8000 Mba Application Essay
On the surface, many applicants to elite MBA programs share similar backgrounds and traits. They are ambitious, driven, accomplished, and have strong academic records and impressive test scores. In short, they are leaders and achievers. But just because candidates share these characteristics doesn’t mean their MBA application essays have to beat the same drum. Unfortunately, loads of applicants make the mistake of writing about what they think the admissions committee wants to hear, as opposed to what really resonates for them personally. Here are two ways that this common mistake manifests in MBA application essays:
Mistake #1: Mimicking the applications of your friends
A common mistake that many applicants make is looking at applications submitted by friends who have been successful and thinking, “Well, it worked for them so I’m going to do that, too.” The thing is, you never know whether they were admitted in spite of a tactic or story or if they were admitted because of it. You have to focus on what works for you and reveals something unique about yourself. Business schools look for qualities that can translate into leadership, so being a school teacher who can communicate effectively and move and motivate groups of people can actually be more relevant than someone who sits alone in a cube at a "business" job crunching numbers.
Mistake #2: Focusing too much on reciting generic business projects
We already know that Kellogg School of Management is bombarded with people wanting to go into packaged goods marketing, or that Chicago Booth School of Business is overloaded with finance aspirants. Despite having many of the same career goals, applicants need to think of how they can brand themselves distinctly. Too often stories get overdone, with candidates devoting paragraph upon paragraph to describing assorted business projects because hey, this is business school we’re talking about, right? Wrong tactic! This course of action does nothing to enhance their candidacy because such generic experiences weren’t meaningful for the candidate.
If you leave out the stories about your martial arts training, extensive travel experience, or obsession with college basketball because you figure it’s not relevant to b-school, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to allow the admissions committee a chance to get to know the real you behind the data points. Also think about family, friendships, languages, interests, passions, dreams—categories that are not necessarily “business-y” but that reveal character traits you want to emphasize.
That said, you should still include some traditional work topics. When brainstorming, think about a real and attainable career goal, something that truly excites you personally and that makes sense given your interests and trajectory to date, not just something that seems to make a good story for b-school.
For example, let’s say you are a first year analyst at an investment bank—just like hundreds of other applicants. Don’t give the three-bullet pointed job description that appears on your resume. Talk about the little spreadsheet that you identified as inefficient and decided to overhaul. Try to identify smaller but more personal and unique stories that tell how you were a different analyst than all the others.
One client we worked with showcased his leadership activities by describing how he put together guidelines for his firm that became a part of new employee training. Maybe you created a new process or led recruiting efforts – any of these work activities can help your application stand out.
While many applicants have similar credentials, the beauty of the MBA application process is that it allows candidates a chance for self-reflection, and to discover that they are more unique than they first imagine. All applicants, even those from typical pre-MBA backgrounds, have a story to tell, and an opportunity to go beyond numbers and statistics to present the admissions committee with a snapshot of who they really are.
This article is a guest post by Stacy Blackman Consulting.
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Jeremy is a leader in the field of MBA admissions consulting. He is the co-author of The MBA Application Roadmap: The Essential Guide to Getting into a Top Business School.
He has developed numerous resources for business education at the MBA and executive education levels. He has helped over 175 MBA aspirants from around the world achieve their dream of attending top tier business programs since 2003.
In addition to his role as an admissions consultant, Jeremy has worked as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company and a marketing/business development executive. He has been a frequent contributor to leading business publications and websites.
As a published novelist and a playwright, Jeremy has reinforced the importance of creative writing techniques to the MBA applicants he has mentored.
Jeremy is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and Harvard College.
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Read the positive experiences of just some of the Jeremy recent clients:
Accepted to Stanford and London Business School
I worked with Jeremy on my Stanford and LBS application and got into both schools! Jeremy is an experienced and trustworthy consultant. He is very responsive (I usually got feedback on my essay drafts within 1 day), very good at storytelling (he always manages to tell my stories from a different, yet much better perspective) and has a good sense of humour (very important too if you need to spend hours talking to your consultant every week!)
Jeremy insisted on spending a lot of time going through my stories, experiences and strengths before I started to look at essay questions. This process turned out to be one of the most important steps in my MBA application because it not only helped me to select my brightest achievements but also helped me to look at my past experiences and figure out what exactly matters to me (extremely important for Stanford applicants!)
Accepted to Wharton, Columbia and Chicago Booth
Jeremy is a star who helped me to overcome the challenge of having an unremarkable profile – a consultant at a little-known firm outside the US and with a degree from an ordinary undergrad – to secure Round 2 admissions at Wharton, Columbia and Booth in the wake of a disappointing experience I had with another admissions advisor.
Working on an hourly plan and under tight deadlines, he was extremely efficient in moving us through a branding exercise, essay brainstorms and outlines, and draft iterations that added substantial value each time. His external perspective was invaluable in selecting and coherently presenting my strengths and story, and his unique literary approach gave me a humble, mature and passionate voice. Most importantly, I can’t thank him enough for helping me to clarify and own my goals. I recommend Jeremy wholeheartedly and with no reservations whatsoever.
Accepted to Yale (with partial scholarship) and Kellogg
Jeremy’s years of experience were definitely a plus and I trusted his opinions and suggestions – crucial in working with an MBA consultant. He was efficient and held nothing back – he was blunt which was exactly what I needed. Jeremy went well beyond just reviewing my drafts and instead coached me in starting to think strategically about my application as well as how to write creatively. I enjoyed working with Jeremy very much and will recommend his services to my friends.
Accepted to Ross and Fuqua (with $15K Merit Scholarship)
All the advice I received from Jeremy while preparing my application was invaluable. If I had to pick one single piece of advice, it would be to personalize my essays to the point that no single sentence in it could have been written by any other person. His creative writing approaches revolutionized my application. I was afraid that I would just look like “Raj…the typical Indian IT guy.” But in the end, with his counsel, I had put together a totally distinctive and, I would daresay, inspiring set of essays!
Accepted to MIT/Sloan
The best advice I got from Jeremy was to really focus in on a very specific story about myself. He told me, “When the adcomm sees ‘Kevin Smith’, they need to say that Kevin is all about X, Y and Z.” I learned I had to sharply focus my overall story throughout the application. Very clearly, here are three things that I am and if they remember nothing else, they need to remember those three things. As a re-applicant, I definitely had to focus my story. There’s no way my message would have been as spot on and tight without Jeremy’s approaches.
Accepted to Cornell
The best advice I ever got about essays was from Jeremy: “Tell a story … show it … don’t just say it.” You have to give real examples. Don’t just say what you did, tell them how you did it. Instead of claiming “I’m a motivated person,” show lots of examples where you did this thing and that thing when you really didn’t have to.
Being a re-applicant, I thought I already knew what to talk about in my essays. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Before I even started to draft my first essays, we spent hours (probably MANY more than you do with most other consultants) talking about the story of my life. Jeremy actually helped me realize what really mattered to me, what my career goals are and what topics to especially focus on in the application. That said, do not expect him to hold your hand and do the work for you. I am sure that what distinguishes an OK application from a great one is this self-inspection and finding the best stories that really showcase your strengths (and explain your areas for improvement) so be prepared to invest time in that with Jeremy.
I also appreciated that there was not a limit on the number of drafts we exchanged before the final version was approved. Over time, this gets better but I guess I exchanged my first goals essay with him maybe 10 times. Also, Jeremy prefers to use Skype a lot to consult new essay topics or gain clarity around current content. His responsiveness was also usually very fast, sometimes even a couple drafts in an evening.
The complete package includes work on the resume, a Skype mock interview and suggestions on how to approach recommendation letters. I found all these helpful.
The downsides of working with Jeremy were few. Sometimes (but rarely) an essay version would “fall through the cracks,” which might have been due to me working on 5 school package. Also, Jeremy might seem a bit stern and demanding at times; but after all, you do not pay a consultant to have your ego polished.
I would strongly recommend Jeremy to people who prefer a closer relationship with their consultant and are willing to devote the time to a relatively long self-discovery.