Tag Archives: Essay Tips
September 27, 2016
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. A decade ago, business school applications commonly included up to six essay questions for applicants to fret and labor over. For at least …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.
A decade ago, business school applications commonly included up to six essay questions for applicants to fret and labor over. For at least the past three application seasons, however, many top-ranked MBA programs have abbreviated their required essays. Several now ask candidates to answer just a single prompt.
My immediate reaction to these changing requirements has been, “I love it!” It makes sense to test applicants in this way. After all, the world’s best b-schools want students who are future leaders – those who can act quickly and decisively, with little to no direction, under stressful circumstances.
Client feedback in recent cycles has ranged from confusion to outright panic, so applicants may benefit from plenty of guidance as they grapple with how to present themselves and thoughtfully tell their story.
Prospective MBA applicants should know there are pros and cons to the streamlining trend.
Pro: Having to write just one essay eases the burden on applicants applying to multiple programs. Our 2016 SBC Survey of Prospective Applicants revealed that almost 38 percent of applicants plan to apply to five or more schools this year, and fewer and shorter essay requirements are precisely what motivated nearly 52 percent of respondents to apply to more schools.
As a bonus, admissions teams are betting that requiring a single essay means applicants will be less able to recycle essays for other schools.
Con: This increase in applications skews the overall application, acceptance, and yield numbers as the volume of the applicant pool increases but the quality declines. Schools need to adjust to these new figures, as they may influence a prospective applicant’s decision not to target a specific school if the program is perceived as less competitive and therefore, less desirable.
Pro: They say high self-awareness is the strongest predictor of overall success. The single prompt forces you to be very clear about who you are and what you want to communicate. In fact, many admissions committee members believe serious self-reflection prior to applying lays the foundation for compelling essays. A lot of thought will have to go into distilling your messages, which is hard work, but will ultimately benefit you.
Con: It’s much harder to mold your agenda with fewer words and only one question.But whether you have multiple essays, or a single prompt, 1,500 words or 500, the process of coming up with your personal brand is the same. You need to have a strategy for your application process that includes a lot of brainstorming up front to help you come up with the highlights of your candidacy that you want to convey, regardless of what is being asked.
Pro: From the photo commentary essay at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, to the “cover letter in lieu of essay” requested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, to the “meet-and-greet at the airport layover” scenario posed by Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, these single essays provide an exciting opportunity for more creativity and meaningful content, rather than multiple, potentially more rambling essays of what applicants think the committee wants to see.
Con: Having a lot to say is overwhelming and can be stressful, but then having to stuff all an applicant wants to say into limited words only compounds that feeling. With so many accomplishments to highlight and leadership examples to share, the critical task of editing leaves many applicants incredibly anxious since it’s their one shining moment to share their story.
As communication in general seems to have condensed on many fronts thanks to social media, the single-essay trend appears here to stay. Ultimately, I see these types of questions as an invigorating exercise in presenting oneself, knowing what needs to be told and what can be left out. Just remember that having a well-thought-out strategy will be the key to making this lean essay format work for you.
August 30, 2016
Kelley School of Business at Indiana University is a top-tier business school with an innovative program. From the moment you decide to attend Kelley you will be focusing on your career and leadership development. You’ll …
Kelley School of Business at Indiana University is a top-tier business school with an innovative program. From the moment you decide to attend Kelley you will be focusing on your career and leadership development.
You’ll receive personalized coaching, leadership training, and real-world industry projects within the first year of your MBA. Kelley’s program is unique and close-knit, so your fit with the program and your desire to participate fully will be important to the admissions committee.
Please discuss your immediate post-MBA professional goals. How will your professional experience, when combined with a Kelley MBA degree, allow you to achieve these goals? Should the short-term goals you have identified not materialize, what alternate career paths might you consider? (500 words)
Entering Kelley with a crystallized career vision and an idea of how you will accomplish your goals will help you take full advantage of the program. Kelley’s curriculum is tailored to help you reach your career goals.
For example, students can specialize almost immediately by choosing one of the first-year Academies in your industry area of focus. Think about these opportunities at Kelley when you answer this career goals question, and specifically how you see yourself using the tools available.
The second half of this question deals with your flexibility around your career goal and your ability to handle change. The business world changes constantly and your ability to recognize opportunity, even outside your anticipated career goals, will be crucial to success. Think about the core elements that are important to you in forming your career goals.
Perhaps you are passionate about a specific industry, but you could imagine pursing either a strategy role or a finance role in that industry. Or perhaps you love marketing and are more flexible about the industry where you practice your craft. Showing that you can capitalize on change and opportunity while staying true to your core values and interests will position you well in this set of essays.
Please respond to one of the following short essay prompts. (300 words)
a. My greatest memory is…
b. I’m most afraid of…
c. My greatest challenge has been…
d. I’m most proud of…
This essay seeks to understand your core personal motivations. Beyond career, what have been formative moments in your life? The story you choose to tell in this essay will be revealing to the admissions committee and will show your personality and values.
Think about the moments in your life when you have changed or matured. Was there an experience that led you to learn more about yourself? Perhaps you interacted with someone who challenged you, or inspired you. Or you may have traveled outside your comfort zone, either literally outside your home country, or in a transition like leaving home for college.
Option b, “I’m most afraid of…” is the one prompt that does not specifically call on a past experience. However, it’s likely that your fear has its roots in a formative moment in your life.
Once you have a story to tell, make sure you are explaining why this moment is important to you. You can either narrate your thoughts, reactions and opinions as you retell the story, or take time at the end of the essay to reflect upon what you learned and why it was important to you.
Please share with the admissions committee an interesting or surprising fact about you. (25 words)
The admissions committee has read your career goals, read about a pivotal experience and likely has reviewed your resume and application fact sheet. This fact is one that didn’t come up in any of those demographic or background data sheets in your application.
Perhaps you were a competitive swimmer in high school, but didn’t pursue it in college. Or your grandmother was from Sweden and taught you traditional cooking techniques that no one else in your life knows.
If you are struggling to come up with an interesting or surprising fact, this is a great question to poll friends and family about. You will want to use something that is unique about you, and that most other applicants would not be able to say.
Your friends and family likely know the elements of your background and personality that go far deeper than your resume or application fact sheet.
Is there anything else that you think we should know as we evaluate your application? If you believe your credentials and essays represent you fairly, you shouldn’t feel obligated to answer this question. (300 words)
Kelley’s optional question is open-ended, allowing you to add almost any story or additional background data you would like. Before you take full advantage of the extra space, make sure you are truly adding to your application. If you have done the work on a comprehensive resume, excellent recommendations and finely honed essays you likely don’t need this space.
If there is anything to explain in your application, definitely use this space to do so. That may be a poor grade in a quantitative course in college, academic probation, or the lack of a recommendation from a current supervisor. Whatever you need to discuss, make sure you are focused on explanations rather than excuses, and you provide solid, recent evidence that you have done better since the event.
Struggling with the Kelley MBA application? Stacy Blackman Consulting can help. Contact us to learn more.
August 23, 2016
Michigan Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are intellectually curious and able to accomplish their goals. Ross is also a close-knit community and …
Michigan Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are intellectually curious and able to accomplish their goals.
Ross is also a close-knit community and fit with the program is important to demonstrate in the application process. Visiting Ross or learning about the program through current students, alumni or faculty would be helpful before starting this set of essays.
The Ross admissions blog is an excellent resource for tips to approach these essay questions, and gives you a window into what the admissions committee is looking for.
Essay One: What are you most proud of outside of your professional life? How does it shape who you are today? (up to 400 words)
Last year Ross permitted either a professional or personal example for this essay. This year, Ross Admissions Director Soojin Kwon explains: “The motivation for adding “outside of your professional life” (to Q1, which asks what you’re most proud of) was to get to glimpse into the personal side of you. We’ll already have your resume and rec letter to give us a sense of your professional life. Besides, would you want to read thousands of essays about the time someone was a project manager and completed the project on time and under budget? (I hope you said “no”). Me either. (I’m going to assume you said “no”).”
Some of the personal attributes most valued at Ross include community engagement and interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills. When you consider topics for this essay you may want to write about an important extracurricular moment, a challenge you overcame, or an event in your life that highlights something unique about your background.
For example, if you have a track record of club leadership through college and afterwards that can be compelling evidence of your community engagement and leadership skills. On the other end of the spectrum perhaps you have spent time outside your home country for school or work and that has shaped how you approach your life and decisions.
Take note that this essay is really about getting to know you as a person, not as a collection of accomplishments. Your values and personal life will ideally shine through, as you explain what is most important to you and why.
“Why” is a crucial part of this essay, along with how your values have impacted your life. Finally, make sure that your values, as expressed in this essay, are aligned with how you want to be perceived by the admissions committee.
Essay Two: What is your desired career path and why? (up to 250 words)
Michigan Ross is interested to hear what you plan to do after your MBA and what is motivating that decision. Both traditional and non-traditional MBA goals are welcomed as long as you are sincere about the path you plan to take.
This essay is straightforward and Ross is not looking for extra explanation. Ideally you can describe your career path in a sentence or two and use the remainder of the space to elaborate.
Answering “why” you chose your career path is crucial. As you describe your career path make sure you explain what has led you to pursue it, and why it resonates with you. The answer doesn’t need to be elaborate or dramatic, but it should be convincing and real.
The question doesn’t ask “Why MBA?” or “Why Ross?” but you may want to address both questions. If Ross has unique resources that will help you achieve your goal, this is a great place to describe how you will use them.
Optional Statement: This section should only be used to convey information not addressed elsewhere in your application, for example, completion of supplemental coursework, employment gaps, academic issues, etc. Feel free to use bullet points where appropriate.
Take it directly from the Ross admissions director: “The optional essay should only be used if there’s something in your background that requires a brief explanation. It’s not the place to submit an essay you wrote for another school, or to tell us how much you love Ross.”
Think about anything that may raise questions while reviewing a resume, transcript or recommendations. Typically the kinds of gaps that raise questions are significant gaps in employment (more than a few months), anything below a C on your college transcript (particularly in quantitative coursework) and low test scores.
Stacy Blackman Consulting has worked with successful candidates to Michigan Ross for over a decade and can offer comprehensive strategic advice every step of the way. Contact us to learn more.
August 12, 2016
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. The essay component is arguably the most important piece of your business school application. After all, a compelling story can help counterbalance weaker aspects …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.
The essay component is arguably the most important piece of your business school application. After all, a compelling story can help counterbalance weaker aspects of your candidacy.
Before you start working on your MBA applications in earnest, first think through and articulate your career objectives, assess your strengths and weaknesses and make sure you have done as much research as possible on the business schools that seem like the best fit for you. Through our work with applicants, we’ve learned that it’s best to begin the brainstorming phase by sifting through an array of life experiences to see what emerges as a core strength.
But what can you do if you’re seriously stumped on what to write about? When you feel blocked, don’t panic. Inspiration is everywhere in your daily life. Try these unconventional approaches to help spark a great MBA essay.
1. Ask people around you for their insights: Sometimes it’s hard to see what makes each of us special, so ask a coworker, mentor or friend for inspiration. An invigorating or profound conversation with a good friend can really stir up new ideas and get your creative juices flowing.
To jump-start this process, gather friends and family and have them share what they think is most interesting and memorable about you. Ask what values they see you demonstrating in your life and career or in your personal choices.
Dig deeper and ask yourself how you would want your future classmates to see you. What are some of the personal stories you would share with a new friend?
What would your future professors want to know about you? How might you contribute while in school and after graduation?
2. Record your first thoughts: What do you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about? 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 a variety of common MBA essay topics. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts or dreams upon waking up – these might help you understand your passions.
Here’s another strategy to try: Set your alarm for an odd hour, wake up and read an essay question. Contemplate the first things that pop into your head.
Often, the act of doing something simple in a new way or just at a different time will get you out of your rut and allow you to see things from a fresh perspective. Take a new route to the office, switch up your workout schedule or skip the nightly Netflix binge and end the day with an intriguing novel instead. See whether these simple changes boost your essay ideas.
3. Keep a journal: In the weeks leading up to writing your application essays, keep a journal and jot down moments that impact you, such as a great meal, an amazing sunset or a funny video. Then when you begin to write, look through your notes and see where inspiration strikes.
For convenience, you may prefer to dictate your thoughts into your phone while you are out and about. Often, casual speaking tone translates into a more authentic and personable version once written on paper; this can be a great launching pad for the first drafts of your essays.
Another useful technique is documenting your life as it is now on a storyboard with various categories, such as personal, professional, extracurricular and academic. As a starting point, you may want to think about the choices that have led you to your current career path.
Focus on the inflection points that have inspired you – whether coursework in college, early exposure to running your own business or watching a family member pursue his or her dreams – to help clearly outline the reasons you have made certain life choices thus far.
Once you’ve tried one or more of these unconventional but effective exercises, you should start to develop a few intriguing ideas. Then no single piece of the MBA essay writing process should seem intimidating.
And remember to plan ahead and leave plenty of time for rewriting – truly great essays aren’t crafted overnight.
August 10, 2016
As part of our month-long anniversary celebration, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite blog posts from along the way that I think will really resonate with applicants who are gearing up for submission …
As part of our month-long anniversary celebration, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite blog posts from along the way that I think will really resonate with applicants who are gearing up for submission this fall.
Think for a moment about the audience for your business school application: you will be spending hour upon hour writing a magnum opus may be read by just one person, or a select few at most.
These people have dozens of applications they need to get through each day and even the most diligent may at times miss some points in your essays. That’s why you need to make things as easy as possible for the admissions committee members by making sure they can’t miss who you are and what you can add to the class.
The best applications feature three or four aspects of the applicant’s character and experiences that anyone reading the essays can’t help but identify. These three or four traits combine to form “Brand You.”
We all know the power of brands. Companies spend tons of cash to make sure you know how they deliver value and what they stand for. While there are many more subtle facets to their full corporate identities and many nuances to their product/service offerings, firms need to make sure that customers have a complete and unambiguous understanding of a limited list of characteristics.
Take, for instance, this list of traits for a few well-known companies:
1. Low prices everyday, huge selection, one-stop shop
2. Great place to hang out, socially responsible, respect for employees
3. Great design, simplifying the complex, cool
4. Irreverent, youth-oriented, influencing lifestyles
5. Fun, family, fantasy
Even from just these short descriptions, you can probably guess which companies we’re referencing (answers below). That’s because these messages have been pounded into your head through repetition, multiple interactions with the firm or exposure to marketing messages.
Similarly, candidates need to make sure the people who read their applications make no mistake about the core of their character and experiences. Certainly, all applications end up covering more than three to four points if they capture the wonderful complexities of us as humans. But if we give equal weight to 20 traits, we water down the main things the admissions committee needs to know about us.
Sure, a candidate wants to be known as a “natural leader, intellectual, creative, driven, community-minded, responsible, action-oriented, nurturing, committed, rigorous, internationally-focused, physically fit, welcoming, laid back, institution-building and adventurous,” but ultimately, we really don’t know what this person stands for.
People “branding” themselves like this have made choices on what they want to emphasize:
“A behind-the-scenes leader, creative problem-solver, and passionate about international development.”
“A great motivator, cutting-edge thinker on financial markets and committed to education.”
“Dedicated to environmental causes, a skilled negotiator, a committed mentor and family-oriented.”
Reinforce the main three to four traits through repetition; other aspects of your character and experience will come out naturally.
Just a few words can trigger our thoughts about a brand. Did you get these from the short statements above?
It’s never too early to start mulling over the general outlines and topics for your essays. Paying attention to what makes a “great essay” long before you start writing will help you sort through your best concepts.
August 9, 2016
While answering only one essay question for your Darden MBA application essay may seem simple, it requires discipline to highlight all of the important parts of your profile for the admissions committee in one short …
While answering only one essay question for your Darden MBA application essay may seem simple, it requires discipline to highlight all of the important parts of your profile for the admissions committee in one short essay. Writing a successful essay with such limited space requires you to focus only on your most compelling attributes.
Think about the other areas of your application and what they cover. Your academic potential should be highlighted through GMAT or GRE scores and your academic transcripts, leadership and professional accomplishments should come through clearly from your recommendations, and finally your essay is a chance to outline your personal qualities.
When considering which personal qualities to highlight in this essay, consider that leadership is crucial to future Darden MBAs. Your ability to work well within a team of peers is also important to Darden, a school with a small, tight-knit community.
Darden, similar to HBS, is devoted to the case method of teaching business subjects. Learn more about the school by visiting the Darden website, attending events and speaking with current students and alumni.
MBA Application Essay Question:
Describe the most important professional feedback you have received and how you responded to this feedback. (500 words)
In this question Darden is seeking to understand how you take feedback and how you process and learn from feedback. Feedback is often the first stage to grow and develop as a professional and as a leader. Learning to take all feedback – both positive and critical – and examining and incorporating the lessons from that feedback into your development is a sign of maturity.
As you describe the professional feedback you will want to set the stage for the feedback by describing your relationship with the person who gave you the feedback and any background facts. Take the time to describe how you felt while receiving the feedback, and don’t be afraid to talk about having uncomfortable feelings about it.
It’s a normal reaction to feel threatened by criticism, which is often what professional feedback is perceived as. If the feedback was positive make sure you can use the story to demonstrate development and growth.
If you can’t think of the most important moment of feedback you have received, think about working backwards from a professional accomplishment you are proud of. As you think about the areas where you have excelled you may find that the trigger was a piece of important advice or feedback from a manager, peer or customer.
Make sure your feedback story enhances the overall package of your application. This essay is one of your few opportunities to show how you think, what your leadership approach is, and how you improve as a result of input from other people. Think about the situations that showcased your best performance at work, or that taught you something about your interests or future career goals.
Because you have only one essay question to present yourself, make sure you have a trusted reader to tell you if you are effectively communicating why you are going to be a strong leader who deserves a spot in the UVA Darden MBA class.
Looking for perspective in your approach to your Darden MBA application? Contact us to discuss how Stacy Blackman Consulting can help.