In my last post on the business school admissions process, we explored the first phase of the MBA application process. Before we turn to phase two of the application process, let's review my recommendations for phase 1:1. Draft a list of schools and identifying deadline
2. Create a profile on the school’s website and register for info events
3. Start thinking about fine-tuning your resume so it’s taken care of
4. Order your transcripts
5. Brainstorm a list of recommenders
With these first 5 steps complete, it's time to think more deeply about your application narrative, generate the content for essays and organize the information into a cohesive story.
The narrative is perhaps the most important part of your application because it tells the admissions committee who you are. Unlike your GMAT score, which is a # which you probably share with thousands of other applicants, the essays give you an opportunity to differentiate yourself and stand out from your peers.
In order to attack business school essays efficiently, start by making a list of all the essays required by your target schools. In doing so, you might notice some patterns:
1. The “Why an MBA?” : This essay pops up on most MBA applications. This is a good place to be specific about the aspects of an MBA that excite you and then tie these back to your past experience and future goals.
2. The “Why our school?” essay: Again, another common topic for obvious reasons. Do you research. This means picking apart the school’s website, attending info sessions, talking to alums, visiting campus, you name it. Get to know the school and nuances of the MBA program before writing this essay. Your knowledge of the school will come through and make for a stronger piece of writing.
An upside: doing the research should get you excited about the school and give you something to look forward to as you slog through the process (if it doesn’t, you might re-consider your path…)
3. Finally, you’ll find a range of essay prompts that address similar themes: accomplishment, positive impact, risk taking, leadership. For example, you might draw up a list of essay questions and come across each of these questions:
- “In your life to date, please tell us about an instance when you felt that you had the most positive impact, and why you believe it to be significant”.
- “What is your most significant accomplishment?”
- “Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.”
These questions are no doubt different in their focus, but the thought process and kind of content they generate is similar. One way to streamline the essay writing process is to find commonality in the prompts, write a couple body paragraphs, then tweak them to directly answer the essay prompt. Don’t overlook this last step. Admissions committees will know if you are recycling an essay without being thoughtful about the specific question asked of you.
As you look over all the essay prompts, make a list of all the items that you know you want to include in your applications (work experience, community service involvement, accolades or awards, publications, etc.)
Start mapping out how you can match all the important information to essay prompts. Make sure that you are repeating yourself and that each essay brings to a light a distinct, meaningful experience. This process should enable you to start visualizing how each application will take shape.
From there, start brainstorming. Dedicate some time to just free writing. This can be done totally informally. Don't worry about being grammatically correct, and feel free to write in note form. The point is just getting your thoughts, aspirations and objectives out on the page.
That seems like plenty of work for now – more on the next steps of the MBA application soon!