Tuesday, September 03, 2019 at 8am

5 Fatal Errors in an MBA Personal Statement

5 Fatal Errors in an MBA Personal Statement

Years ago, I used to play an addictive Atari game called Pitfall. The goal was to maneuver a pith-helmeted explorer through a maze-like jungle, all the while avoiding being eaten by alligators or falling into ravines. I think you see where I’m going with this metaphor: Your MBA essay – your personal statement - is our intrepid explorer, and it’s your job to make sure he doesn’t fall off the vine because you made an easily avoidable error.

Without further ado, here are five of the worst moves you can make in your MBA personal statement— ones that will poison your MBA application as surely as a stressed scorpion.

Fatal Error #5: The impersonal personal statement 

It is never a good idea to transfer information straight from your résumé into your personal statement to show your history. For one thing, it’s always obvious. I’ve seen thousands of MBA essays and you can bet your admissions committee has, too. Text directly from your résumé is never well integrated into your MBA essay. 

Why? Because the purpose of the MBA essay is to convey to the admissions committee information that you simply can’t show on a résumé – your personal connection to your work. What they do not want to see is a vanilla personal statement that is a list of your accomplishments, grades, or duties when you did that internship at Google. They have all that info already.

This goes for material from research papers, too. Sometimes topic questions can seem to cover eerily similar territory to something you wrote in an A+ paper. It’s tempting to just cut and paste. I saw a recent MBA essay, for example, that had a prompt asking the applicant to talk about ‘a policy question that interested them’. The writer clearly just inputted some work from a research paper they wrote on the ‘Stand Your Ground Law’. This is no good; the reader can just smell that they are getting leftovers. Write something original and fresh.

Fatal Error #4: The irrelevant MBA essay

It’s true that the admissions committee is looking for a unique essay that cuts through the drudgery of the many cookie cutter (and often poorly written) pieces. However, this does not give you license to write anything you want. A key part of the MBA application process is actually following directions. That means read the topic question carefully and make sure you touch on all the points they refer to in the prompt. If they ask for something, it’s for a reason.

And while it’s great to have some humor, never make fun of the question. No matter what you think of it, this is someone’s job – do not insult them.

Fatal Error #3: Tell the admissions committee you want to go there

A flat boneheaded mistake I see all the time is when an essayist just plain leaves out what should be the most important part of the piece. That is, WHY he or she should be accepted to this university’s incoming class. Make sure to cover not only what the school might do for you, but why you are qualified and will be an asset. The readers are trying to put together an ideal classroom filled with fascinating students from different backgrounds. How will you add to that mix? Don’t just imply it – show this in your text.

Fatal Error #2: The snooze-fest

There are several ways to dump the dull in your essay. The most important one is to avoid general statements as much as possible. Be specific. If you enjoyed something, say why you enjoyed it. If it made you think, what did it make you think about? 

The other crucial step is to write honestly. The best writers can craft the most boring essays with the best intentions: clarity and clean construction. These writers are often trying to second guess the system and write what they think the reader wants to hear. Don’t be that person. Write from your heart.

Fatal Error #1: Accentuate the positives, don't aplogize!

I will never understand why would-be essayists feel they should apologize at any point in their MBA application, explain, or excuse possible black marks on their record. Think of it this way: You only have so many words to convince the admissions committee that you are the ideal person for their limited class roster. Isn’t it smarter to use all of those words to paint a flattering portrait of yourself? You can be sure that if you are dwelling on something negative, there are plenty of essayists out there who are selling themselves on all positive messaging. They will have the upper hand.

If you can avoid these five common essay missteps, you will definitely have a leg up on the majority of your competition in the MBA application process. With all these rules to help you get ahead, you’ll be swinging for sure.

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Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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