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Georgetown University McDonough School of Business MBA Essay Topic Analysis 2019-2020

The following essay topic analysis examines Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (McDonough) MBA admissions essays for the 2019-2020 admissions season. You can also review essay topic analyses for other leading MBA programs as well as general Essay Tips to further aid you in developing your admissions essays.

Georgetown / McDonough Essay Topic Analysis 2019-2020

Before we take a closer look at each prompt, here is the preamble the adcom shares ahead of the required essay options.

Essay Preamble

We want to hear your story. When responding to our required essays, be authentic and take time to reflect on your goals and past experiences. Craft a response that explains how these experiences led you to pursue an MBA.

Our goal at Georgetown McDonough is to craft a diverse class with people who have had varying personal and professional life experiences. As such, we want to give our applicants the opportunity to select one essay (from a list of three) that allows them the ability to best highlight their experiences, characteristics, and values that showcase the value proposition that they can bring to the McDonough community. Please select one of the following three essays to complete in 500 words or less and include the essay prompt and your first/last name at the top of your submission.

Essay Option One

It can be said that life begins outside your comfort zone. Describe a situation when you were asked to lead outside of your comfort zone. What leadership characteristics did you exemplify in this situation that allowed you to succeed?  (500 words or less)
Georgetown / McDonough considers their program to be preparation for the global stage, and applicants would be wise to consider the response to this prompt as a reflection of how your strengths and potential would translate to the rigorous MBA program in D.C.  The adcom will want to see not only how you overcame challenges, but thrived in spite of them and, ultimately, developed personally and professionally.

Whether you pick a personal or professional situation, you’ll want to spend the first part of the essay detailing that experience. Explain when and where it happened, who was involved, and what the larger context was before discussing what transpired and how it was outside of your comfort zone.  Given that the situation entails being “asked to lead,” evidence of leadership, management, teamwork or other business skills should be present in the essay.

For applicants who choose to discuss a non-work experience, this discussion should likely be limited to roughly 350 words in order to make room for a full discussion of its implications on your professional development. Meanwhile, candidates who select a defining professional moment might spend 400 words recounting the experience, as the career implications will likely be a bit more self-evident. Keep in mind that a true leadership experience will likely have a broad impact. Effective essays will therefore introduce at least two ways this challenging experience has influenced how the writer behaves, approaches decision-making or problem-solving, or has since approached his or her professional and/or personal life.

Essay Option Two

“Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to be POWERED by. Failure is the high-octane fuel your life can run on. You’ve got to learn to make failure your fuel.” -Abby Wambach.

Describe a situation when failure has been your fuel. What was your failure (or when did you not succeed to your full potential), and how did you use this as motivation to move forward and be successful in a future situation? (500 words or less)
This prompt about learning from a failure represents a fairly conventional b-school essay topic.  However, it does require introducing negative information about your candidacy, when, overall, you really should be putting your best foot forward.  This is not to say “avoid this question!” But rather, deeply consider the other essay options before committing to this one.  Another word of caution: If you steer towards missing the mark on your “full potential,” be wary of simply presenting a veiled strength (or humble brag).  Make sure the failure or mistake or misstep is truly embodied.

As is common practice for this sort of response that requires candidates to introduce negative information, you’ll want to summarize the situation and the failure itself in relatively few words.  The bulk of the essay should be reserved for your post-failure insights and actions.  Once you have summarized the failure or missed potential situation, move onto what you learned and how you ultimately applied that successfully.  Account for your actions, explicitly applying what you learned and who your success by accounting for your impact and results.

If you have room, you may comment on how you would bring this attitude of resilience and accompanying skills to the Georgetown campus.

Essay Option Three

Think of the business leader or role model you admire or aspire to be. What are the defining characteristics of their personal brand that you see in yourself, why would you highlight those qualities, and how will those characteristics enrich the community at McDonough? (500 words or less)
When thinking about a leader or role model to write about, you may find that you can likely cite any number of leaders who have done something you admire, or whose leadership style fits with your own.  Of course, with this in mind, writing about figures such as Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, or Bill Gates might be challenging.  First, the reader will likely have seen many essays on the same leader before and also, in the case of famous leaders, it’s likely you would not be able to draw on personal experience with them.

Another topic that may be fraught with challenges would be your parents. While it could be acceptable in certain cases to state your admiration for a sibling or grandparent, avoid discussing your mother or father. McDonough is looking for people who display innate maturity and leadership capacity. If your chief role model is your mother or father, this may indicate that you haven’t fully “left the nest,” and it could raise questions about your ability to think independently.  Therefore, to keep things interesting, try picking someone slightly more esoteric.

Use this question as an opportunity to color the adcom’s perception of what your leadership style is like.  Take this chance to position yourself.  For instance, if your career goals are in healthcare management, perhaps you admire someone who has revolutionized the way hospitals have handled patient care.  No matter the example, be sure to relate in terms of leadership style.  Do not just blindly pick a popular leader; choose someone with parallels to your candidacy, future or goals.

To address the “why” element of this prompt, talk about specific traits the person has, and how you may have enacted these values yourself.  You need to be familiar with the leader’s style – not just his or her reputation.  Were they collaborative?  A visionary?  Persuasive?  What is it about them that you like?  Ideally, this will all relate to your candidacy in some way.

Then, you will need to wrap this essay up with connections to how you would contribute at McDonough—based on the previously discussed leadership qualities. Consider specific classes, programs, potential collaborations with other parts of the school, clubs, conferences, or other offerings that your involvement would enhance. Learning about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities–whether through a visit to campus or conversations with alumni–will help you craft a response that really stands out.

Video Essay

We ask that you introduce yourself to your cohort in one minute or less. The Admissions Committee would like for you to appear in person during part of your video, and we strongly encourage you to speak outside of the experiences we can read on your resume. Use this video as an opportunity to bring life to your application. For more instructions, view our Video Essay Guide.

  • You may use your phone, computer, or other means to record the video, but please ensure all audio and visual components are clear. We recommend a well-lit room and minimal noise distraction.
  • Upload your video to an accessible website (such as Youtube, Vimeo, Youku, or Tudou), and submit the direct video URL into your online application.
  • Please note that all videos must remain active and accessible to the admissions committee online for a minimum of five years for record retention purposes.
  • For your privacy: Do not include your name in the title of your video. You may submit “unlisted” videos via Youtube or password protected videos through Vimeo. If using a password, please include immediately after your link in the text box below. [Ex:, password: Hoyas]

Before pressing the “record” button, it would be worth reviewing our advice on video essays to understand the broader goals of a video prompt. Getting to the specifics of McDonough’s video essay, keep in mind your target audience: one’s fellow students. While a brief mention of your professional background and career goals may be appropriate, we encourage applicants to use this opportunity to showcase elements of their personalities and candidacies that they will not have the chance to address in their other application materials. The McDonough team even directly encourages that you explore information outside of your resume. Perhaps you have a particularly interesting work or extra-curricular experience to share, or a personal accomplishment or aspect of your heritage of which you’re especially proud. By focusing on a range of qualities and characteristics, this video will allow applicants to demonstrate the well-rounded nature of their candidacies even within the minute limit. Speaking of length, do not hesitate to practice your response to ensure that it will be within the time limit. You should also record your response on your own and watch it so you can improve before the final recording. The key caveat here is to not allow the practicing to lead to a robotic/overly rehearsed final video.

As this is a visual presentation, ensure you are dressed in appropriate professional attire and, per McDonough’s Video Essay Guide, that the scene is well lit and you can be heard clearly. In terms of a background, clean and steady may work best—you do not want to make the adcom dizzy by taking them on an unsteady walking tour with your laptop or phone. While many applicants will be tempted to introduce props into their video, such as signs, souvenirs, or any prized possessions that might quickly convey who you are, we would like to urge some degree of caution in this domain.  A focused, one-minute, heartfelt introduction (while looking your audience in the eye) may be far more effective than a distracting string of props, signs, charts—each requiring valuable time to make transitions—not to mention careful attention to readability/visibility on screen.  This isn’t to say that displaying a prized souvenir from traveling along the Silk Road in Asia can’t work, it’s just that we want you to think carefully about how to best convey your message on video.

Optional Essay

Please provide any information you would like to add to your application that you have not otherwise included. (500 words or fewer)
This will be an appropriate place for applicants to address potential concerns with or liabilities in their candidacies, to explain unusual recommenders or gaps in employment, or to comment on extenuating circumstances that affected past performance. Given the word limit, it is best to keep this essay short and to the point, if addressed at all. Also, if you have an issue to cover, do not worry about expanding it to 500 words as you would with a normal essay prompt.

Re-Applicant Essay

How have you strengthened your candidacy since your last application? We are particularly interested in hearing about how you have grown professionally and personally. (500 words or fewer)
It would help to review your last application to reflect on any potential weaknesses—did you have enough leadership experience? Were your goals clearly defined? Did you improve your GMAT score or take quantitative courses to balance your weak undergraduate record? This prompt is focused on proactive improvement in one’s candidacy since the time one last applied. This response should therefore be fairly action-oriented, with a focus on describing the steps that one has taken to become a stronger applicant to McDonough since being denied, as well as the results of these efforts in terms of new knowledge and strengthened skills. The request for professional growth should involve accounting for an increase in one’s responsibilities at work—perhaps more direct management experience—or a concluding project that has met with success since your last application. On the personal side, this could entail extended community involvement. There should also be room to account for how one has refined career goals and an interest in McDonough’s program itself. It’s also important not to repeat material verbatim from your prior application; the adcom wants to see that you have approached the application process freshly and with new information.

Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s McDonough MBA essay topics. As you work on your McDonough MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s McDonough offerings:

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Posted in: Essays, MBA Feature

Schools: Georgetown / McDonough

About the Author

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal is the Editor-in-Chief of Clear Admit, responsible for overseeing content creation for the site. Lauren has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.

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