How to write business school specific MBA essays

One of the most important questions plaguing the minds of MBA applicants in India and abroad is – How do I write business school specific MBA essays? Writing MBA essays is tough. Making them business school specific makes it more difficult. So many scamper to hunt for advice from MBA forums, current students and MBA admission consultants (especially those with alumni from a particular bschool on their teams).

After spending many years in the MBA admissions consulting space, we know that like most other subjective things in life, there is no cookie cutter for this answer. If someone comes to you and tells you that Columbia Business School puts in a lot of focus on value investing, that doesn’t mean that’s the ‘secret’ insight that will make Admission committees scoop you up. The trick of the trade is to understand what Bschool specific insights you are looking for. What makes a business school and its MBA program relevant to you?

Wrong Uniqueness in Business School Essays

It is fallacious to read up the first page of the school, form an opinion and then trying to replicate the same stuff, reworded in your essays. For instance, if the About Us section of say Columbia Business School, under the Students section rattles off statistics about the class diversity – that isn’t really the insight you are looking for. Neither is the knowledge that say, INSEAD is the Mecca of consulting, necessarily relevant for all applicants.

Let me explain this. If you are an IT professional, trying to transition into a sales and business development profile, it is completely immaterial for the adcom to know, that you know, that their Business school is known for its placements in management consultants jobs. Likewise, in our earlier example, if consulting is your calling, knowing that Columbia or Ivey excel at value investing hardly needs a mention and if anyone gave you this insight, you aren’t really at any advantage.

Right Uniqueness for Business School Essays

The business school specific insight is also applicant specific. That means, each applicant has to find out what at a particular B-school is relevant and how that ties in to what he/she has done or wants to do. This part can be and should be done by the candidate himself/herself, if needed under the guidance of an expert hand.

If you expect a current student, alumnus or MBA consultant to readily dole out this information to you, you are doing yourself a disfavor.

The MBA application process in its current form is designed to be a journey in self-discovery. In simple terms, this means the Admissions committee at most schools wants you to do the research and be convinced about whether a particular school is right for you or not. This could mean reaching out to current students, reading blogs from admissions committee officers, attending information sessions at MBA fairs, webinars etc etc.

Where an MBA admissions consulting team can help you is by pointing you to the right sources of this information, rather than providing you the answer.

Should you re-use business school essays?

A linked, deeper predicament to the above dilemma is when many candidates are applying to multiple MBA schools. Many spend nervous hours on deciding whether to re-use material from one school application to another. Many scoff at the mere idea of re-using stories going back to the argument that every school is unique and hence how can the essays be unique.

By now I think you would have surmised where I am going from here. The answer to this conundrum, like many real life problems is, it depends. It depends on what you are thinking of re-using. If it’s about your goals, and you are thinking of changing your goals to a schools purported uniqueness, please stop. If going to a school means you will end up changing or compromising your aspirations, then you are better off changing the school to apply to – there isn’t a dearth of them. So for your goals, by all means, go ahead and re-use your story across applications.

Keep in mind the line between copying / pasting and re-using. Don’t blindly lift content from other bschool applications. Adapt it for each bschool depending on nuances like word-count (read how to write MBA essays within the word-limit) and the way the MBA essay questions are worded.

Where you do need to abstain from re-using content is the how part of it. How you came to the decision of applying to this school, or how does a particular school fit into your game plan is something that has to be unique – both for a school as well as between different candidates; career paths, like your fingerprints, tend to be unique and it is rare to find exactly similar ones between two individuals.

On other MBA essay questions, the answer really depends. But prudence dictates that you should perfect one application first, and then try to re-use material from that application to the maximum extent possible. This presents a consistent view of your profile and also helps make the process efficient.

By all means, get inputs from MBA students, alumni and MBA admissions counsellors; but always use your judgment to take the final call. More often than not, you will do the right thing. Even if you falter, you would have learnt a useful lesson.


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// MG (Manish Gupta)
MG (Manish Gupta)
As a principal MBA admissions consultant & career counsellor with MBA Crystal Ball, MG has helped many get into the top B-schools from ISB to Wharton. He is an IIT topper, an ISB alumnus (Dean's list honors) and a former McKinsey strategy consultant. Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

9 Comments

  1. Srini says:

    Excellent content as always MG! It’s been a pleasure working with you guys. Cheers!

  2. Megha says:

    Hi,
    Can I use example of discrimination in diverse background essay? The discrimination didn’t last long and was resolved by me. Is it ok to showcase such a case?
    Thanks.

  3. Ved says:

    Hi ,

    My profile:
    10th- 92.4%
    12th-88.6%
    Grad CGPA-9.04/10

    I have 2 years of work experience in a leading Automotive Firm. Currently working in an Education based startup as a Content Developer ( I wanted to change my profile).

    Planning to write GMAT this June. Also taking CFA (Level-1) in Dec.

    My extra curriculars are pretty shady after school.

    What should be the GMAT score i should target to get into ISB?
    What area i should target to develop my profile further to enhance my chances to get into ISB?
    What other schools i can apply to?

    Thanks

  4. Sakthivel says:

    Hi,
    I need some clarifications that i am working in a software company for 1.6 years and I have completed my ECE in 2014, earlier I have an idea of getting into core industry but I dint get the opportuinity so I was into IT. But I wish to do MS in VLSI from the top universities. I am financially down to take up such course in top universities, whether i can get fund and what will be the GRE score to attain this. And also I am changing my domain from IT to Core whether the IT experience will be helpful in searching jobs. I am looking for your assistance.

    Thanks in Advance…..

    • Sakthivel, from a GRE perspective, first decide your target school/program. Then look at score well above that program’s average GRE. Scholarships in MS are not rare – however you need to present a compelling proposition for it. You may get some mileage of your experience but unlikely to get a lot.

  5. Ravi Kumar says:

    Hello MG/ SK,

    I have summarized my profile below, please provide your guidance whether I have a good chance of making it to ISB/ IIMA’s PGPX/ IIMB’s EPGP:

    Class X – 70%, Class XII – 59%, UG – 59%, Prof qualification – Btech Mechanical , GMAT (640 -2016)

    I have over 8Yrs (as of september 2015) of experience as a Senior Design Engineer in Metso ,past companies- Escorts Ltd , Sona koyo Steerings systems Ltd.. All are TIER 1 and OEM’s .

    My aim for pursuing an MBA is to work in Sales/Marketing.I already worked in product design but Now i want to get in Management Roles.
    please guide any Good Colleges

    Regards
    Ravi

    • Ravi, while your profile looks interesting, the GMAT can be a HUGE handicap – you are significantly below the average score for these programs when ideally you should aim for something above. That doesn’t automatically mean you can’t make it, but it gets all the more tougher. If you think your profile has things that differentiate you from most of your peers, then maybe you can have a shot.

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