over your work. After looking at the same page over and over, you sometimes miss even silly errors that fresh eyes will see.

Aside from those kinds of mistakes, however, another person can offer advice on the content itself. “A great essay is one that you could show to your mom or a close friend and they would recognize you in it,” says French Thomas.

While this advice is sound, also consider asking for a second opinion from someone who isn’t so close to you, someone who can offer a completely objective opinion.


Don’t fail to answer the question

Talk to anyone in admissions, even at top business schools, and you’ll learn of everyone’s big pet peeve – applicants who never answer the question. Each program asks a different question in the essay portion of the application. Even questions that are similar might be slightly different from school to school. Too many applicants never answer the question being posed.

One trick many admissions experts have shared is to have others read the essay and see if they can determine the question without knowing it. If they can, you’ve answered the question. If they can’t, you need to become more focused in your writing.


Don’t write generic answers

Another big no-no admissions committee members constantly discuss is a lack of customization. Many applicants mistakenly think they can write one essay and use it for every school. That is lazy, and it won’t get you far with most schools. Schools want to know what it is about their program that attracts you. They also want to determine if you’re a good fit for their particular program.

You will have to conduct proper research on each school to which you apply. Talk to students and staff at these places. Visit if you can. Write a personalized essay that addresses their nuanced question and includes information demonstrating you know the program and why you should be accepted to it.


Don’t rush

Take your time. Rushing is not an option with business school applications. You need time to do the necessary research and write and edit well. Having time gives you the chance to avoid making silly errors. It also means you’ll have the chance to look over your work and make sure you’re satisfied with what you’re turning into the admissions committee. Ultimately, the essays are a window into who you are. You want that window to be open and transparent and offer an interesting view into your soul. 

This article was originally published in January 2018 . It was last updated in March 2021

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