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Book Excerpt: The Importance of MBA Essays

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Welcome back to our 10-part series, in which we share an excerpt from the recently published book Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions, with added commentary from its author, Alex Brown.

In this sixth part of the series, we look at the importance of MBA essays in the business school application process.

Book Excerpt:


The essays are your chance to shape and tell your story.

Make sure to answer each of the essay questions fully. Different schools may ask similar questions but in slightly different ways, so it is important for you to read the questions carefully and to answer them completely. It is recommended that you complete your “personal inventory” document, discussed in Chapter 5, before focusing on essay writing, as this document should help you identify the appropriate content for each set of school essays.

Use an appropriate voice and tone in your essays. You don’t want to come across as someone who brags about your accomplishments, but you do want to come across as someone who is accomplished.

“Show, don’t tell” is a popular phrase that illustrates how best to address experiences in your essays: support your assertions with anecdotes and examples. Illustrate who you are, do not just tell. Be personal, introspective, genuine, honest and reflective. Try not to over think what the school wants to hear, and instead address the questions in an authentic fashion.

Your essays are an opportunity to explain the “whys” behind your choices rather than simply focusing on facts that can be gleaned from your résumé and data forms.

A useful framework 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 on to 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. Depending on the essay question, you might summarize the lessons you learned from the experience in a concluding section.

Author’s Commentary:

Essays have long been considered the most important part of a candidate’s application. The majority of candidates are admissible based on GPAs and test scores—the essays help differentiate admissible candidates from those who ultimately gain admission.

Essays are important because they provide you with an opportunity to bring your application to life. Use them to showcase who you are, within the context of the specific queries the school poses.

There is much speculation regarding how the essays are reviewed, whether there is an order to the review process and whether that order matters. During my time at Wharton, which was now a few years ago, the essays were included as part of a complete application package for review. The reviewer—I was one—would have a data sheet available to write down his or her assessments of each element of the application. (More on this is included in the book.) Even though there might be a natural order in terms of which elements of the application to review first—data forms, followed by essays and then the letters of recommendations, say—I would sometimes go immediately to the first essay and read.

Keep in mind that while the essays are reviewed within the context of all other materials in the application, including the data forms, each essay should also stand up to scrutiny on its own and not rely on the supporting content.

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