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Everything You Need to Know about MBA Admissions Essays

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The MBA application process can be daunting, but don’t worry—we’re here to help! Read on to find out everything you need to know about your MBA Admissions Essays. 

What is the purpose of the MBA essay?

Just like for your undergrad applications, your MBA essays are there to help admissions get to know you as a person beyond the facts and figures of your transcripts, test scores, and resume. Each school asks slightly different questions to help determine how you will fit into their unique culture and benefit from their specific program and its offerings. The essays are an opportunity to share your personality, your background, your future goals, and your enthusiasm for a specific program. Whereas your resume is a more formal document, your essays should be more personal, written in your own unique voice. 

How many MBA essays will I need to write?

Most schools require 1-4 written essays and some of them are also beginning to require 1-2 video essays. The most important thing to do as you collect application information is to read the prompts closely and carefully to make sure that you’re answering the questions completely and accurately. 

What are the most common MBA essay questions?

There are 6 common essay questions, and many schools’ prompts will be a combination of these types. Let’s dive in!

1. The Goals Essay

Perhaps the most common essay for an MBA application, the Goals Essay asks you to explain what you hope to do after you receive your degree. Typically, these essays ask both about your short-term and long-term goals and range from 100-500 words. The key here is to be specific: rather than write that you want to be a CEO by the time you’re 30, reflect on your past educational and work experiences to identify attainable goals that gel with your background and interests. Maybe, when you were an accountant, your firm hired a management consultant who opened your eyes to the field, so you hope to get a job consulting after you graduate and eventually open your own firm. Admissions is trying to build a cohort with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and interests, so don’t be shy here—rather than writing what you think they want to hear, be honest about what you hope to accomplish. 

See Columbia’s 2023-24 Essay 1 Prompt as an example:

Through your resume and recommendation, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next three to five years and what is your long-term dream job? (500 words)

2. The Why Essay

Anyone can apply for an MBA at any time, so explain to the Admission Committee why you want to pursue an MBA right now. What circumstances, experiences, ambitions, or skill gaps led you to this decision? How will the MBA coursework and experiences set you on the right path? This essay has two main components: your personal reasons for applying and the specific school offerings. After explaining what led you to this decision, describe what aspects of the school’s program attract you. Perhaps you work for your family restaurant and have realized that further education in finance, marketing, and business planning will help you take the business to the next level. Make sure you cite specific courses, internships, extracurriculars, or other offerings that draw you to each school. 

It’s also worth noting that the Goals Essay and Why Essay are often combined. 

William & Mary’s 2023-24 Essay Prompt 1 is a great example:

Why is an MBA the next logical step towards achieving your short-term and long-term professional goals? Why is the William & Mary MBA the right program for you? (approx. 800 words)

3. The Personal Statement (a.k.a. Personal Story)

The Personal Statement focuses on who you are as a person, your background, and what brought you to this application. These essays can vary wildly in length, ranging anywhere from 250-1200 words. This essay should be vulnerable, personal, and unique to you and your own life experiences. What are your interests? What personal, academic, or professional challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? What inspired you to pursue your MBA? How did you decide to apply to this particular program? Admissions should walk away from your essay feeling like they have a sense of who you are as a person and what has shaped you: your family, your background, your interests, and your personal journey. Crucially, be sure to include a pivot from your background and story to the reasons you are applying for an MBA at this time. Show how your journey has naturally culminated in this decision. The most compelling personal statements weave your challenges and accomplishments into a unique narrative, charting your personal growth. 

See Stanford’s 2023-24 Essay A Prompt as an example:

For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?

4. The Contribution Essay

Often combined with questions about your background, the Contribution Essay is a chance to dig into your research and get specific about how you expect to fit into the school community. This is a great place to highlight your professional skills, personal interests, unique background, or leadership capabilities while demonstrating your eagerness to join each particular school culture. Spend some time on each school’s website to get a feel for what they have to offer and what you can bring to their community. Maybe you plan to leverage your experience on Wall Street and your advocacy background to start a Women Investors Club. Perhaps you’ll use your events management experience to help organize the Private Equity Club’s speaker series. Show admissions that you have not only something to gain from their program, but something to add, too. 

See Johnson’s 2023-24 Impact Essay Prompt:

At Cornell, our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. Taking into consideration your background, how do you intend to make a meaningful impact on an elite MBA community? (350 words)

5. The Leadership Essay

The Leadership Essay asks you to tell a story illustrating your leadership experience. Some of these essays ask you to refer to the university’s principles of leadership, while others ask you about the skills you used to solve a problem. Think about all the ways in which you’ve been a leader, whether that’s as a parent, a student council officer, a department manager, or a pick-up kickball league captain. What challenges did you face? How did you resolve issues? Did you discover that certain techniques were more successful than others? While you, of course, want to highlight your accomplishments, you also want to show that you still have something to learn about leadership in the MBA program. 

See Northwestern’s 2023-24 Question 1 Prompt:

Kellogg Leaders are primed to tackle today’s pressing concerns everywhere, from the boardroom to their neighborhoods. Tell us about a time in your life where you’ve needed a combination of skills to solve a problem or overcome a challenge. Which skills did you use? What did you accomplish?

6. The Diversity and Inclusion Essay

Finally, the Diversity & Inclusion Essay asks you to describe your dedication to DEI through actual personal experiences you’ve had working to champion these goals. Rather than focus on your personal background, you should discuss how you have demonstrated a commitment to these values through your actions and experiences with others. Perhaps you started an employee mentorship program at your job to connect colleagues of color across generational divides. Maybe you spend your Saturdays mentoring a teenager from an underserved community through Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s okay if your experience with these values isn’t as clear-cut as these examples; just be sure to thoughtfully demonstrate your relationship to these values through anecdotes from your life. 

See Berkeley Haas’s 2023-24 Essay 3 Prompt:

One of our goals at Berkeley Haas is to develop leaders who value diversity and to create an inclusive environment in which people from different ethnicities, genders, lived experiences, and national origins feel welcomed and supported.

Describe any experience or exposure you have in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging whether through community organizations, personal, or in the workplace?

7. BONUS: Video Essay!

Surprise, there’s one more type of essay: the Video Essay. Many schools are now requiring students to record videos of themselves answering prompts ranging from personal stories to leadership questions. These videos are usually limited to one or two minutes in length and must be recorded in one take with no additional editing or special effects. The video gives you a chance to showcase your personality and communication skills while answering application questions. The key here is to be authentic. Write down some bullet points to help keep yourself focused as you talk, but don’t read a word-for-word script; stay honest and true to your own voice so admissions can get a sense of your unique presence! 

See MIT Sloan’s Video Statement Instructions:

Introduce yourself to your future classmates. Here’s your chance to put a face with a name, let your personality shine through, be conversation, be yourself. We can’t wait to meet you!

Videos should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • No more than 1 minute (60 seconds) in length
  • Single take (no editing)
  • Speaking directly to the camera
  • Do not include background music or subtitles

How do I write my essays?

Step 1: Understand the Prompt

The most basic—and most important—thing to remember when you sit down to work on your essays is to read and understand the prompt! Many schools will ask similar, but subtly different, questions. The only thing worse for admissions than an essay that’s too long is an essay that doesn’t answer the question. Look for keywords like “background,” “professional goals,” and “community” and question words like “how” and “why.” If you’re having trouble identifying which type of essay you need to write, ask a friend, family member, or (totally random suggestion) your College Essay Advisor for help! 

Step 2: Brainstorming

Once you’re sure you know what the prompt is asking, it’s time to brainstorm. Let your mind run wild and jot down every thought that comes into your mind. Let the question marinate over several days, adding ideas as they occur to you in your day-to-day life. Once you’ve finished, take a look at what you came up with and select the ideas that speak to both your heart and your mind: you want to write about themes that you find meaningful and that constitute a compelling narrative. 

Step 3: Drafting

Next comes the fun part: drafting! We recommend a method called freewriting, wherein you just let the words flow out of you without editing, judging, or backtracking. Remember, it’s important that your admissions essays are written in your unique voice, so get that stream of consciousness onto the page without regard to grammar, word count, or structure! It’s always easier to trim than it is to add content, so at this stage, every idea, phrase, and tangent is fair game.

Step 4: Editing

Now comes the real work: editing your freewrites into a concise, persuasive, well-structured essay. Start this process by reviewing the prompt. Then, review your freewrites and assemble them into a loose narrative, adding structure and transitions to make it cohesive. Next, read through your essay to make sure it accurately responds to the prompt while fully explaining your perspective. This is the time to sprinkle in your school research, making sure you’ve fully explained why you would be a good fit for each school’s unique program. This is also the time to ask for outside feedback. One good trick is to show someone your essay and see if they can guess the prompt based on what you wrote; if they can’t, you haven’t answered it clearly enough! 

Step 5: Proofreading

You’ve researched, you’ve brainstormed, you’ve drafted, and you’ve edited—so you’re done, right? Not quite! The last step is proofreading your essay to make sure there are no spelling, grammar, or fact-checking errors. Walk away from your essay for a couple of days so you can come back and read it with fresh eyes and ask an eagle-eyed friend, family member, or Advisor to review it, too. Double-check all the professors’ names, course names, or other program offerings to make sure you got everything just right. Nothing is more embarrassing than turning in an essay with the university’s name misspelled!

When should I start writing my essays?

It’s never too early to start writing your essays once the school has released the requirements! As soon as that information is made available, get cracking with brainstorming. Without the pressure of a deadline, you’ll have plenty of time to thoughtfully consider your essays and craft the most compelling, cohesive narratives. And if your application is due in two weeks, you now have the tools to approach your essays systematically and comprehensively! 

MBA essays aren’t so scary anymore, are they? All you have to do is use the same skills you’ll use in business school: reading comprehension, critical thinking, research, analysis, and communication. And as always, your friendly neighborhood College Essay Advisors are here to help!
Our Advisors can guide you through every step of the writing process.
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