8 Tips for Writing Good MBA Admission Essays
Imagine working with someone who refused to keep up with the times. This person never deviated from their old-fashioned ways, no matter what everyone else was doing. Imagine, for example, there was a delivery driver who refused to use GPS. This driver would insist on using his own knowledge of the streets to find every address and every destination. He would drive around, looking at numbers and street names because that was what he was used to, and he would not want to change. Now imagine this same driver didn’t like to wear his uniform, he only wanted to wear casual clothes on his deliveries. He would show up at deliveries with a package in one hand, and a soda in the other. How would you feel if this driver showed up at your work? Would you respect the company he worked for? How would you feel about him? What if he asked if there were any job openings at your workplace? Would you want to work with him?
This exaggerated example illustrates two important principles of the business world, stay relevant, and be professional. The driver didn’t want to stay relevant because he refused to use GPS, a common tool that even seasoned drivers use. He also wasn’t professional in his attire or attitude while he was at work, and it effected how other people viewed him. These principles of relevance and professionalism also extend to essay writing, especially essay writing for admission to MBA programs. A college entrance essay needs to be relevant while also being professional. There are many things to remember when constructing an MBA admission essay, but they all revolve around these two principles.
The principle of relevance as it relates to writing has a few meanings. It can be modern, balanced, focused, or even passionate. In this essay, relevance means staying on track or staying focused. Here are a few tips for writing an entrance essay that relate to relevance.
- Answer the question that is asked.
This might seem silly, but answering the essay question can be more difficult than people think. Universities choose their MBA admission essay questions carefully because that is what they want to know about their potential students. If students don’t answer essay questions adequately, the admissions officers at universities will have to guess at the answer. Still, it is not uncommon for students to stray from the original question. For example, if the question is “What makes you unique?” don’t spend time talking about why you are a good fit for the school, or about what you will accomplish in the future. Focus on the question and answer that as accurately and as relevantly as possible. Include specific ideas of what separates you from other people. Keep it relevant to the question. Think about the following question:
“What are your career aspirations for the future and why?”
What is the question that needs to be answered? How does career choice differ from career aspirations? Do you need to brainstorm before you write? These are important questions that students should answer before trying to answer the essay question. A good answer would talk specifically about what they want to do in their career in the future and the reasons for those aspirations. Above all, students need to remember to stay focused on the question.
- Be careful of the line between sharing accomplishments and bragging.
No institution of higher learning wants to recruit an arrogant student. They are often difficult to work with and do more harm than good in the workplace and in school. If a recruiter senses that a student is bragging about what they have done, they probably wouldn’t recruit that student. Students should try to share accomplishments, but be humble. That might sound like a paradox, but it is the problem of all accomplished professionals. So how does somebody humbly brag about themselves? Make accomplishments sound like privileges. For example, instead of saying, “I was part of the honor society,” say, “I was fortunate to be a part of the honor society.” Get used to using phrases such as “I was fortunate to,” or It was my privilege.” Try to humbly stand out. Another way to humbly brag is to show appreciation for those who have helped with what has been accomplished. For example, if a students was their high school’s valedictorian, they could say, “I am grateful to my teachers and peers for helping me to become the valedictorian at my school.” The underlying principle is to tell what you’ve accomplished while still remaining humble. Stay relevant by showing you are grateful and for what you have done while looking forward to the future. Consider the following question:
What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why are they so substantial?
What kind of accomplishment should I choose? How do I share them without sounding arrogant? How personal should I get? When thinking about these questions in preparation for the essay, students should remember that these essay questions are mostly to get to know students and their unique set of skills, not necessarily to see how great a student is.
- Be specific.
Politicians are notorious for vague, general rhetoric. They often try to appease to as many people as possible to improve their chances of getting votes. And sometimes they don’t want to reveal something, so they make a statement without saying anything. Donald Rumsfeld, former US defense secretary had this vague statement to share on February 12, 2002. “Reports that say something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” (www.aringo.com) An example like this consists of a lot of words but contains little to no content. An academic essay, however, is not a political speech. It is specific. It is to the point. It is succinct. Think about this essay question:
Why do you think you would be a successful student at this university?”
An appropriate answer would include specific ways in which you would be successful. A student might say, “I have been working in international business for the last five years. The international business section of … University would give me the training I need to add to my experience to be more successful in the international market. It would do this by …” Focus on those things that the school provides that would help you be more successful. This leads us to our next point.
- Do research especially about potential universities.
Imagine you were being interviewed by a newspaper reporter because you won a national writing contest. The reporter sits down and his first question is, “So, where are you from again?” How would that make you feel? Even though the reporter had time to prepare and do research, he didn’t, and his ignorance showed because of it. An unwillingness to do research shows laziness and inconsideration for your subject.
Students should know, at least a few things, about the schools to which they are applying. Understanding the school and its mission can help you develop a better MBA admission essay. Think about the following question:
As a new student, what can you contribute to our school?
What is the school’s mission? What are some of its strengths? What are your strengths? How do your strengths compliment the school? Having more knowledge of the school will give students added content to write about and gives them the opportunity to be more specific in their answer. And by staying informed, students’ answers to the essay questions can be more relevant to what admissions officers are looking for. Students should relate their experiences to what the school has to offer. And students can only do that if they find out about the school and do their research.
But being relevant is not necessarily enough to make an essay successful. As mentioned above, essays also need to be professional to make a positive impression.
Professional can mean different things in different companies. For some companies, professional means wearing a tie and a smile. For other companies it means being laid back and knowledgeable about your content area. In this essay, professional means understanding the industry. It means making sure an essay is free of grammatical errors. It means showing you are ready to succeed among other business professionals. So how can someone show that in an entrance essay?
Break the mold.
Admissions officers often have thousands of MBA admission essays to read every year. When everyone follows the same recommended pattern, reading those essays, not matter what the candidate has accomplished, can be mundane. A professional essay breaks the mold of the other essays. It shows innovation and creativity. But be careful. Don’t stand out for the wrong reasons. For example, think about how to answer the following essay question:
Describe a setback or failure that you experienced. What did you learn from this experience?
Any essay that asks about personal experiences gives students the opportunity to be creative. Try to be innovative without being cliché. What is cliché? If a student were to answer the above question by writing something like, “I have never had a setback, only challenges and learning opportunities.” This answer is cliché because many people would say it to try and sound smart. If an answer sounds like it might be on a poster in a break room, it’s probably cliché.
A better answer would be more genuine and show how a student has developed as a person because of their challenges. It would show unique experiences and unique insight into those challenges. It makes the reader want to learn more about the writer. That is how a student can break the mold.
- Show uniqueness and an understanding of diversity.
Imagine getting a fruit basket that was filled entirely with apples. One could argue that apples are a fruit, so it could still be called a fruit basket, even though it only had one kind of fruit. But most people would want to see other kinds of fruit. Where are the bananas, peaches, and oranges? We need those fruits to really experience the variety of tastes that can be found in a real basket of fruit. While the business world is not necessarily a fruit basket, it does have the kind of diversity a real fruit basket would have.
But the modern business world is especially diverse. It is filled with a variety of people, languages, and cultures. Those who participate in the modern business world need to show their understanding of diversity in themselves and others. They should also show that they are prepared to enter a diverse business world. Think about the following question:
Where in your background would we find evidence that you are capable of being an effective leader?
What defines a leader? Who do I have to lead? When have I ever showed desirable leadership skills? While focusing on the question, students should also think about how they can show their unique qualities and their understanding of others. Perhaps there was a school project where different people had to be communicated with in different ways. Perhaps a multi-cultural background allows someone to communicate one way at home and another way at school. There are many ways to show uniqueness if one simply thinks about and understands it in others.
- Be passionate.
Many jobs that pay hourly are notorious for having employees that are not passionate. Because those employees are paid for quantity, not quality, many employees cruise through their work day, waiting for their time at work to be up so they can go home. Dealing with these kinds of employees can be frustrating. They often have a low quality of work, they are unpleasant to talk to, and they don’t care about results. They lack a very important quality of successful people, passion. Consider the following two sentences:
- I really want to go to your university.
- I would appreciate the opportunity to attend … University to help me reach my professional goals.
Letter a is correct, but offers no passion or emotion at all. It is dry and unemotional. The second one, while longer, conveys more emotion and reason for wanting to attend a certain university. When writing an entrance essay, students should be sure to include those things that show passion for what they want to pursue. A love of learning and why, going the extra mile for a cause, or talking about what motivates people. These examples convey passion. But students should be careful about going too far. Don’t overwhelm the admission officers with emotion. Be passionate, but don’t create a drama.
- Make sure the admission essay is as error-free as possible.
Imagine going to a formal dinner where everyone would be wearing formal attire. Most of the men would rent a tuxedo for the occasion. But one of those men rented his at the last minute. He put his tuxedo one and ran to the dinner. But when he showed up, everyone tried to look away. “What is everyone’s problem,” he thought to himself. Then he looked down at his shirt, and realized that it was wrinkled. It was not just a little but wrinkled, but it was as wrinkled as a crumpled up piece of paper. In his hurry to get ready, he didn’t notice how wrinkled his shirt was. And then it was too late. He had to live with the consequences of ill preparation.
The same can be said about writing a paper. Prepare early. Take your time when writing. And make sure someone who is qualified edits it. Making sure that your essay is edited might be the most important detail when it comes to professionalism. Professional people have professional communication. There is a myriad of bad writing out there, even by those who are professional writers. Even if a student is a very skilled writer, he or she should still have his essay edited. It is easy to look over something minor, especially when so much time has been spent on it.
An MBA admission essay can be a challenging task. Students typically have about five hundred words to introduce themselves and separate themselves from everyone else by using a tool that they are often not very familiar with, writing. And five hundred words is not very many words. This task can be especially challenging for those who don’t write very often. But everyone who is applying to any school is charged with the same task. Spend time with it. Get the opinion of others. The MBA admission essay can be what separates some potential students from everyone else. It can be an advantage to those who prepare and are willing to take the opportunity and make the best of it.