This article will outline what MBA admissions committees look for in your essays, show you how to write a killer MBA essay, and tell you what mistakes to avoid.
Types of MBA Essays
There are a few different types of MBA essay questions you will answer as part of your MBA application. The type of essay can be determined through the keywords used in the essay question. Each type of essay will have its own length requirements, depending on the business school.
This type of essay asks you to detail your personal and professional goals and how attending business school will help you achieve them. An essay question that asks about your aspirations or what you hope to gain from an MBA program is classified as a goal essay.
For example, Wharton is one of many schools that ask for a goal essay from applicants using the question: “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?” Columbia, NYU Stern, Darden, Dartmouth Tuck, and McCombs are some of the many other schools that ask about your goals.
A self-reflection essay is an opportunity for you to showcase the values and characteristics that make up your personal identity. It also requires you to discuss how you handled a failure at some point in your life or how you would approach an ethical dilemma.
Yale School of Management is one business school that uses self-reflection questions in its MBA essays. They want to know what the biggest commitment you have ever made is, including why you chose it and how you went about making it.
Answering this question will require you to do some deep reflection in order to answer it thoroughly.
The objective of this type of essay is to show an admissions committee how you will add value and contribute to their MBA program.
Booth School of Business poses this question: “An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are.”
Booth clearly wants you to elaborate on who you are, what you value, and how you live those values in your everyday life.
Some business schools want to know about the impact you will have on their program and pose a question that asks you to describe a time when you demonstrated leadership. This will involve discussing why you took on the leadership role in your chosen situation and your leadership impact.
Darden School of Business poses essay questions designed to gauge your leadership capabilities and the impact you’ll have on the program. As Dean of Admissions Dawna Clarke states, they are interested in “cultivating high impact leaders.”
It’s no surprise that one of their essay questions from a recent application cycle was, “Darden strives to identify and cultivate responsible leaders who follow their purpose. Please provide an example of a situation in which you have made a meaningful impact.”
Instead of writing a traditional essay, some business schools ask you to submit a video essay. The types of questions asked for a video essay can range from a short introduction to longer, multi-component questions.
Kellogg is one business school that uses video essays. They will ask you three questions. First up is an introduction, and the second is about your career goals and how Kellogg will help get you there.
The third question varies annually and is generally more randomized, so you and all the other applicants won’t necessarily respond to the same question.
How to Write a Great Business School Essay
Successfully writing business school essays is tricky. Many factors go into constructing a successful one. However, the top tips we’ve provided below outline how to write an MBA application essay that stands out from the crowd.
Pay Attention to Your Essay Structure
Blair Mannix, the Admissions Director at Wharton, noticed successful essays all had the same structure: the setup, the pivot point, and the future.
The setup is the opening of your essay, where you tell the admissions committee about who you are, what you do, and what you have learned so far.
The pivot point is where you shift from discussing what you already know and do to talking about what you would like to learn and how that will help you succeed. Mannix also describes this as a lightbulb moment, where something clicks, and you realize that if you had more education in one or two areas, you would be better at your job.
The final section of your essay is your opportunity to describe how gaining knowledge and skills in the area(s) you identified in the pivot point will help your career and why that specific MBA program will make this possible.
For essays that ask you to describe how you will contribute to the institution’s MBA community, Mannix states successful essays are personal, set up as a story, and show how your experiences resonate with the community.
Consider the Tone You Use While Writing Your Essay
It’s important to be genuine in your essay. Admissions committees want to know about you as a person and know if you’re being insincere or simply writing what you think they want to hear.
As Laurel Grodman from Yale School of Management states, your essay is an “opportunity to speak in your own voice about something meaningful and distinctive in your life.” Don’t waste this opportunity by writing about something you think will make you look better.
Write something that actually matters to you.
Authenticity is another key element to incorporate in your essay. Clarke recommends integrating aspects of your personality into your essay. For example, she suggests showcasing your creativity, humor, or any other attributes you possess. This allows admission committees to get to know you even better.
The Best MBA Essays Are School-Specific
At first, this seems like an obvious one; of course, writing a business school essay means writing about the business school itself. However, this is a great opportunity to show off your research and explain why you specifically want to attend this institution.
Have you looked into the school’s curriculum? Have you found which extracurricular opportunities you want to pursue if you are admitted? Are there any research centers that you want to become involved in?
Example 1 - “The programme will equip me with an entrepreneurial toolkit, allowing me to efficiently evaluate and capitalise on future business opportunities, further bolstering my credibility with future stakeholders.”
Example 2 - “Upon completion of the MBA programme at Cambridge Judge Business School I want to be a decisive and successful business professional.”
The first example is far more compelling; it explains what the student will gain from the program and how they will use it to achieve future success.
Pick an Event or Situation That Matters to You
When you select your topic to write about in your MBA essay, you need to make sure it is something that had a significant impact on your life and resonates with you personally. This will help ensure your authenticity shows through.
Kellogg Director of Admissions Jennifer Hayes, says that “the best essays [she has] read have heart, are not over-edited, and let the applicant’s personality emerge.” This is best done when you do not force yourself to write something you think admissions directors want to read, but rather tell an organic story that carries significant personal meaning.
The Importance of Storytelling in MBA Essays
Business school admissions officers want to see how you approach traits like leadership and commitment in your MBA application essay. Yet, if you describe an experience and don’t reflect upon it, you will not highlight your mindset, dedication, and motivation.
The best writers outline the traits that business schools want to see by telling personal stories and anecdotes. But how can you do that? It’s simple — show how your experiences impacted you. Don’t just tell us about it.
Indeed, to use the idea of commitment as an example, Yale’s admissions committee “cares less about the commitment you choose and more about the behaviors surrounding the commitment.” They want to “come away learning something new about you as a person that helps us understand your values and motivations.”
Illustrating how your experiences affect your values and motivations is difficult; this process requires a lot of introspection and self-reflection. The trick is to use plenty of real-life examples and explain how they embody your values.
One way to successfully do this is to use the STAR technique. The STAR technique is split into four distinct steps:
Situation - Describe the situation and when it took place.
Task - Explain the task and what was the goal.
Action - Provide details about the action you took to attain this.
Result - Conclude with the result of your action.
Using the four steps outlined above, you can create concise, compelling answers to your essay prompts. Let’s use one of the Berkeley Haas essay prompts as an example for an MBA essay outline:
What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why? (300 words maximum).
We can split this prompt into two sections:
Describe an activity, hobby, or anything that makes you “feel alive” when you do it.
Explain why you find so much enjoyment in this one thing.
Storytelling is key here, and the STAR technique can help you break down exactly what you want to say. Remember, it is important to reflect upon your experiences and, in this case, show why you enjoy something.
If you manage to do this in your essays and show how you achieved results along the way, you will submit a strong MBA application essay.
Plagiarizing Your MBA Essay
Plagiarism is a big deal.
Even if a student doesn’t intend to plagiarize someone’s work, colleges can and will detect it. If colleges detect plagiarism, they will likely reject the application outright; UCLA’s Anderson School of Management rejected 52 MBA hopefuls for application plagiarism.
Applicants can easily and accidentally plagiarize someone else’s work by following MBA essay examples too closely. Essay examples are useful, as they can inspire you and give you an idea of how you can reflect upon your experiences. However, someone has written that example about their own experience in their own words, and you can’t copy it.
If you are worried about plagiarism, the simple fix is to be original. After all, admissions committees want to hear about your experiences, motivations, and opinions.
Authenticity is also an extremely important part of writing well; you will come across as more genuine writing about your genuine thoughts and experiences. If you want to check your work, you can use reliable and low-cost plagiarism checker tools like Copyscape.
MBA Essay Examples
US News wrote an article on what makes for a successful MBA essay. They provided the following MBA entrance essay sample essays written by applicants recently admitted into highly reputable business schools.
This essay was well-received by the admissions committee because it was written clearly and concisely, free of grammatical errors, and told a story. The candidate showed their personality and explained why a Fox MBA would help them achieve their career goals.
This particular candidate was honest in their essay about their weaknesses and professional growth, which is generally well-received by admissions committees. The candidate detailed the initiative they had taken in learning about the MBA program at Fox and why they decided to apply.
This next successful essay sample was written for the Yale School of Management.
Similar to the previous example, this essay told a compelling story through a clear narrative. This particular essay began with an anecdote that demonstrated the candidate’s work ethic, initiative, leadership, and resourcefulness.
This show-don’t-tell essay displayed what was important to the applicant and offered the admission committee insight into their personality and values. It also provided as much detail as was possible, given the 500-word limit.
Don’t Rely Too Much on MBA Essay Examples
While MBA essay examples are valuable tools to see what got applicants into business school, they all have one problem: They are not yours. Other peoples’ essay examples don’t focus on your achievements, values, motivations, or experiences.
In their essays, originality and authenticity are two critical themes that business schools look for because your life is unique. Remember, MBA essay writing is all about getting to know you, and your essays should truly reflect who you are as a person.
MBA essay examples are useful. They can provide you inspiration, an idea of what can work, and outline how to discuss your own experiences. However, you need to draw a line in the sand and write your own essay at some point.
People are admitted to particular schools for a wide variety of reasons. While their essays are one of those reasons, what works for one person might not work for you. Try not to overthink it — write about your experiences, background, and, most importantly, opinion.
Mistakes to Avoid While Writing Your MBA Essay
In addition to following the steps for writing a great MBA essay outlined above, there are also some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid while writing your essay. These mistakes are listed below, along with solutions to fix them.
Submitting an Overly Complex Essay
Admissions committees don’t want to know how many buzzwords and how much industry-related jargon you know. They’re looking to find out about you as a person, not solely as a business person.
Committees may become frustrated if they have to decipher what you’ve written in your overly complicated essay, especially since your application isn’t the only one that needs reviewing.
The fix: Use your own words and write as if you were talking professionally to a coworker. That way, your essay will sound more straightforward and personal and allow you to make a better connection with your reader.
Not Reading the Essay Question Closely or Misunderstanding the Question
You need to know how to answer MBA essay questions. Misreading or misunderstanding the question will lead you to write an essay that completely misses what the admissions committee wants to learn about you.
This can lead to your application being discarded.
The fix: Find the keyword(s) in the question first. This will provide you with what the admission committee hopes to learn about you in the essay.
In the Types of MBA Essays section above, identifying terms such as “contribute,” “gain,” and “lead” shows what the admissions committee is looking for you to answer. It is also a good idea to seek clarification if you find the question confusing.
Restating Your Resume or Letters of Recommendation
Admission committees don’t want your essay to be a restatement of what’s already outlined in your business school resume and letters of recommendation. Your MBA essay should be unique and should tell a story that can’t be found elsewhere in your application.
The fix: Take some time to think about what you want to write about that answers the essay question and isn’t detailed anywhere else in your application. But suppose the moment or experience you want to write about is already included.
In that case, you could instead focus on a particular project and describe some of the challenges you encountered, how you overcame them, the project’s outcome, and what you learned from the experience.
Starting Your MBA Essay Close to the Deadline
Starting too close to the deadline means you won’t have enough time to put together a clear, concise, and expertly written narrative. If you’re rushed, you’re more likely to make simple mistakes.
The fix: Start planning your essay(s) as soon as the essay questions are made available. Take time to create an outline for each essay so you have a solid plan for when you start to write your draft.
By starting well ahead of the application deadline, you’ll give yourself plenty of time to write and revise without being crunched for time and stressed.
Giving Half-Baked Reasons for Attending Business School
Business school admissions committees use your essays to gauge your interest in their program and institution. So, if you are vague about your career plans and why you should get an MBA at a specific school, take the time to outline them.
Admissions officers want to see applicants who demonstrate clear and well-defined goals. So, do your college research and explain why you want to attend their program.
1. How Long Should My MBA Application Essay Be?
The length of your MBA essay will depend on the specific school; some schools allow up to 500 words, while others want a very short and to-the-point response of 150 words.
The length set out by the MBA program you’re applying to is an important consideration, and it is not a good idea to go over the word limit. Admissions committees want to see that you can follow instructions and are capable of writing succinctly. It will not reflect well on you to go over the allowed word count.
2. Is the MBA Essay Less Important Than My GPA and GMAT Score?
No, your MBA essay is at least equally as important as your GPA and GMAT score. While your GPA and GMAT scores are good indicators of your academic abilities, the MBA essay is the admission committee’s first opportunity to get to know you personally.
This is also the first impression you will make on the committee, so it’s imperative that you write a strong and compelling essay. Most business schools use a holistic approach to assessing applications, and your response to the essay question can determine whether you are a good fit for their program.
3. Is There an MBA Essay Guide for Reapplicants?
Many schools will require or suggest that reapplicants submit an additional essay.
This will vary by school, and it is important to check with each school’s website for the exact details of what’s expected of reapplicants. If it’s optional, it is a good idea to submit one because it allows you to explain how you’ve grown personally and professionally since your previous application.
4. Can I Use the Same Business School Essay if I’m Reapplying?
It’s unlikely you’ll be successful using the same essay since your response could have been the reason you were rejected the first time around.
It’s best to consult with an MBA admissions expert or mentor to find out where you went wrong and what you can do to make your reapplication essay strong and stand out in the best way possible.
5. How Do I Edit My MBA Essay Draft to Make It Better?
First of all, make sure there are no errors with your spelling, grammar, and syntax. Business schools want students with superb communication skills, and having basic errors in your MBA essay does not demonstrate that you have strong communication skills.
Then, you should go through the common mistakes outlined above and make sure those are not present in your essay; if they are, fix them. Seeking a second opinion from a friend, mentor, colleague, or MBA essay editing expert will also help locate errors or improvement areas.
6. How Can I Ensure My Business School Essay Stands Out?
The event or experience you choose to write about should be something you are able to write about in a compelling narrative. It should also be something you can write about with passion, which will allow the admission committee to see your genuine and authentic voice.
Your strengths should be woven in with the story you’re telling. These things will make your essay stand out to the admission committee and help them remember you.
Unlock Your Future with the Perfect Business School Essay
Knowing how to write a great MBA essay can be a challenging component of the business school application process.
But, if you know where to start, make an outline for each essay, and get expert assistance, the process becomes significantly more manageable. Following these steps will help you write a killer MBA essay.
About Inspira Futures
At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.