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Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 11am

How to Approach the MBA Essay

The MBA essay is an opportunity to provide valuable context to your MBA application

Your MBA essay can have a substantial impact on the fortunes of your MBA application. Successful MBA essay writers assume that they will have to spend a lot of time writing and editing, but they understand that this effort is worthwhile. Your MBA essay gives you the opportunity to express yourself as a person and to present yourself in the best possible light to the MBA admissions committee. The essay is the most ‘human’ aspect of your MBA application, and it gives you a chance to set yourself apart. Think about who you are, what makes you special, and what assets you would bring to the cohort at one of the world’s top business schools. It is often easiest to address these issues in the form of questions, which will help get your thoughts flowing (and give you valuable practice for the interview).

1. What are your career goals and personality? How does the combination of these two make you an attractive candidate?

When writing your essay, you might be tempted to delve straight into your full list of accomplishments and accolades, but a more effective strategy could focus on what you see for your future and how you intend to go forward with this vision. Why do you want to pursue an MBA? Why is business school right for you and how will it help you accomplish your goals?

You can and should use some of this space to highlight selected professional, or even personal, experiences that would add depth and context to your story. But, you should emphasize the overall narrative instead of reciting every award you’ve ever won. Write about what is relevant and how these steps inspired you to apply to one of the top business schools in general and, in particular, the individual business school to which your essay is addressed. Consider this school’s environment and how their culture will address your personal goals.

2. How would you brag about yourself?

Make a list of everything you have accomplished, and don’t restrict yourself to academic and professional experiences. Think about all of the other qualities that make you different from others. It might be helpful to boil yourself down to three essential adjectives for the MBA admissions team.

Obviously, you won’t be able to fit your entire life story into a single essay, but certain anecdotes can be extracted for content if they illustrate something about you, your ambition, and the person you are today. Having a bullet-point ‘brag list’ is very useful for brainstorming possible essay text. It’s best to lay it all out and see which moments or stories strike you as being worthy of sharing. When you string together these real-life examples, make sure that they demonstrate how you’re unique, and not necessarily how you are ‘the best’. Try to create a compelling narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end. How did your past accomplishments get you to where you are today?

3. What are your interests outside of work and school? How do you like to spend your time?

Top business schools expect strong academic credentials, but MBA programs are also looking for well-rounded, likable applicants. The best kind of student is someone who is vibrant, talented and spirited. Describe how you will be a unique asset to the academic community. What sets you apart from your fellow applicants?

Just as importantly, what makes you a team member who is fully integrated? After all, your future at business school and in your career thereafter will include collaborative enterprises such as partnerships, deals and negotiations. Your essay can also help you demonstrate emotional intelligence, outside interests and an active lifestyle, which will make you appealing to an MBA admissions committee that is looking to gauge your potential among fellow students, professors and future colleagues.

4. How are you a team player as well as a leader?

While leadership and teamwork are different virtues, they are strongly related. Every good leader knows that a team is more than the sum of its parts and strong leaders, therefore, tend to be equally accomplished as team players. Reflect on your experiences and choose those that demonstrate your combination of dedication, motivation and commitment to others as well as those that show you to be someone who can implement an overall vision. How did you stick to your goals while keeping others motivated? How seamlessly can you shift between being a team player and being a team leader? Remember to focus on the ‘we’ aspect of this question - don’t make it all about you!

5. Write less; say more

Sometimes, if a person is overdressed, say, with too much adornment or accessories, he or she can come across as insecure or tasteless; the MBA admissions process is no different. Verbal extravagance can have the same effect on an MBA essay. The legendary Ernest Hemingway was repulsed by excessive writing and his was a style characterized by muscular prose that was crisp and concise.

When writing your MBA essay, follow Hemingway’s belief that good writing stems from clear prose. You want to convey your passion in a manner that is eloquent and cogent. Answer the question(s) you are asked, but do so in a way that isn’t circular or excessively verbose. Since the word count is almost always limited, you'll want to get the maximum effect out of each sentence. Treat these limitations as a way to build yourself brick by brick.

Of course, you'll also want to make sure that there are no mistakes of grammar, spelling or punctuation in your writing. Submitting an error-filled essay would be analogous to being late to an interview or wearing your pajamas to a board meeting. There’s no excuse for making careless errors in your writing or for going over the maximum word count. These mistakes can be prevented by multiple rounds of proofreading.  

6. Demonstrate your ability to give back

Business schools want you to illustrate how you’ll participate in their school and make a difference. Sift through your timeline and select a few ways in which you’ve given back to the community without expecting something in return. Have you been involved in any charitable organizations? Did you lead a campaign on behalf of a cause or volunteer to do something for your community? Prove that you have been an asset to your fellow citizens by writing about instances in which you helped effect positive change. These experiences will show business schools that your presence will benefit their communities as well.

7. Gather feedback

You won't be able to write your best essay without help from others. Even the most skilled writer needs the accountability provided by some form of external review. Ask trusted friends, colleagues, or professors (preferably any of those who have attended business school) to give you constructive feedback on your essay. Be sure to consult people who have strong writing skills and astute business sense, and don't be dismissive of their advice.  

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MBA essays can be challenging, but they are both necessary and important. You should view your essay as an opportunity to provide valuable context to your MBA application. Who would want to be pitted against others based on nothing more than their GMAT scores and GPA? The essay writing strategies addressed above should allow you to personalize your MBA application and help you get accepted to a business school that truly suits you. Your MBA essay should therefore be the result of your best effort. 

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Manhattan Admissions is an admissions consulting firm dedicated to providing the highest quality admissions services on the market today. The dedicated team, including Jennifer Zhang (pictured), brings you optimal returns on your investment of time and money. For more information, please visit Manhattan Admissions’ MBA website.