Tag Archives: MBA application

3 Unconventional Steps to Writing Great MBA Essays

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 …

MBA essay brainstorm

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.

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Tuesday Tips: Cornell Johnson Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips

Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management is a flexible MBA program housed within an Ivy League campus. Cornell Johnson offers multiple full-time options, including a one-year MBA, executive programs and a tech focused program. Cornell …

Cornell Johnson MBA essay tipsCornell University’s Johnson School of Management is a flexible MBA program housed within an Ivy League campus. Cornell Johnson offers multiple full-time options, including a one-year MBA, executive programs and a tech focused program.

Cornell Johnson has multiple joint degree programs as well from a JD-MBA to MBA-MD. Whatever your goals and background Cornell has a program that can help you achieve your goals.

When approaching this set of Cornell essays it will be useful to set an application strategy. Identify the program you are most interested in and do substantial school research. Then examine your background and goals to see what is most important to explain as part of your story.

Next, add the layer of personal background and experiences – consider what makes you truly unique. Finally, make sure you have solid academics, work experience and extracurriculars. If you identify any holes in your profile or story, take the time to fill them prior to starting your application.

CREATING IMPACT
At Cornell, we value students who create impact. Please indicate the opportunities for impact that you have identified through engagement with our community and describe how these interactions have influenced your decision to apply to Johnson. (500 words or fewer)

This year Cornell has replaced a standard careers goals question with a question about your fit with Johnson. The framing of the question brings in a core value of the program, creating impact, and asks you to imagine how you might create impact at Johnson based on your research into the program.

The first step in answering this question is to do your research. Ideally you will have an opportunity to either visit Johnson or to attend an admissions event in your city. If neither option is available to you, reach out to your network to see if you can meet current students or alumni of the program.

When you meet members of the Johnson community, make sure you ask about the unique opportunities on campus to contribute, whether through social clubs, volunteering, professional clubs or academics. Johnson offers groups for interests ranging from cooking to ice hockey, and has professional clubs for every possible career path.

Once you have identified opportunities for you to contribute to campus life at Johnson, ideally you can support your story with evidence from your past experiences.

For example, if you want to bring new speakers to the Johnson Marketing Association because you have contributed to your young professionals group at work, explain that you have successfully organized events featuring major speakers for a large group of people and can bring that skill to create impact for your peers at Johnson.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
You are the author of your Life Story. Please create the Table of Contents for the book in the space provided or upload it as an attachment. We value creativity and authenticity and encourage you to approach this essay with your unique style. Alternative submission formats may include a slide presentation, links to pre-existing media (personal website, digital portfolio, YouTube etc.), as well as visually enhanced written submissions.

Maximum file size is 5 MB. If you choose to submit a written Table of Contents, please limit your submission to 500 words or fewer. Please limit multimedia submissions to under 5 minutes

This essay is an opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are on a personal level. Think about highlighting areas you may not have been able to touch in the previous career focused essays, and demonstrate your unique personal attributes or community involvement.

If you have a consistent theme of involvement in a charity or activity this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate why you became involved and what you have done over the years.

When structuring the story, think of this essay as a way to communicate a narrative theme of your life to the admissions committee. What are the key moments that are meaningful to you? Were there pivotal experiences with your friends, family, hobbies or interests that led you to become the person you are today?

This essay can be delivered in any of the media specified above (video, slide presentation, website) and you should tailor the format you use to the message you want to send. Though a creative format can impress the admissions committee, substance is always the most important part of the essay. Make sure you are highlighting unique, individual qualities that will make the case for admission to Cornell.

OPTIONAL ESSAY
Complete this essay if you would like to add additional details regarding your candidacy. For instance, if you believe one or more aspects of your application (e.g., undergraduate record or test scores) do not accurately reflect your potential for success at Johnson.

If you are reapplying for admission, please use this essay to indicate how you have strengthened your application since the last time you applied.

This optional essay allows for either an explanation of any weaknesses in your application or additional information that may bolster your application. If you have a poor GPA or GMAT, concerns with your undergraduate record, or were unable to provide a recommendation from a current supervisor, this is the place to offer explanations, not excuses.

Quickly describe the situation and what may have contributed to the issue (illness, family difficulties, etc.) without editorializing. Focus the balance of your essay on looking forward: what have you done in the recent past to demonstrate your skills and intelligence?

If you are a reapplicant this is the ideal place to explain what you have done since your last application to strengthen your case for admission. If you have a new GMAT score or took classes in calculus or statistics you have a solid case for improved academics. A promotion could signal career development and leadership.

Even if you don’t have a clear cut development to describe you can use this space to explain how you have improved your thinking, career goals, or fit with Cornell.

Stuck on the Johnson Cornell essay questions? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help.

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Tuesday Tips: UVA Darden Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips

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 …

Darden MBA essay tipsWhile 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.

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Tuesday Tips: Berkeley Haas Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips

The set of essays for admission to UC Berkeley Haas School of Business is a holistic exploration of personal to professional topics. A clear understanding of your application strategy, particularly your career goals and strengths/weaknesses, …

Berkeley Haas MBA essay tipsThe set of essays for admission to UC Berkeley Haas School of Business is a holistic exploration of personal to professional topics. A clear understanding of your application strategy, particularly your career goals and strengths/weaknesses, is the key to putting together a cohesive application. While challenging, this is also an opportunity to demonstrate several different aspects of your personality to the admissions committee.

Note that Haas describes four defining principles for the community: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always and Beyond Yourself. Which of these principles do you identify with? Make sure you have strong examples that illustrate how you have demonstrated these principles and use them in the following essay set.

Stacy Blackman Consulting has successfully coached applicants to the Haas MBA program for 15 years. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you set a winning application strategy.

REQUIRED ESSAYS
Essay 1: If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words maximum)

This is a creative and open-ended question that invites you to show your personality as you open this set of essays. Take the opportunity to think about your favorite music and what song most represents you.

Perhaps it’s a song that you grew up listening to with your family, that reminds you where you came from. Maybe it’s a song that helps you feel optimistic about your future. Music often evokes emotion, and the essay should capture that feeling and describe why it is meaningful to you.

Essay 2: Please respond to one of the following prompts: (250 words maximum)

All three of the potential essay prompts for Essay 2 deal with change, growth and transformation. This essay is seeking to understand how you handle challenges to your own status quo, and what you learn as a result. Flexibility, curiosity and the ability to handle change would be positive personal qualities to demonstrate with whatever example you choose.

Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world and how it transformed you.

If you decide to answer this question think about the moments that have truly changed you. One approach is to think through transitions. Perhaps the transition from high school to college showed you a different way of life, or the transition to working from college exposed you to new people and new ideas.

Traveling for the first time outside your home country may have been another transition. If none of those transitions lead to a topic for this essay you can delve into the smaller incidents in your life. A friendship, family experience, or volunteer opportunity could have opened your eyes to something new about yourself and the world.

Once you have selected a topic for this essay you will need to explain how you were transformed. What was your attitude like before the experience and what are you like now? Was the transformation internal or did you change how you approached other people? Ideally you learned something from this transformation and explaining that lesson learned would be a strong finish.

Describe a time when you were challenged by perspectives different from your own and how you responded.

The brainstorming process for this question can be similar to the option above. Consider the transitions in life when you have been in a new environment or culture that didn’t quite fit with your past experiences.

Those could be the moments when you were exposed to new perspectives and were forced to respond. Another possible scenario would be a new person introduced to your school or workplace, one who brought a new perspective or culture.

While it is normal to be taken aback or threatened by new perspectives, ideally you were open minded and tried to understand and learn through this experience. Describe the experience, your initial reaction, and then use a significant portion of the essay to describe what you learned and how you changed as a result.

Describe a difficult decision you have made and why it was challenging.

Difficult decisions are often a moment to reflect again upon your values. What were the stakes of your decision and why did you struggle to make a clear choice? Perhaps you were choosing between priorities in your life, family or work, where to study for university or what career path to pursue. No matter what the decision was it will be important to talk a bit about your process for making it. Why did you choose one option over another and what did you learn about yourself?

Essay 3: Tell us about your career plans. How have your past experiences prepared you to achieve these goals? How will Berkeley-Haas help you? (500 words maximum)

This is a short career goals essay and asks you to describe your path to business school along with your future goals. As you describe your path you don’t need to recite your resume here – rather highlight the key experiences that will be relevant in your future career. Think about the cover letter you would write to explain your background for a desired next job, and tailor your approach accordingly.

Describe your future goals in a succinct manner, considering what aspects of your background to explain in the “path” section that will support your goals development.

Be specific about why the Haas School of Business is the right program to pursue your goals as well. As you consider past experiences and your future goals you will be able to see what you want to gain from the Haas experience to fill any gaps.

If you have an advertising background and want to become a brand manager you’ll likely need classes in operations and finance to understand the analytical side of brand management.

Other goals will require specific skills gained from an MBA and your own unique background will inform how you take advantage of the Haas experience.

Make sure you have determined exactly what courses make sense for your career goals and the programs and clubs that you will participate in to reach your personal and professional goals. Thorough school research will be invaluable in approaching this question.

OPTIONAL ESSAY
Use this essay to share information that is not presented elsewhere in the application, for example:
Explanation of employment gaps or academic aberrations
Quantitative abilities
For re-applicants, improvements to your candidacy

Haas recommends using this space to address any information that was not adequately covered elsewhere, specifically suggesting that any employment gaps or lack of apparent quantitative skills be covered.

A short gap between school and a secured job is not necessary to explain, but an unexplained gap of several months between two jobs should be addressed. If your resume has significant employment gaps you should describe what you did between jobs in this space. Ideally you can point to additional education, training, volunteering or traveling that you engaged in while unemployed.

If you have a strong quantitative background like an engineering or hard sciences degree, or you work in a quantitative field like finance, it is likely unnecessary to further explain your quantitative skills.

Otherwise, you may want to take one or two examples to demonstrate that you have an analytical mind and can take a quantitative approach to problem solving and evaluating data. As the question specifically asks you not to focus on the grades on your transcript, use this space to describe projects at work, additional post-graduate coursework, or your plans to strengthen your quant skills before you enroll at Haas.

Reapplicants can describe hard improvements to your candidacy such as an improved GMAT score, new grades from quantitative classes, or a promotion. Other improvements might include refined career goals and additional leadership responsibilities at work or within a volunteer activity.

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Tuesday Tips: Yale School of Management Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips

Yale School of Management continues to have only one required essay as part of the MBA application, yet has streamlined that question this year and left the answer open ended. Because there is only one essay …

Yale SOM essay tipsYale School of Management continues to have only one required essay as part of the MBA application, yet has streamlined that question this year and left the answer open ended.

Because there is only one essay question to highlight your personal qualities and leadership ability, and no specific career goals essay, make sure your resume and recommendations showcase your key accomplishments.

You may want to highlight specific projects at work that have most excited you and shaped your future goals on your resume and ask your recommenders to comment on those same projects. Strategically designing all of the application components to support your key accomplishments and showcase your best qualities will enhance your candidacy.

Keep in mind the Yale values: “Leaders for business and society think broadly about global trends and challenges, bring a sense of purpose to their work every day, and move forward with analytical rigor.”

Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)

As you approach this essay remember the type of MBA student Yale is most interested in admitting. Ideally you are coming across as an intellectually curious student with a diverse background deeply interested in the integrated curriculum.

Behavioral questions like this one (the tip off is “describe”) seek to understand how you actually operate in various situations. Try to be as specific as possible about how you positively influenced the organization. What did you think or say when you were determining what to do? What did you actually do? How did you feel about the result?

Start by describing each step in detail in terms of what you did, the reaction of others and your own reaction. From there you can cut out anything that is too detailed or too superfluous to the story to maintain the 500 word maximum.

You may decide to focus on a key solo accomplishment at work, and that may be entirely appropriate since most MBA applicants are individual contributors. However, ideally you can demonstrate how you work with others as a leader. Regardless of whether you choose an individual or team accomplishment it should show a significant positive impact on the organization or people within the organization.

Contact us To learn more about designing the best Yale application possible with Stacy Blackman Consulting.

image credit: Yale School of Management

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Tuesday Tips: Dartmouth Tuck Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips

The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth 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 …

Tuck School MBA essay tipsThe Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth 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. This revised set of essays focuses on global approach as a significant value as well.

The Tuck admissions blog offers the following advice: “There are no right or wrong answers. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 to 700 words for Essay #1 and 500 words for Essay #2. Please double-space your responses.”

Stacy Blackman Consulting has worked with many successful Tuck applicants, contact us to learn more about the customized assistance we can provide for your application.

Essay One (Required): Tuck educates wise leaders who better the world of business. What are your short- and long-term goals? How will a Tuck MBA enable you to become a wise leader with global impact?

Tuck has updated the career goals essay to include a question about your global vision and impact on the world of business. Consistent with a standard MBA career goals essay you must also 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.

As you consider how you will make a global impact in your career, you should incorporate “Why Tuck” as a crucial element. Make sure you have researched the school’s programs and determined how your education will help you achieve your goals.

For example, Tuck has multiple global business programs, including a class where you can consult to an international company and short Global Insight Expeditions. By reaching out to current students and alumni you can learn more about the experiences and classes that would inform your development as a global leader.

Essay Two (Required): As a diverse and global community, our students arrive at the same place from many different paths. Tell us about an experience in which you have had to live, learn and/or work with other people very different from yourself. What challenges and/or opportunities did you experience, how did you respond, and what did you learn about yourself as a result?

The new required Essay Two also seeks to understand your global awareness and ability to learn and grow from those with different backgrounds. This essay prompt is open ended and allows you to choose an example from work or from an extracurricular experience. Think broadly about your background and when you have expanded your world by interacting with someone very different.

A compelling narrative will demonstrate learning and growing through interacting with others. Think about a time when you were truly challenged by a person or group of people different from yourself, and how you resolved the experience.

What did you learn about yourself and others? Interacting with your Tuck classmates may challenge you in a similar way, and showing a growth mentality would be attractive to the admissions committee.

This essay is not only an opportunity to discuss your ability to learn from others, you can also show that you are a leader in the Tuck tradition. The Tuck School of Business definition of leadership is inherently collaborative. Team based experiences are preferable, and as you describe working with someone different from yourself you can likely work in a strong leadership example.

Essay Three (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.”

Essay Four (Required from Reapplicants): How have you strengthened your candidacy since you last applied? Please reflect on how you have grown personally and professionally.

If you are re-applying to Tuck this essay is the place for you to showcase any developments since your last application. Ideally you have concrete improvements like a stronger GMAT score, grades from business classes, or a promotion. Even if nothing quantitative has changed in your profile you likely have developed more leadership activities or progressed in your job responsibilities.

If you are struggling to think of any clear improvements you can describe refined goals or deeper thinking about your future that has led you to apply again to Tuck. Demonstrating growth in maturity or introspection can be a huge improvement to your application and absolutely should be highlighted.

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