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Admissions Tip: Essays

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With several of the leading schools having already released their MBA essay questions for this admissions season, we’re sure that quite a number of early birds are eager to get a jump on the process in order to complete as many applications as possible by Round 1. As applicants find themselves brainstorming for their MBA essays, we wanted to offer a few tips on presenting yourself and your experiences as advantageously as possible.

Take time to reflect.  

Before diving in and beginning work on a draft of any one essay, it’s often fruitful to think carefully about all of the stories and accomplishments at one’s disposal. These can include experiences from the professional realm, formal outside activities, college clubs and even more casual hobbies and interests. A comprehensive, reflective approach should enable you to arrive at the essay topics that are most impressive and in line with your overall positioning.

Establish balance.  

It is crucial that your essays work together to present a consistent and compelling picture of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you bring to the table; the adcom is looking for students who are interesting, well-rounded, and likely to make a contribution to the school both in and out of the classroom. In selecting topics for your essays from your list of possibilities, remember that it’s ideal to have a balance of stories covering your full career and to introduce your interests and involvements outside of work.

Keep it relevant.  

While it’s important that you have a wide range of stories to tell and positive characteristics to convey, there are a few things that you shouldn’t mention in your essays. In terms of chronology, remember that you are applying to graduate school and that the adcom is primarily interested in your experiences since the time you began college.  There are of course some exceptions to this (such as questions that ask you to recap your life story or discuss what matters most to you), but as a general rule it’s best to avoid writing at length about your high school accomplishments or your upbringing, as this can make an applicant sound immature or stuck in the past. Other topics of which you should steer clear are those that are potentially sensitive or emotionally charged, such as politics and religion.

Show, don’t tell.  

Keep in mind that a given adcom reader often spends only 15 or 20 minutes on each application. As a result, it is imperative that you make an impression and give the reader a clear sense of who you are and what you’ve done.  Specific anecdotes and vivid details make a much greater impact than general claims and broad summaries. Be sure to quantify your impact, fully explain your actions, and provide illustrative examples to produce a set of engaging essays.

A standard approach you might use for addressing experiences in your essays is the STAR approach. You begin by describing the situation, the players, and stakeholders involved in the situation, before moving into the task: what you needed to accomplish in your role (as well as any challenges that you anticipated). You should then address your actions, providing an account of how you moved through the project or process. Finally, you should comment on the result, the positive outcome of your efforts and the resolution of the story. In a concluding section, you should summarize the lessons you learned from the experience.

Happy writing! Stay tuned to this blog throughout the summer for additional essay-specific tips and guidelines.  For specific guidance for individual schools, review our essay topic analysis series.

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