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Georgetown University McDonough School of Business MBA Essay Topic Analysis

The following essay topic analysis examines Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (McDonough) MBA admissions essays for the 2020-2021 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 2020-2021

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 [four]) 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 [four] essays to complete in 300-350 words (approximately one page, double spaced) and include the essay prompt and your first/last name at the top of your submission.

Essay Option One

Principled Leadership: Georgetown McDonough places a strong emphasis on principled leadership, providing both curricular and co-curricular opportunities to strengthen your leadership skills. Describe a time when you’ve led a team in a professional environment to implement a new idea or process. What leadership characteristics did you utilize? What could you have done to be more effective? And most importantly, what skills will you be able to bring to the teams you lead at McDonough? (300-350 words)
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 leadership challenges, but thrived in spite of them and, ultimately, developed personally and professionally.

The primary task of this essay is to recount a professional leadership experience entailing a new idea or process. The adcom will also be looking for what you learned in the process (i.e. how you could have been more effective). In selecting a topic, however, it will be important to key in to the preamble and its emphasis on principled leadership that involves both social and shareholder responsibility. We therefore strongly recommend that candidates aim to select an example that aligns with at least one of these two touch points.

Once you have identified your example, we recommend a simple STAR structure for this response. Begin by describing the situation, the players, and stakeholders involved before moving into the task: what you needed to accomplish in your leadership role (as well as any challenges or barriers that you anticipated). You should then move into the action, providing a chronological account of how you moved through the project or process. Finally, you should comment on the result — the positive outcome of your leadership efforts and the resolution of the story. In a concluding section, applicants will then want to note the characteristics they drew on and reflect on what they could have done better.  Finally, explain how these qualities and lessons have served them since and how they position the applicant to add real value to the Georgetown MBA community.

Essay Option Two

Hoyas for the Common Good:  Georgetown McDonough embodies the ethos that people and organizations can and should contribute to the greater good. The admissions committee would like to better understand how you’ve demonstrated these values during uniquely challenging times. Describe a time where you’ve put the needs of others ahead of your own, or ahead of the bottom line. We look forward to learning more about the challenge you faced, what unique characteristics you brought to that scenario, and what you learned from it. (300-350 words)
It would make sense to choose an example in which you directly engaged and supported someone.  With this in mind, applicants may want to reflect on managerial or mentoring relationships that yielded positive results. You may even have a peer teamwork experience to discuss. No matter the nature of the relationship at the heart of the story, it will be important to discuss one’s actions, interactions, and results. What challenges did you face?  How did you address them? What did success look like? What did you learn in the process? Perhaps you took time out of your day to mentor a new intern, who then moved on to a full-time position at your firm; perhaps a team member had a problem with time management, and you stayed late to help meet a deadline. Other examples may include investing in your local community in some way, like by joining the local Boys and Girls Club and working with youths. Once you dig into these details, conclude with a connection to how this experience could translate to your time at McDonough.

Essay Option Three

Personal Brand: Think of a business leader or role model you admire or aspire to be. What are the defining characteristics of his or her personal brand that you see in yourself? Give an example of how you have been able to emulate these characteristics in your professional career and how your personal brand will enrich the McDonough community. (300-350 words)
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 Elon Musk, 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 virtual event or conversations with alumni–will help you craft a response that really stands out.

Essay Option Four

The Georgetown Community: Georgetown McDonough is a diverse, global community. We look to understand the contribution that your personal background would make to our community. As appropriate, you may wish to address any obstacles or challenges you have overcome; any educational, familial, cultural, economic, and social experiences that have helped to shape your educational and professional goals; or how your background (e.g. first-generation student, resident outside the U.S.) or activities (e.g. community service and leadership) will contribute to our community. (300-350 words)
This is a chance to tell the adcom who you are, where you come from, and what you care about. It is also a good place to highlight instances of resourcefulness and persistence, and to provide insight into one’s personal and professional maturity and collaborative nature over the course of a narrative. An effective approach might be to describe the initial adversity/experience and its broad implications in a few sentences, followed by a discussion of how you dealt with it – along with a brief illustrative example – before concluding with a reflection on the lessons you’ve learned and how those lessons have shaped who you are today.

The adcom also wants to know that you’ll be supportive and collaborative while on campus at McDonough and be a good addition to the student community. Applicants should aim to connect their history with potential future contributions to McDonough. Whether you choose to draw on your professional, personal or academic life, it’s important to create context before connecting to how you would contribute. As you approach the contributions, specifically, think about how you can translate your experience and related lessons into involvement on the Georgetown campus. Creating a link between your past and your potential future at the program will enable you to present a consistent and clear picture of your candidacy, as well as your professional and personal interests. The more information you can provide about how exactly you would contribute (playing a certain role in organizing a particular annual event, for example), the more reason you’ll give the adcom to admit you.

Video Essay

What makes you unique? In a 1-minute video, describe the most compelling aspects of yourself that you believe make you unique from other MBA candidates. (Hint: 1 minute goes fast! We already have your resume and goals – share something new!) 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: www.youtube.com/123, 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, 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 goals and 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
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