Tag Archives: essay tips
June 3, 2014
Stanford Graduate School of Business has followed the lead of the majority of top MBA programs and has reduced the essay count for this year’s application. Stanford is still focused on candid self-evaluation and authenticity, …
Stanford Graduate School of Business has followed the lead of the majority of top MBA programs and has reduced the essay count for this year’s application. Stanford is still focused on candid self-evaluation and authenticity, and has just cut out the optional shorter essays. The Stanford GSB MBA admissions website provides clear guidance and advice for what to do, and what not to do, that all applicants should read and follow.
What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life what will you admire and regret about your choices? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you approach topics for this set of essays. Your accomplishments and achievements are part of why you have developed into the person you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, lessons learned and motivations. Introspection and honesty should persist through the entire set of essays.
Total word count for all three essays combined should not exceed 1,100 words, so applicants must be judicious in deciding how much or little to write for each prompt. As a general guideline, Stanford GSB suggests 750 words for essay one and 350 words for essay two. Check your deadlines before you get started to make sure you are maximizing the time on your essays.
Stanford GSB Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?
This classic Stanford GSB MBA essay is your opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. Topics can range from personal history to grand visions of the future. While this topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all) it may raise themes that you will continue in your career essay.
To generate ideas, try brainstorming over a period of a few days. Ask friends and family what values they see you demonstrating in your life and choices. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up, and mine your personal history for ideas.
Though the essay question may seem open-ended, answering the question with vivid and specific examples will provide solid evidence that you have demonstrated or experienced “what matters most” throughout your life. Keep in mind as you select examples that Stanford GSB specifically advises focusing on people and experiences that have influenced you, rather than accomplishments or achievements.
Essay B: Why Stanford? Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
This year Stanford leads with the most important part: Why Stanford? Be specific in your response. You should know everything about the program and show that it is your dream school. Have you met current students and alumni? Who are the professors you are excited about? What are the unique programs?
This essay question is a somewhat standard career goals theme, but note that Stanford refers to it as a “personal essay.” Stanford GSB wants to know what you specifically need that will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and research will help you determine what aspects of the academic program, community and students are crucial to your aspirations.
When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your goals consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big, and have the credibility to achieve their goals. So think big about your plans. Don’t focus on what your parents or partner want you to do. Don’t think about the next job on the corporate ladder. What do you, with your own unique background and values, want for your life?
If the question seems too vast, take a few minutes to close your eyes and reflect. Envision your life in twenty years. Where do you live? How do you spend your days? What is your favorite activity? How does this vision fit into your career aspirations? Don’t be shy about your ambitions. Once you have identified your dream career, you also need to make sure an MBA is an important part of achieving your plans.
Stanford wants candidates for whom an MBA will make an impact on their ambitious trajectory, not candidates who are looking for a prestigious piece of paper. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals, not admit perfect people with no need for development.
May 27, 2014
Harvard Business School has decided to repeat the same essay question this year as originally used in last year’s application cycle. Though the admissions committee said they were planning to change the essay questions every …
Harvard Business School has decided to repeat the same essay question this year as originally used in last year’s application cycle. Though the admissions committee said they were planning to change the essay questions every year, it turned out that the one open-ended essay was helpful enough to use it again.
The most challenging part of this essay is remaining disciplined. With unlimited space to make your case, you may be tempted to compose a laundry list of everything interesting or impressive you have ever done. That urge could backfire, as the essay is used to determine who isn’t a fit for HBS as much as selecting the lucky candidates who make it into the interview round. Maturity, accomplishment, and leadership are highly valued qualities and this essay is your chance to display those qualities through the stories you choose and the voice coming through your writing.
There is one question, technically optional, for the Class of 2017 application essay:
You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?
HBS adds this tip to the essay prompt:
There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.
A note on word count: HBS traditionally has limited essays to around 400 words each. Do not be tempted to go overboard with a 2,000 word essay, rather focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping this essay to 1,200 words or less. Our successful clients had essays anywhere from 500-1,300 words last year, though you should take a pass through your essay to cut any unnecessary words if you find yourself on the upper end of that range.
The goal of this essay is to know yourself, know HBS, and know how to match the two to demonstrate your fit for the school. Your first task should be to evaluate all of the other aspects of your candidacy – what is the story your resume tells? What do you think recommenders will say? How does your transcript communicate your skills, accomplishments and interests? Then you need to evaluate how to fill the gaps with the essay.
We advised many successful clients on this essay last year, and those who received an acceptance letter from Harvard Business School pursued a range of topics. Some applicants focused on their career journey and aspirations while others wrote about their personal background. Both highly personal and career oriented essays were successful, and most candidates told more than one story in the essay. One common thread we observed was that all of the successful essays demonstrated a core driving passion.
While comparisons with Stanford’s “What Matters Most” open-ended question may come immediately to mind, HBS is very different and it will be important to know the program. As you consider possible stories to tell in this essay keep in mind that HBS has always been highly focused on leadership and wants to accept candidates who have a track record of leadership impact and a success trajectory that indicates upper management potential. Accomplishments have traditionally been a strong focus of HBS essays, and using at least one accomplishment story in this essay may be a good strategy, particularly if your accomplishments are not obvious when reading your resume or transcripts.
A note on what not to do: We see many applicants tempted to include “why HBS” type information in HBS essays. This has never been part of an HBS application essay question and we don’t recommend including that sort of angle here. HBS is quite clear on why applicants are interested in the school, and they would rather see you use the space to provide more information about yourself and your candidacy.
September 18, 2013
The London Business School is a close-knit program with an international focus, set in one of the most exciting centers of culture in Europe. Among one of the top ranked programs in the world, LBS is equally valued by US and international recruiters. LBS is an excellent choice for MBA hopefuls who have international experience or would like to develop a career without borders.
When approaching this streamlined set of questions, you will want to make sure you are also presenting your well-rounded self, with focus on career, extracurriculars and personal attributes. Make sure you formulate a clear game plan for this set of essays so you can utilize the limited space effectively.
What will your future look like after completing your MBA? (500 words)
The first two questions for the LBS application focus on your career goals. Though the questions are separated into two, your overall narrative thread should flow organically from your past experiences to your MBA decision and into your future career goals.
To make this essay more than a recitation of your resume, think about explaining the rationale for your decisions throughout the essay. Why did you choose your first job, and what was the impetus behind subsequent career choices? At this point, why are you choosing LBS? While your future career goals are the subject of the next question in this set, you will want to discuss why you have made the choice to pursue an MBA at this time, and why you want to attend LBS.
There should be a clear link between your immediate post-MBA goals and where you plan to be in five years and longer term. You have set the stage with your career story thus far and now you need to explain what your LBS education will launch you towards in the future.
Many applicants aren’t exactly sure what they will do in the long-term or even five years into the future. Certainly the future is not entirely in your control, but this essay is a great opportunity to think about what you really want from your career. Self-awareness about your strengths and interests will help you refine what you want. To take your research deeper it may be incredibly helpful to talk to colleagues and alumni who have MBAs in your field to see what your career path options are. Make sure that your career goals are both realistic and aspirational. An MBA will certainly open doors for you, and also may define a specific career path. Make sure you are well-informed about what others have done before you.
What value will you add to London Business School? (300 words)
LBS would like to see that you have considered their program specifically and have an idea of how the program differs from other top schools. Of course you are applying to more than one program, but the answer to this question will show that you have considered your application to LBS and researched it extensively. As Oliver Ashby, head of MBA recruitment and admissions wrote in the LBS admissions blog: “One of the most common failings we see in applications is an inability to differentiate between top business schools.”
Thorough research will be crucial here, whether online or in person. Reaching out to the clubs and organizations you are most interested in may allow you to interact with a current student who can provide context for you. To be most effective in answering this question you will want to be specific and logical in your choices. What activities make the most sense in the context of your career and industry interests? What about your hobbies? Any community involvement you are currently pursuing and plan to continue will be especially credible here.
What is the School’s responsibility to you and what is your responsibility to the School? (400 words)
The answer to this question, as in the previous essay, should focus on your fit with LBS. The relationship you have with your MBA program is a two way street and LBS wants to know that your expectations of the support you will receive from the program are realistic. At the same time, LBS wants you to realize that you are not just taking education and career progress from the program, you are also contributing to the school both while on campus and afterwards. Values for LBS include taking your studies seriously and being part of the fun, vibrant community and your answer should contain elements from both aspects of the MBA program.
August 29, 2013
A clear application strategy is crucial to approaching these essays. Duke’s mission is to “identify, engage, and foster the development of future leaders of consequence,” and you will want to demonstrate you are the kind …
A clear application strategy is crucial to approaching these essays. Duke’s mission is to “identify, engage, and foster the development of future leaders of consequence,” and you will want to demonstrate you are the kind of leader the admissions committee is looking for.
Don’t forget the personal – in this essay set you have the opportunity to add 25 new facts to round out your profile. As always, it is important to demonstrate that you know Duke Fuqua well and are a strong fit with the program. Starting your research and personal networking now will put you in a solid position to prepare the most specific and effective essays.
Stacy Blackman Consulting can help you prepare a compelling, individualized strategy to approach your Duke Fuqua application this year, contact us to learn more.
Required Short Answer Questions: Answer all 3 questions
Respond in 250 characters only (the equivalent of about 50 words).
1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA?
2. What are your long-term goals?
3. Life is full of uncertainties, and plans and circumstances can change. As a result, navigating a career requires you to be adaptable. Should the short-term goals that you provided above not materialize what alternative directions have you considered?
This career goals essay asks for your plan in three parts. First, you should describe what you plan to do immediately after your MBA. Then you’ll explain the long-term vision for your career. Finally, Duke admits that many career paths are forged through circumstance, and asks you for Plan B.
Think big picture and focus on the overall story trajectory. What would be the most logical (and interesting) progression from your current skill set and MBA education? How will your next step flow from the combination of those experiences? And your alternative path ideally isn’t a massive departure, but simply shows the areas you could see yourself exploring if your primary plan doesn’t materialize.
For example, perhaps you are focused on becoming a marketing executive at a CPG company. If you don’t find the suitable position after Duke, maybe you would consider another industry for your career path. Think about your range of interests and go from there. Because you have limited space, you’ll have to boil your plans down in a clear statement of what you plan to do, but ideally any plans are supported by the information provided in your resume, recommendations, and other essays.
Required Essays: Answer both essay questions
Essay One: The “Team Fuqua” spirit and community is one of the things that sets The Duke MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. When a new person joins the Admissions team, we ask that person to share with everyone in the office a list of “25 Random Things About Yourself.” As an Admissions team, we already know the new hire’s professional and academic background, so learning these “25 Random Things” helps us get to know someone’s personality, background, special talents, and more.
In this spirit, the Admissions Committee also wants to get to know you beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of “25 Random Things” about YOU.
Please present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may be only a few words, while others may be longer. Your complete list should not exceed 2 pages.
This essay is entirely open ended and topics can span your personal background, work experiences, values or extracurriculars. If you have a particularly interesting story in any of those areas, this is the place to tell that story. This creative exercise is certainly an opportunity to follow the admissions committee’s advice to share what makes you a dynamic, multi-dimensional person.
Coming up with 25 random things to list in this essay may seem daunting at first. To jumpstart your creative process you may want to brainstorm with friends and family about what is most interesting and memorable about you. Or keep a notebook with you to record thoughts as you go about work and personal activities. A themed list that ties into a bigger point may be effective, but resist the urge to package the list too perfectly. In the end, Duke is interested in who you actually are and how your life has unfolded until now.
Essay Two: When asked by your family, friends, and colleagues why you want to go to Duke, what do you tell them? Share the reasons that are most meaningful to you.
This essay is entirely focused on why the Duke MBA program is the right place for you specifically. This may be another opportunity to demonstrate your multi-dimensional personality as you explain which classes, clubs, and community activities most resonate with you.
The best essays will be both specific and personal. While everyone benefits from a diverse alumni network, what specifically do you want to give and receive from your classmates? If you describe clubs and classes you are attracted to, also offer specific examples from your past experiences to show your consistent personal or professional passions.
While the focus of the essay is the Duke MBA program, you are also being asked why these aspects are most meaningful. Your fit with the program is crucial, and therefore you must exhibit the qualities Duke is seeking as well. The Duke MBA program is especially interested in your role within the community, and will place significant weight on this factor. If you research thoroughly and are specific, you should be able to clearly demonstrate why you are going to be strong contributor and teammate.
This essay can also be a place to talk about how the Duke MBA fits into your career goals. What do you know now that will be enhanced through your MBA education? And what crucial aspects of the skill set required for your future career will be augmented by attending Duke?
Optional Essay (Limit your response to two pages)
If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Admissions Committee should be aware, please explain them in an optional essay (e.g. unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, or any significant weakness in your application).
As with most optional essays, the Duke MBA asks that you only use this space to explain extenuating circumstances. If you have a low GPA, a non-typical recommender or gaps in work history this is the correct place to address those issues.
When approaching any concerns about your background in the optional essay it’s important to focus on recent performance, whether academic or professional, and what such performance demonstrates about your ability. Your goal is to remove questions from your application and to address in a factual manner any information the admissions committee needs to know to fairly evaluate your application.
August 28, 2013
The Dartmouth Tuck School of Business has a small student body and a rural location, combined with world-class faculty and academic focus. As you approach your Dartmouth Tuck MBA application it will be important to …
The Dartmouth Tuck School of Business has a small student body and a rural location, combined with world-class faculty and academic focus. As you approach your Dartmouth Tuck MBA application it will be important to consistently show how you will fit into the school values of leadership, teamwork and collaboration and bring your own unique qualities and experiences to the community.
Before you begin the essays think about the areas you want to communicate to the Tuck Business School admissions committee. As you consider each topic be sure to provide specific examples to illustrate your unique qualities. Real life experiences are your best evidence of leadership qualities, teamwork skills and management potential.
Stacy Blackman Consulting has worked with successful Tuck applicants for over a decade, contact us to learn more about the customized assistance we can provide for your application.
Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?
This standard career goals question requires you to clearly outline your short- and long-term career goals. Your short-term goals are the aspirations you have for your job immediately after graduation, while your long-term goals may be 10 or 20 years after you complete your MBA. In this relatively short essay you will need to explain what you have been pursuing in your career thus far, and why you need an MBA at this point in your life, along with your career goals.
“Why Tuck Business School” is an important aspect to this essay, and your opportunity to demonstrate fit. Make sure you have researched the school’s programs and determined your education will suit your plans. By reaching out to current students and alumni you will gain crucial insights that will provide a personal perspective on the culture of the school.
Tell us about your most meaningful collaborative leadership experience and what role you played. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?
This question gets at your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. An addition to this question this year is the use of the word “collaborative” when associated with leadership. Tuck is a close knit community with a strong alumni network, and considering your leadership skills in a group context will be important to demonstrate fit with the program.
This essay requires that you describe one specific example that illustrates your leadership challenges and strengths. Think about the leadership opportunities that led to a deeper understanding of yourself and others, and may have resulted in definition of your strengths or an improvement in your weaknesses. The example you choose can be from work or community involvement, as “great leadership can be accomplished in the pursuit or business and societal goals.”
You will need to adhere to the Tuck School of Business definition of leadership and include a team-based aspect to your example. As you describe your leadership experience, make sure you explain how you were able to inspire and enable others to accomplish.
Describe a circumstance in your life in which you faced adversity, failure, or setback. What actions did you take as a result and what did you learn from this experience?
This question is your opportunity to show how you handle challenging situations. Everyone faces adversity, failure or setbacks at work or in personal life, and it is how you decide to react that demonstrates your character. Revealing your emotions and thought process along with your actions in this essay will provide a window into how you process difficult experiences and emerge from them with a new direction.
Think back to Tuck Business School’s criteria, and consider using this essay to either demonstrate your interpersonal skills (if your challenge was of the interpersonal variety) or to show something from your background or experience that is unique.
When brainstorming for this essay think first about what you learned from the situation, and then work backwards to describe the circumstances and the initial challenge or hurdle, that will help you see the whole situation from a more optimistic viewpoint. Did you learn from the experience and did it impact your life or demonstrate a specific aspect of your character, goals or accomplishments? Even the most difficult situations often lead to personal growth and change and have contributed to who you are today.
(Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.
This is your opportunity to discuss any perceived weaknesses in your application such as low GPA or gaps in your work experience. When approaching a question of this nature, focus on explanations rather than excuses and explain what you have done since the event you are explaining to demonstrate your academic ability or management potential.
You could potentially use this space to add something new that was not covered in the previous essays or in the application, resume or recommendations, however use your judgment about the topics as Tuck asks that you only complete this question if you “feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.”
August 6, 2013
Lydia was confused about the various options available to her as she started researching for her MBA application. As an African-American applicant she realized that her profile was underrepresented in the MBA application pool, and …
Lydia was confused about the various options available to her as she started researching for her MBA application. As an African-American applicant she realized that her profile was underrepresented in the MBA application pool, and was both encouraged by her admissions chances and discouraged by the application process.
When she approached Stacy Blackman Consulting seeking advice, we suggested looking into several programs aimed directly at her. With her Stacy Blackman consultant Lydia researched Management Leadership for Tomorrow, The Robert Toigo Foundation, the Consortium and all of the diversity programs at her target schools (HBS, Stanford, Darden, Haas and Yale).
After discussion with her consultant, Lydia decided to apply through the Consortium for her applications to Darden, Haas and Yale while adding Cornell (HBS and Stanford are not Consortium member schools). This streamlined her application process and gave her the opportunity to apply to more schools, but also required her to demonstrate to the Consortium that she was involved in activities to promote their mission.
Luckily, along with her impressive career trajectory in technology and a strong undergraduate record in engineering, Lydia had also been a student leader in the African-American community on campus at Virginia Tech and remained involved as an alumna.
Lydia and her consultant put together a compelling application demonstrating Lydia’s continued involvement and support for her community along with her career success and ambitious goals. Lydia’s application to the Consortium and her MBA programs were highly successful, resulting in acceptances from Yale, Stanford, Haas and Cornell.
Considering your own application through the Consortium? Contact us to learn more about how to position yourself for application success.