How to Write Stunning Admissions Essays

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With business schools slashing essay requirements for their MBA programs, you could be forgiven for thinking prose has become less important for getting into business school. Harvard Business School has culled three of its essays and you don’t even have to complete its only remaining one (though most do). But you would be wrong.

The essay remains “vital” to an MBA application and it’s often the first hurdle candidates must jump over to secure a place at business school. “If a candidate’s essay is weak, they are unlikely to be selected for interview, however good their profile and career,” says David Simpson, admissions director at London Business School.

So, how can prospective students write stunning, admission-worthy essays?

Be authentic

Simpson reads thousands each year — more than he can count. LBS has two 500-word essays, one on a candidate’s post-MBA goals and another open, optional question inviting them to provide any other information they wish.

“Your essays give me a chance to understand your story so far and your aspirations for the future,” he says.

First and foremost, a good essay answers the questions clearly, succinctly and with enough color to keep the admissions committee interested. But Simpson is looking for authenticity, too.  

“Honesty is vital. You have to tell your story and highlight your achievements and strengths, but ensure you seem like a good fit for London Business School’s collaborative, diverse community; arrogance is a no-no,” he says, adding that flamboyancy is frowned upon.

“I would rather the essay is straightforward and informative, not over-the-top and flamboyant,” he says. “I’m not a fan of candidates offering us a vision of their future along the lines of, ‘It is 2030 and I am sitting in the board room of XYZ company after flying in from ABC country’.”

Demonstrate effort

Admissions directors complain of essays being mildly changed and submitted to multiple schools. There has also been a recent rise in people using essay-writing services and admissions consultants. To get into a top school such as LBS, you will need to put the work in yourself.

Simpson says: “It [an essay] can show effort, preparation and commitment, or a lack of those things.

“It’s the one part of the admissions journey where you have little excuse to fall short. You have unlimited time to finesse it and even ask for a friend’s feedback. But make sure it is in your authentic voice. Make it work as hard as it can for you.”

Manish Mishra, director of admissions at the Indian School of Business, agrees. “The essays demand self-reflection to identify unique personal strengths that enhance one’s candidature and clarity in career goals,” he says. “Not spending enough time on them may hamper one’s chances of making the cut.”

Highlight unique experiences

ISB requires MBA candidates to submit two essays of 300-500 words — one on their unique attributes and another on their career goals. If a candidate is applying for needs-based and diversity scholarships, additional essays are required.  


Every application is thoroughly read and evaluated by at least two people independently — a committee comprising senior alumni, faculty and other staff. What elements in an essay would make them want to admit a would-be MBA?

“We look for candidates who can contribute actively and uniquely to both in-class as well as outside-class learning,” says Mishra.

“While academic and professional diversity is one way we look at building a diverse cohort, unique extracurricular hobbies, interests, and achievements also add a significant value to the candidate’s profile.”

So, if you’ve got unique experiences, the essay is the place to highlight them.

Tie your essay into the rest of the application

The Rotman School of Management in Toronto also receives thousands of essays each year, which members of the admissions committee read before deciding who is invited to an in-person interview.

The two MBA essay questions ask candidates to list attributes that best describe themselves and reflect on how they will measure their MBA experience in the future.

Jamie Young, director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA, says the most impressive essays have a harmonizing effect on the other elements of the application: “When we consider the admissions essay, we are thinking about how it fits into the larger application.

“The primary purpose of the admissions essay is that it shows your thoughtfulness,” he says. “For many candidates, their background research shines through in this stage of the application and the admissions committee can start to get a sense of ‘fit’.

“Along these same lines, part of the purpose is the process. The essay encourages applicants to prepare. Working on the essay really forces you to think about why you want to do your MBA and why you’re applying to particular schools.”

Back at LBS, Simpson points out that the essay is just one element of a comprehensive application. Those applying to the business school also submit a CV, two references, a good GMAT score and shine in an in-person and video interview. He says: “Every element of the admissions process is vital, or we wouldn’t ask for them, but they work incrementally.”


So, remember:

  • Be authentic and honest, but not over-the-top or flamboyant
  • Make sure your essay reflects the time and investment committed to it
  • Highlight unique experiences that will help you stand out
  • Ensure your essay connects and overlaps with the rest of your application
Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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