There is no secret formula to writing a compelling personal statement for an MBA application, university admissions officials say.
The key, they say, is to write a statement that feels authentic and makes your case.
Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean for admissions at the Yale University School of Management, is wary of personal statements that tell dramatic stories and stretch the truth. He says he is not looking for students to have exotic experiences, but for evidence of resilience, introspection and initiative.
Yale’s business school recruits students identified as unselfish leaders – those who strive to improve the circumstances of others and help themselves rather than those who exploit others for personal gain, DelMonico says.
“We are looking to bring in students who will be inclusive leaders and who will bring people together,” DelMonico says.
William Rieth, former senior director with the Fox School of Business at Temple University, says applicants sometimes struggle to write a memorable personal statement, but being memorable is vital.
“Students need to remember their audience,” he says. “Schools are reading thousands of essays.”
How to Write an MBA Application Essay: A Few Tips
MBA admissions experts say a business school application essay should offer a convincing argument about why a candidate belongs in an MBA program at that particular school.
Wayne Hutchison, managing director for the MBA program at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business, urges prospective MBA students to explain their reasons for applying to B-school and to describe whatever incidents spurred their interest in graduate business education.
Aaron Burch, who earned his MBA degree from the University of Texas—Austin’s McCombs School of Business, says MBA essays should address the following questions:
- “What do you want to accomplish career-wise that either requires an MBA or will be accelerated by an MBA?”
- “Why is this the exact point in your career where an MBA would be most impactful?”
- “What about this particular school is especially important for your career plans?”
- “How will you contribute?”
Burch, owner of DiscoverContainers.com – a website that provides information about shipping container houses – suggests that MBA students convey that they are at a point in their careers where they can “pivot without being pigeonholed” while having meaningful accomplishments, including “real responsibility.”
It’s also essential for MBA candidates to showcase what they have to offer a B-school, Burch wrote in an email. “You want to demonstrate that you’re not just a taker and you want to add to the prestige and reputation of the school, add to the experience your future classmates will have, etc.”
MBA alumni say it’s crucial for prospective MBA students to describe how they intend to use an MBA.
“Admissions officers will want to understand your vision behind why an MBA might help you, so it’s incumbent upon you to articulate the plan you have for yourself, and how their institution is going to help your journey,” MBA degree recipient Taylor Constantine – the partner channel lead with Rain, a financial services company – wrote in an email.
“As applicants begin to write their MBA applicant essays, it’s important for prospective students to share who they are as an individual,” Bell wrote in an email. “The essay allows MBA admission officers to get a better understanding of who you are, what you wish to accomplish and why you deserve to be accepted.”
What to Keep in Mind About MBA Essay Prompts
MBA admissions consultants note that business schools often have distinctive essay prompts, so it’s important for applicants to tailor their essay to every school where they apply.
“Each school asks a specific question in the essay, and one of the most important things you can do as an applicant is to answer that question – not the question you wished we asked or the one you want to answer,” DelMonico wrote in an email. “The various elements of the application fit together, and we’re looking to get very specific pieces of information from the essay. So please follow the essay instructions you’re given and don’t feel as though you need to or should make the essay broader in scope.”
Barbara Coward, founder of the MBA 360° Admissions Consulting firm based in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, notes that the first step in the essay writing process should be meticulously reading the question prompt. Think about the question for a few days while going about routine tasks so that ideas can “marinate.”
Coward says that once prospective students have decided what they’d like to write about, they should let the words flow without filtering them because too much self-editing at the beginning of the creative process can interfere with productivity. Revisions and tweaks can come after an applicant has fully expressed his or her ideas.
Mistakes to Avoid in MBA Admission Essays
Taking too long to express the main idea or central thesis of an essay is a no-no, Coward says. Applicants should directly respond to a question and ensure that their essay is easily understood by an admissions officer. “Keep in mind that somebody is not reading a novel,” she says. “They’re going to be glancing through.”
Excessively verbose essays don’t make a good impression, Coward adds. Applicants should respect word limits and be concise, because doing otherwise creates extra work for admissions officers under time pressure, she explains.
Examples of Outstanding MBA Essays
Here are two MBA essays that made the cut. The first is from the Fox School of Business and the second is from Yale. These essays are annotated with comments that explain why the essays charmed admissions committees.