MBA Admissions Essays:

by Avi Gordon, author of MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building to Essay Writing

The key to getting the essays right is knowing what each question seeks – what the admissions committee expects from your response in each case, and what bonus information can legitimately be added. But schools each ask different questions. They appear different but if you look closely they are just variations on a few classics and the most common of all is the "Why an MBA?"

Question Examples
1. “Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing a graduate degree at this Business School.”

2. “Think about the decisions you have made in your life. Describe the following: Past: What choices have you made that led you to your current position? Present: Why is a MBA necessary at this point in your life? Future: What is your desired position upon graduation from this Business School?”

3. “Why do you want to do an MBA at this Business School at this point in your life? What will you do if you are not offered a place on the this Business School MBA or any other MBA program?”

How to recognize this question
Keywords: progress, past, present, future, career, goal, plan, aspiration, ambition, decision, position, objective, aim, intention, purpose, life, short-term, long-term.

The underlying issue the committee is asking you to address
Stripped of its verbiage this question always asks you: why do you need an MBA, why now, and why from us? Your response forms the backbone of your essay set and your whole application.

Notice that there are five parts to the question, covering three time periods:

Past – What experiences have led you to this point and this ambition?
• Present – Why an MBA right now, at this point in your career?
• Future – What do you want to do with your degree, in the short and long term?
• Why an MBA from this school particularly?
• Why an MBA at all? (Why not another kind of Masters, or a PhD?)

You should touch on all five topics somewhere in your complete essay set, but be careful to answer this and all questions exactly as posed. If the question is broadly posed, as the first sample question above, all topics can be fully addressed. Notice, however, that the second question does not ask for long-term goals and the third question has a particular sub-question. In general, shape your “Why an MBA” answer carefully to whether the question asks more about your past (“What has led you to want an MBA?”) or about your future (“What will you do when you graduate? How will an MBA help you?”) 

How to tackle it
This essay should be done in a clear and straightforward way. You can be creative in your answers to many other questions, but here it is too risky. Here the committee is looking above all for unequivocal evidence of your professional maturity, as shown by your clarity of purpose.

Show due diligence: The “Why an MBA” question is one of the best places to prove you have done your homework on the school, and to argue that there is a specific match between your agenda and what’s on offer. Mention the school’s features, courses, or extra-curricular opportunities, and say which are relevant to you and why.

Have definite goals: The admissions committee is looking for an organized career strategy that rests on solid self-understanding. They want to know why you have made the decisions you made, how they have brought you to this point in your life, and where you are going from here. Goals can include broader, non-career and personal or community aspirations – but your first priority is to establish a clear professional path.

Connect past to future: The committee is asking how your past connects to your future via business school. You must show that the MBA is the bridge between your yesterday and your tomorrow. Paint a picture of a future that rests naturally on your past, assuming the MBA from the school in question. Past, present and future can be described in any order. What works will depend on the details of your situation.

A generally versatile template is:

• Start with your direct goal on graduation
• Give a sense of your long-term (major) goals
• Show why an MBA is relevant to these goals, and why now
• Bolster this with what in your past has led you to this point
• Finish with the particular aspects of the target school that are relevant and attractive, given your stated goals.

Communicating future aspirations
a. Dream and be real: You have to walk a fine line here. On the one hand you must think big. Whether you want to manage a billion dollars, or create new brain technology industries – whatever it is, you should communicate high aspirations and a potential career worthy of an MBA graduate in 20 years time. On the other hand you must demonstrate career-path realism: your dreams will take a lifetime to mature, and even then they may not. You should sound like you understand how careers evolve in your field and the ways you might have to “do your time” (even if highly paid) before you become a true titan of your industry.

b. Show first steps: Show that you have already taken steps towards the goal you claim to aspire to. Have you done the certifications you need for your career move? Do you have a plan for attracting investors to the business you hope to set up? Convince the committee that you will make it happen no matter what – even if you don’t get into their school, or any school.

c. Have a worthwhile future: Faced with applicants who have equivalent grades and GMATs, the admissions committee will promote those who are on a unique, interesting, worthwhile career mission. So don’t hesitate to project yourself into valuable, distinctive roles.

d. Don’t hedge on your aspirations: Applicants sometimes say something like: “I want to go to Silicon Valley and create a startup using my knowledge of XPF-Bio data mining. If that doesn’t work out I may go back to my old job at a financial institution, or join the family business.” Admissions committees prefer to bet on candidates who have a single-minded focus and who will do anything (legal) to realize their dream. If you don’t back yourself 100 percent the committee won’t either.

e. Differentiate yourself: A common question is: “Should I include a family and kids in my stated life goals?” The problem in doing this is not that you will appear a less serious candidate if you want a family; it is that you will spend precious space talking about a very common goal. You benefit most by focusing your reader on the aspirations that set you apart.

Copies of MBA Admissions Strategy may be purchased through your local bookstore or Amazon.com or McGraw Hill.


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