Writing a great MBA essay is a crucial component of your MBA application package. According to Lisa Koengeter, Director of Admissions at Booth School of Business, the MBA essay provides admission committees with “a better understanding of you, your self-assessment and your aspirations.”
This article will outline what MBA admission committees look for in your essays, show you how to write a killer MBA essay, and last but not least, tell you what mistakes to avoid.
Types of MBA Essays
There are a few different types of essays you may be asked to write 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 their own minimum and maximum length requirements depending on the business school.
This type of essay asks you to detail your personal and professional goals, and how attending the business school you’re applying to will help you achieve your goals. An essay question that asks about your short and long-term career aspirations or what you hope to gain from the MBA program is classified as a goal essay.
For example, Wharton is one of many schools that asks 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 comprise your personal identity. This type of essay can be daunting, as it requires you to be introspective. 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 their MBA essays. They want to know what the biggest commitment you have ever made is, including why you made that commitment and how you went about making that commitment. 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 the admission committee what you will bring to the MBA program and how you will add value to the program. This form of essay is your chance to show how you will contribute to the MBA program at a particular school.
Booth School of Business poses the 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.” By asking you to elaborate on who you are, the values that are important to you, and how you live those values in your everyday life, it indicates that Booth wants to know what you will bring to their MBA program.
Some business schools want to know about the impact you will have on their program and will pose an essay question that asks you to describe a time when you demonstrated leadership. This will involve discussing the situation, why you took on the leadership role, and the impact of your leadership.
Darden School of Business poses easy questions designed to gauge your leadership capabilities and the impact you’ll have on the program. As Dean of Admissions Dawna Clark 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, the first being an introduction, and the second being about your career goals and how a Kellogg education will help get you there. The third question varies every year, and is generally more randomized, so you and all the other applicants won’t necessarily all respond to the exact same question.
How to Write a Great Business School Essay
Pay Attention to Structure
Admissions Director at Wharton Blair Mannix 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 admission 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 in the short-term and long-term and why that specific MBA program will make this possible.
For essays that ask you to describe an experience and how what you learned from it will allow you to contribute to the institution’s MBA community, Mannix states successful essays are personal, set up as a story, and incorporate how the experience and what you learned from it will resonate with the business school’s MBA community.
Consider the Tone You Use While Writing Your Essay
It’s important to be genuine in your essay. Admission committees want to know about you as a person, and will know if you’re being insincere or simply writing what you think the committee wants to hear.
As Laurel Grodman from Yale School of Management states, the MBA essay is your “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 rather than something that actually matters to you.
Along with genuineness, authenticity is another key element to incorporate in your essay. Dean of Admissions at Darden School of Business Dawna Clarke recommends you integrate aspects of your personality into your essay.
For example, she suggests showcasing your creativity or humor, or any other attributes you possess. This allows admission committees to get to know you even better.
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 genuineness and 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.
MBA Essay Examples
US News wrote an article on what makes for a successful MBA essay. They provided the following sample essays written by applicants who were recently admitted into highly reputable business schools.
This sample was written for Harvard Business School.
This essay was well-received by the admission committee because it was written clearly and concisely, is free of grammatical errors, and tells a story. The opening is particularly interesting the candidate shows how their interest in mentoring and healthcare first developed.
This particular candidate was honest in their essay about their weaknesses and professional growth, which is something that was well-received by the admission committee. The candidate detailed the initiative they had at work and highlighted their leadership skills.
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, resourcefulness, and ultimately, followed the show-don’t-tell model of essay writing.
This 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 length constraints, which for this essay was 500 words.
Mistakes to Avoid While Writing Your MBA Essay
In addition to following the steps outlined above for writing a great MBA essay, 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.
Admission committees don’t want to know about how many buzzwords and industry-related jargon you know. They’re looking to find out about you as a person, not solely as a business person. The committee may become frustrated if they have to spend a lot of time deciphering 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, personal, and will allow you to make a better connection with your reader (the admissions committee).
Not reading the essay question closely or misunderstanding the question.
Misreading or misunderstanding the question will lead you to write an essay that completely misses the mark in terms of what the admission committee was looking 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, identified terms such as “contribute”, “gain”, and “lead” will serve as a guide for what the admission committee is looking for you to answer.
It is also a good idea to seek clarification if you find the question confusing and ask an expert to review your essay. These steps can help prevent you from going astray while planning and writing your essay.
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 resume and recommendation letters. 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 both answers the essay question and isn’t detailed anywhere else in your application package.
If the moment or experience you want to write about is already included, you could instead choose to 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, expertly-written narrative. If you’re rushed, you’re more likely to make simple mistakes as a result of not giving yourself enough time, and those mistakes could cost you a shot at being admitted to business school.
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.
1. How long should my MBA essay be? Can it be longer than what the school allows?
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 far over the word limit – 10% plus or minus the word count is generally acceptable.
Overall, admission committees want to see that you can follow instructions and are capable of writing succinctly.
2. Is the MBA essay less important than my GPA and GMAT score?
No, your MBA essay is at least as equally important as your GPA and GMAT score. While your GPA and GMAT score are good indicators of your academic abilities, the MBA essay is the first opportunity you will have to allow the admission committee to get to know you more 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 the program.
3. What is different about the MBA essay writing process 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 as it allows you to explain how you’ve grown personally and professionally since your previous application.
4. Can I use the same essay if I’m reapplying?
It’s unlikely you’ll be successful using the same essay since your essay could potentially have been the reason you were rejected the first time around. It’s best to consult with an 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 expert will also help to locate errors or areas for improvement.
6. How can I ensure my essay stands out?
There are a few things you can do to make your essay stand 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.
MBA essays 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 to 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.