Applying to business school means you’ll have to gather or write many documents, to sum up why you’re the perfect candidate. You must collect your university transcripts, take the GMAT or GRE, and ask for recommendation letters. Besides burning the midnight oil studying for your choice of standardized test, perhaps the most time-consuming part of your MBA application is writing admissions essays.
You’ll likely write essays in response to prompts asking about challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame them, what your professional aspirations are, achievements you’re most proud of, and much more. Some business schools ask explicitly for a statement of purpose or have supplemental prompts that ask for the same things.
We will walk you through what a statement of purpose is, how to write one for MBA admissions, a statement of purpose example, and tips to help you create your own masterful essay.
Statement of Purpose Defined
A statement of purpose seems to have a different name depending on who you ask—some people interchangeably call it a personal statement or a goal statement. Most business schools will provide specific questions or guides to write your statement of purpose.
For example, Stanford GSB explicitly requests an SOP covering the following material:
- “Your past work on relevant issues
- What excites you most about your chosen field of study
- Possible areas of research you might pursue
- Any research projects you have completed with faculty
- Any faculty member’s research that is of interest to you
- Any other information you would like to provide to the admissions committee.”
On the other hand, Wharton does not explicitly ask for an SOP but asks for supplemental essays requesting essentially the same information:
Essay 1: “How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton.”
Essay 2: “Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community?”
A SOP’s primary purpose is to uncover the “why” and “how.” It should show why you want to pursue an MBA in the first place and why you want to complete your degree at the school you choose. Your SOP tells the admissions committee how your experience has prepared you for the rigor of an MBA program and how you hope to use your degree to advance your personal and professional goals.
An MBA statement of purpose’s word length typically shouldn’t exceed 1,000 words if you’re not provided a word limit, but be sure to check program requirements before you start writing. An SOP “is an opportunity for graduate applicants to add context to their application and academic transcripts, which won't necessarily tell the reviewer much about the applicant as a person." It is one of few opportunities you’ll have to speak directly to the admissions committee.
How To Write the Statement of Purpose for MBA Admissions
Writing a stellar statement of purpose requires good writing skills and time. You’ll need to ensure you answer the prompts entirely, your narrative has a logical flow, and your essay is as impactful as possible. Keep in mind, there’s no one right way to write an SOP as long as it answers the question and has a logical flow.
Writing a statement of purpose isn’t easy, but these steps will show you a possible method for writing your SOP.
Identify What the Prompts Are Asking You
This sounds straightforward, but it’s easy to get wrapped up in your narrative and miss particular elements admissions committees want to see. Referring to the Stanford GSB example above, the admissions committee asks you to touch on six points. For a truly outstanding essay, ensure your response answers the question.
Do Your School Research
One of the SOP’s primary purposes is to describe why you want to attend a school’s MBA program. The school research helps tie together your aspirations with what the school offers. Your research will not only make your writing more robust but also show the admissions committee you took the time to learn about the school before applying.
Create An Outline
An outline helps ensure you don’t exceed word limits, hit all the main points you want to discuss, and structure your writing. Separate your response into three parts, and figure out what information you want to convey in the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
Introduction: Introduce Yourself And Give Background
When we say to introduce yourself, we don’t mean “Hi, I’m John Doe and I want an MBA.” While pretty straightforward, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of your creativity and writing skills. You may want to begin with an anecdote about what sparked your interest in an MBA in the first place and give a little bit more background about your academic experience and what you do for work.
Body: Talk About Qualifications, Express Interest, State Your Goals
The body of your statement of purpose for MBA admissions is where you can write about your academic awards, accomplishments, and research. If you’ve received any other awards or other notable achievements like writing a book, spearheading an important project, or starting an initiative, you should write about it here.
Some applicants like using the body of their statement of purpose to express their interest in the school’s MBA program, and some writers like to lean into that content toward the end of their response. The same applies to state your goals: What do you want out of an MBA program? How will an MBA from this school help you achieve your professional goals?
Conclusion: Wrap Up and Look Toward the Future
The conclusion is where you should wrap up any loose ends in your writing. You should reaffirm why you want to attend an MBA program if you haven’t already. To help guide your thinking, answer the following questions:
“What does this university/program offer you that other schools don't? Which courses and professors most interest you? What makes you a ‘good fit’ for this institution? What can you bring to this program?”
If you can confidently answer these, you have a good argument for why you chose the institution you’re applying to.
Writing your hopes for the future and exactly how an MBA would help you achieve them is crucial to mention in your writing. Although you can touch on this a little bit in your body paragraphs, you want to ensure you end on a memorable and impactful note.
Statement of Purpose Sample for an MBA
A well-written statement of purpose samples can help guide your writing process. Here is a striking statement of purpose sample from an applicant to Harvard Business School.
“In 2012, I realized a life ambition—I completed my first novel, all while working full time at [Top U.S. Investment Bank]. I could not wait to share it with the world and eagerly went in search of a literary agent. But each agent I contacted declined to represent my novel.
Nevertheless, I was passionate about my work and was determined to put it into readers’ hands. In true entrepreneurial fashion, I self-published my novel through the digital platforms Smashwords and Createspace. I worked with a promotional expert to organize a month-long book tour to promote the book to prominent book bloggers and their readers. The result? My novel has received multiple 5-star reader reviews, from Amazon to Goodreads, and was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
Storytelling is my lifelong passion; it saw me through a difficult childhood. After my father left, my mother raised me as a single parent in [U.S. City/State], a rural Bible Belt town two hours south of [U.S. State]. We did not have much money and that coupled with my bookishness made me a target for bullies. Books and writing were an escape; they gave me an avenue to articulate the feelings of abandonment and powerlessness I otherwise did not want to express. Writing made me happy and the more I wrote, the more my talent blossomed. I began to win awards and my work was published in youth literary journals. These experiences made me more confident, a key part of my success later in life. It all started with a pen, a notebook, and my imagination.
Stories are an integral part of the human experience. They uplift and inspire, give us permission to dream and to visualize what could be. Storytelling has been an integral part of my career, from building financial models at [Top U.S. Investment Bank] that illustrated my expectations for the companies that I covered to delivering a presentation to [International Daily Newspaper]’s chief revenue officer explaining why reducing ad prices for tender house advertisers would not lead to an increase in revenue.
My passion has also informed my growth as a leader; I believe my most impactful expressions of leadership have been my efforts to help others write the narratives of their own lives and careers. At [Top U.S. Investment Bank], I created an informal mentorship program for female and minority interns and first-year analysts in the research division and led a “soft skills” class to help new analysts handle difficult interpersonal situations. For four years, I’ve mentored a young Hispanic woman through Student Sponsor Partners, a nonprofit that gives low-income students scholarships to private high schools. Being a mentor gave me the privilege of guiding another first generation college student along what I know can be a lonely, difficult path. This fall, she started college with a full scholarship.
Storytelling will be a part of my future career path; as an MBA graduate, my goal is to obtain a position in strategy and business development at an entertainment company that specializes in film or television. Long term, I want to start a multimedia and merchandising company with a publishing arm (books and magazines) as well as film, TV, and digital operations. Using strong, fictional heroines and informative lifestyle content, my company’s goal will be to educate and inspire women to become their best selves. My particular focus is creating compelling, multidimensional characters to inspire young women of color, who are constantly bombarded by negative images of women who look like them in media.
I’m pursuing a Harvard MBA because I want to become a better business strategist and strong general manager. Also, I want to further develop my leadership and presentation skills as I will manage professionals on the content and business side; it will be my task to unite them behind a shared strategic vision. Specifically, I want to learn how to motivate teams and individuals to perform at their highest level, and to become more adept at persuasion and generating “buy-in” from others. Harvard’s unique approach using the case method and emphasis on leadership development will challenge me to grow in both these areas. I also feel that I have much to contribute to Harvard’s community. My varied background in finance and media has given me a unique perspective that will be valuable in classroom discussions and team projects. I want to share my passion for the entertainment industry with my classmates by chairing the Entertainment & Media club and planning conferences, career treks, and other opportunities.
My background gives me the capacity for fearless thinking that is needed to meet the challenges of the entertainment industry’s shifting landscape. A Harvard MBA will strengthen that foundation and help me to become the kind of dynamic leader who can bring the vision for my own company to life and be at the forefront of entertainment’s structural shift.”
Tips for Writing a Statement of Purpose
Avoid Rehashing Your Resume. You want your statement of purpose to add value to your application, so write about other things not already on your resume. While it’s okay to give background into what you’re doing for work and your academics, make sure your strengths, fit, and goals are the stars of the show.
Hone in on Your Abilities and How They Spell Success. It’s one thing to consider yourself a diligent worker, but it’s another to demonstrate who your diligence has led to success. You want the admissions committee to understand you’re an excellent candidate by showcasing your strengths, but do so in a way that focuses on results.
Ensure You Describe the Mutual Benefit. Although you’ll undoubtedly benefit from a school’s MBA program, you want to show the admissions committee how your acceptance will benefit the school. Share how you plan to contribute to the school’s community, class discussions, and overall culture.
Quantify Your Experiences. Your statement of purpose shouldn’t be a list of facts and figures, but adding some can help your credibility and showcase your potential. Think about the quantifiable measures of success you can add to your SOP, such as your hand in increasing revenue and productivity.
Edit Your Statement of Purpose to Perfection. Even the best writers need some help to unlock their work's full potential and impact. You’ll likely write numerous SOP drafts before you’re confident in the final product.
Consider seeking an admissions consultant’s help to ensure your work is in tip-top shape and ready for submission. Admissions experts are familiar with how things work at different schools and can help tailor your response to captivate any admissions committee.
Do I need to rewrite my statement of purpose for each school?
You will need to rewrite a personal statement for every school you apply to so your writing is specific to each MBA program. While you can probably reuse some elements of your background information, your SOPs must be different.
How do I avoid rehashing my resume?
You should use rich anecdotes for a more compelling statement of purpose. Telling a story can help you avoid listing items off your resume, making for better writing. If you have a particular theme in mind, such as storytelling in the above example, it can help form the backbone of your response.
How important is my statement of purpose?
Your statement of purpose is an essential part of any MBA application. It demonstrates why you’re an excellent fit for the program and how you will actively contribute to the school’s culture.
A well-written SOP can help differentiate yourself from other applicants, especially if you share similar credentials, like GPA and test scores. Business schools are competitive, so you must do everything to boost your candidacy and have a better shot at acceptance.
How long should my statement of purpose be?
If the school you’re applying to lists length requirements, it’s best to follow them. If there is no stated length requirement, try not to exceed 1,000 words.
Can I include extenuating circumstances in my statement of purpose?
If there are gaps in your application, you can write about them in your statement of purpose. However, approach sharing extenuating circumstances in this space with caution. You don’t want to spend more time writing about the holes in your application than describing why you’re an excellent candidate.
Most schools offer an optional essay where you can write about anything else you think the admissions committee should know. If your school offers this, you may want to elaborate and bridge any gaps in that essay instead.
Does my story need to be earth-shattering to make a good essay?
You don’t need to cure a communicable disease or solve society’s issues to get content for a stellar essay. Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean for admissions at the Yale University School of Management, said he approaches dramatic stories and stretched truths in essays with caution. He said he’s not “looking for students to have exotic experiences, but for evidence of resilience, introspection and initiative.”
Can I play with the statement of purpose’s format?
You can write your statement of purpose in any way you see fit. Some writers may want to organize their ideas differently than laid out in this guide, and that’s okay. As long as your response flows well and is easy for the reader to follow, you can organize information in whatever way makes the most sense for you.
Your statement of purpose should be well-written, impactful, and creative to give you the best chance of admission. Statements of purpose help the admissions committee get to know you and your skills better and add value to your application.
Remember, you want to demonstrate why the program is an excellent fit for you as much as why you're a perfect fit for the program. Admissions committees want to admit applicants who display positive character traits, diverse skill sets, and are willing to contribute to their school community. With the help of this guide, you can feel empowered knowing you have the tools to craft an outstanding statement of purpose.