Tips for Writing Your MBA Essay

Posted by Erica Zendell on 7/15/15 11:00 AM

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Makes ya wanna proofread, huh?

 Taken your GMAT and gotten a score you like? Great. Picked the schools where you want to apply and maybe planned a campus visit or two? Awesome. Asked some people who know you well and whom you trust to write on your behalf? Brilliant. Now for the big to-do: writing the essays.

You might be feeling a little anxious—this is your future

we’re talking about here. Your mind may be flitting about wondering how to squeeze all your professional accomplishments into 100 characters or how to fill the page with 750 words about your post-MBA hopes and dreams. Now pause, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Breathe it out. You can do this.

Here are a few tips I have to share from my own application experience and from helping other b-school hopefuls tell their stories to Admissions. 

Clarify your goals

For every application, you will have to answer some variation on the questions “Why do you want a MBA?” and “Why do you want a MBA from this institution?” The subtler question underlying these is “Why now?” as in why is a MBA essential to you during this point in your life and what will it do for your career now, whether you’re hoping to advance in your current industry or looking to switch into something different. Engage in some soul-searching and don’t be afraid to get vulnerable. This is as much a process of finding out who you are as presenting yourself to others. As an added bonus, getting your answers straight now on these questions will help for telling your story again to your interviewer—but first things first.

You are not your scores. You are your stories

Admissions officers already know a lot about you from your resume, your scores, your transcripts, and your recommenders. So tell them something they wouldn’t gather from those pieces of information: the story behind landing that big client, that time you really struggled to come to an agreement with a coworker, or that time you decided to do something crazy and push your personal limits well beyond the reasonable bounds--training for an Ironman, in the case of one friend of mine applying for his MBA.

The admissions process is a lot like dating—the school tells you everything about itself that it would want you to know, then you tell the school everything about yourself that you would want it to know. Then both of you get to determine if you’re a good match. Sticking with that analogy, you wouldn’t go out on a date and tell your most boring stories or bore your date with things he or she already knows about you.

As you fill out your application, the stories you choose should either elaborate on something admissions officers already know from your resume or recommendations or should let them in another dimension of you that’s compelling, relevant to your candidacy, and can’t be found anywhere else in your application. The people evaluating your application want to know who they’re letting into their institutions, and it’s up to you to give them as detailed and honest a picture of yourself as possible (without getting inappropriate, of course). Don’t be afraid to be a little vulnerable if it means sharing a really great story of personal growth and transformation. Just be sure that while being personal, you keep it professional, tying it all into the narrative of your post-MBA hopes and dreams. 

Get with the program

Take a moment to visualize yourself in the MBA programs at the schools where you’re applying. What classes do you see yourself taking? In which activities do you imagine yourself getting involved? What events are you attending outside of class?

Admissions people know you’re not applying to just one program—they’re not naive. They know you’re searching around and that there is more than one school that could meet your needs. That said, your application needs to make the school feel special. It’s on you to show the committee that while their institution isn’t the only place that can help you achieve your post-MBA goals, it is the best place.

Prove that you’ve done your homework by citing things about the school’s program that appeal to you and are relevant to your goals, whether it’s a course you want to take or a club you want to join. Paint yourself into the picture of life at the school. Make it easy for admissions to already imagine you on campus, taking advantage of their program and all its resources. If you see yourself there and they can see what you see—and believe in it—you’re one step closer to getting to live it.

Write authentically

I’ve seen tons of essays where people use terms and sentence structures that they would never use in everyday life. When I’m working on editing an essay and see an awkward phrase, I tell the writer to read the phrase they wrote aloud. Usually, they’ll laugh as they do it, realizing that it sounds forced and ridiculous. Then they’ll change it and write something far clearer and more concise.

Your MBA application is a place to present yourself in the best possible way. And by “best possible way,” I mean present yourself as you are. Authentically. With maturity and knowledge of yourself, your strengths as much as your weaknesses. This applies as much to the content or your essay as the style.

I’m not saying to ignore the conventions of English grammar, but don’t write like you’re someone you’re not. Not to mention, admissions officers read thousands of essays and will know when to call you out on BS. If you think you wrote something in a way that sounds arrogant, judgmental, or over-sharing, chances are admissions will feel the same as you do. 

Get different people to help you brainstorm and give feedback on your essays

When you’re in the thick of thinking about your past accomplishments and post-MBA dreams, it can be easy to forget that there’s a living, breathing person on the other side reading them. Your essays aren’t being read by drones (yet). They’re being read by humans—even if on tablets and computers. Admissions officers come from all sorts of ages, backgrounds, and experiences and your goal is to give the person reading your essay a genuine sense of who you are as a person. So as you’re listing your professional accomplishments and post-MBA goals, remember that the person on the other side might not understand industry- or position-specific jargon.

Consider brainstorming, and once you’ve drafted something, sharing your essays with least one person who knows you in a professional context—probably your recommenders— and at least one person who knows you in a strictly personal context. Your essays should resonate with people irrespective of their background or interest in business. You do not want to leave your reader to be confused or wanting further clarification. The only question you want your reader to be asking by the end of your essays is, “When can I meet this awesome person?”

Now get writing!

Looking for more help with your applications to business school? Check out these other blog posts written by our business school admissions consultants in Boston and New York: Does success on the GMAT predict success in MBA classes, MBA programs: You Got In! Now What?, and An MBA is Only as Good as Your Plans For It. If you'd like more hands-on support, feel free to reach out to Cambridge Coaching! Our business school admissions coaches will be happy to help.

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Tags: MBA admissions