3 Unconventional Steps to Writing Great MBA Essays

great MBA essays

The essay component is arguably the most crucial piece of your business school application. When done right, a compelling story can help counterbalance weaker aspects of your candidacy. Unfortunately, the AdCom member reading your materials has only about 15-20 minutes to form an impression of your candidacy. Great MBA essays can move the needle in your favor.

Ultimately, you don’t want them to merely like your application when they finish reading it. “What you really want to be is the applicant they’re thinking about as they drive home that night, as they’re chatting with their spouse over spaghetti that evening,” explains SBC consultant and B-Schooled host Chandler Arnold.

B-Schooled Podcast Episode #118: Tackling Your Main MBA Essay

Before you start working on your MBA applications in earnest:

  • Think through and articulate your career objectives.
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ensure you have researched the business schools that best fit you as much as possible.

Through our work with applicants, we’ve learned that it’s best to begin brainstorming by sifting through various life experiences to identify 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 great MBA essays.

Want some help drafting a killer MBA essay? We’ve got you! Request a free MBA advising session to learn how we can help with your complete MBA applications.

Ask people around you for their insights

Sometimes, it’s hard to see what makes us unique, so ask a coworker, mentor, or friend for inspiration. Different people may notice different aspects of your character, skills, or experiences. Collecting feedback from a variety of sources can provide a more comprehensive understanding of what sets you apart.

 A refreshing conversation with a good friend can 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, career, or 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?

Hearing others’ perspectives on what makes you unique can validate or challenge your own self-perception. This process can help you refine and articulate your understanding of your strengths and distinctive qualities.

Record your first thoughts

What do you wake up thinking about in the middle of the night? Looking back at your life, what will you admire and regret about your choices? These are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself as you approach a variety of common MBA essay topics.

great MBA essays

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. Writing can reveal genuine emotions and perspectives. It allows you to explore your thoughts in a more intimate and unfiltered way, fostering authenticity in your essays.

Brainstorming at a different time of day or in a new environment can help break mental blocks. A change in surroundings can stimulate new ideas and perspectives that may not have surfaced during your usual routine.

Here’s another unconventional strategy: 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 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, skip the nightly Netflix binge, and end the day with an intriguing novel instead. See whether these simple changes boost your essay ideas.

Keep a journal

In the weeks before 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.

Engaging your auditory senses can also stimulate creativity. You can conveniently dictate your thoughts into your phone while you are out and about. Listening to your recordings later on can trigger additional insights or perspectives you may not have considered at the moment.

Often, a 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 consider the choices that have led you to your current career path.

Focus on the inflection points that have inspired you—whether college coursework, 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.

Haas MBA essays

Berkeley Haas Tips for Great MBA Essays

This year, one of the Berkeley Haas MBA essays asks applicants to describe, “What makes you feel alive while doing it, and why?” We think this question is a useful launchpad for the myriad MBA essay questions you’ll encounter. Here is their advice for brainstorming possible answers.

Choose one of the below prompts that resonates with you, set your timer for two minutes, and strive to write down at least 10 responses to each. Work quickly, focusing on quantity over quality.

  1. If you only had 2 free hours a week to spend doing something for you, how would you spend it?
  2. Reflect on times when your schedule has been so busy that you felt you didn’t have time for anything else. What activities or pastimes were you not willing to compromise?
  3. What if the word “alive” was replaced by: “fulfilled,” “inspired,” “invigorated,” “connected,” “safe,” “challenged,” “balanced,” or “happy”? Then how would you respond?

Look at your list. It may be a collection of single words or actions, such as: trail running after work, hiking by the ocean, baking my grandma’s famous cherry pie, meditating every morning, skiing with my family, volunteering at my church, singing in the car, dancing in front of the mirror, building sandcastles or reading to my children. This is a great start, but let’s go further.

Choose your favorite five responses. One at a time, go through the responses and recall a specific time when you engaged in this activity (the operative word being specific). As you reflect, strive to suspend your attention and really focus on experiencing that moment again.

Take down notes on the following:

  1. What prompted you to do this activity? Was the decision active or reactive?
  2. How were your senses engaged – what did you see, hear, smell, and feel?
  3. What feelings are you experiencing – excitement, calm, relief, connection, challenge, love, etc.
  4. If you were to draw a picture of this scene, what details would you make sure to include in the image?

You should now have several possible ideas for your alive essay.

Great MBA Essays Don’t Happen Overnight

Once you’ve tried one or more of these unconventional but effective exercises, you should start to develop a few intriguing ideas for brainstorming essays. Afterward, most of the writing process should seem more manageable.

Remember to plan ahead and leave plenty of time for rewriting—truly great MBA essays aren’t crafted overnight. Author Stephen King once said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” The hardest part is starting. And after that, everything gets easier. Best of luck on your MBA adventures; we can’t wait to read what you create.


Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership and Interview Prep to hourly help with essay editing, resume review, and much more! Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Wharton and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.


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