How to write MBA essays

Business school essays for MBA and MiM degrees can be looked upon as a variation of the elevator pitch. You’re sharing your credentials (within word limits) with someone whose decision may be a turning point in your life. You have to give it your best shot in order to grab their attention and create an impact.

Those in the admissions committee have a whole lot of applications to review; how is your application unique and what differentiates you from your competition?

Admissions committee officers are on the lookout for the best possible candidate profiles. They want to see how you can add value not only to yourself but to their MBA class as well. Your essays can play a vital role in communicating to the admissions committee why they should consider you over thousands of other applicants.

In this article, we’d provide a few MBA essay tips and key areas to focus on in order to come up with well-crafted essays. These tips are equally relevant for other related courses such as the MiM degree.
 

How to write MBA essays

Here are the 5 steps to write good MBA essays:

  1. Start early and familiarize yourself with the basics of essay writing
  2. Understand the essay prompts
  3. Evaluate and demonstrate your fit with the program
  4. Respect the word count
  5. Get your essays reviewed and edited

Let’s delve deeper into each of these steps.
 

1. Start early and familiarize yourself with the basics of essay writing

MBA essay writing should be a gradual and progressive process. It helps if you’re able to give yourself sufficient time to refine and fine-tune your essays. So it’s always a good idea to begin early.

Give yourself enough time for introspection. Jot down your ideas as and when they come up. Being in the right frame of mind and choosing a time when creativity, focus and concentration is at its peak would help you generate the maximum output. Brainstorming on specific areas of your profile can help you bring out facts you hadn’t thought of before.

Avoid flowery language that doesn’t develop the narrative. Avoid industry and technical jargon.

Once you’ve got your basic ideas on paper, it’s time to give it some structure. Prepare an outline.

Next, comes organising and managing the flow. Be genuine. Your story should be based on facts (that you can hopefully support with evidence, if needed). Doing this will put you in a comfortable position during interviews.

Let your story reflect your enthusiasm, excitement and passion for being part of the program. Make sure that your essays are in sync with your resume and recommendations, and also not merely a repetition. Your essays should be able to join the dots and complete the picture.

Do not simply use the same essays for multiple schools. Customize them for each application. Find out how to write business school specific MBA essays.

Avoid copying from the sample essays available online, no matter how impressive they may sound. Read this article why sample MBA essays won’t work for you.
 

 
ESMT MBA Essay TipsStephanie Kluth, Head of Admissions, ESMT has the following insights to share with MBA Crystal Ball readers.
 

Common mistakes in the MBA essays

The essay introduces applicants as an individual and shows how the applicant is unique when compared to others with similar test scores and professional experience.

We feel that not all applicants take advantage of that chance. Many seem to forget that essays are a unique opportunity to reflect one’s personality and life experiences. Essays should sound like the applicant and should be written by the applicant. Admissions managers are not looking for a specific answer to any of the questions. There is no right or wrong.

Many applicants use tiresome industry jargon, technical terms, financial lingo or management speak. Avoid this. Keep it simple and to the point. Stress what makes you unique.

Quite a few applicants submit an application full of typos and grammatical errors.
 

Dealing with plagiarism

It’s not really a big problem. However, if essays or parts of it look “copied”, we make use of plagiarism detection software to uncover potential plagiarism.
 

Essay writing tips

You need to take some time to think about some fundamental questions. What are your professional strengths and weaknesses? (Not: what would you like them to be?) What would you like to achieve by doing an MBA? Where do you see yourself heading after graduation? Having clear plans will help you put together a compelling picture of where you have come from, where you are heading, and why an MBA is critical for getting you there.

Take time to prepare your essays. Perhaps you can meet with a good friend to brainstorm and discuss why you are applying to a particular school and what your answers to the essay questions will be.
 

What we look for in essays

Authenticity is key and if an applicant is able to stress what makes them unique. We also evaluate it positively if a candidate communicates specific reasons why he/she is a “fit” for the school.
 

Red flags

  • Plagiarism – essay is entirely cut and pasted.
  • Many typos and grammatical errors.
  • Applicant forgot to change the school name when using the same essay for several applications.

 

2. Understand the essay prompts

Business school application essays may require just one long essay or multiple shorter ones. Each school will have its own set of essays, so read thoroughly to understand the essay prompt. Let each essay be unique and crisp. Provide sufficient insights to address the primary essay question.

Instead of just listing down your merits, be more descriptive and get into the specifics. Try to dig deeper to find out various occasions or difficult situations when you’ve displayed unusual traits, demonstrated motivational or leadership qualities.

Highlight your extracurricular involvement, whether it involved volunteering for a non-profit organization or pursuing any hobby or sports or any opportunity where you played a leadership role or took charge of organizing any event.

Read the common essay questions asked by your target MBA programs. You’ll find a lot of similarity across bschools.

MBA essay topics / questions: Here are some examples of essay prompts commonly asked – the ‘why MBA now’ question, ‘why this school’, long-term and short-term career goals, career failure essay.  It may also include an optional essay question. The optional essay should be made use of only if needed to explain career gaps, breaks in education, low GPA or any other aspect that deserves some clarity to the adcom to avoid being wrongly interpreted. Read this article to know when to use optional essays in college applications.

A few schools like Vanderbilt Owen have a compulsory video essay while in some schools, the video essay may be optional. Get tips on how to tackle the video essay question.
 

3. Evaluate and demonstrate your fit with the program

What does ‘Being the right fit for an MBA program’ imply?

After shelling out $1,50,000 to $2,00,000 on the program, if your MBA experience was all about being a cultural misfit or realising that the college was probably not the right one to help you attain your post-MBA goals, the whole exercise would prove to be a colossal waste of time, money and energy.

That’s why it’s imperative that you do all the research that’s needed beforehand. Read what people have to say about the school, get in touch with school alumni to know what the school has to offer. Read more on how to know if you ‘Fit’ an MBA program and Business School.

As an example, Harvard Business School mentions on its official page that they look out for the following characteristics in a strong candidate – habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, engaged community citizenship. If you are planning to apply to Harvard, it’s necessary to highlight various instances and life experiences where you’ve exhibited these traits.

It works both ways. While you’re convinced that the college is the perfect one for you, your essays should reflect that you’re the ideal candidate they’re looking for.

The ‘right fit’ school would be different for each individual based on various parameters including the academic profile, career profile, GMAT score or the extracurricular involvement. Not everyone can make it to Harvard or Stanford! Be practical and apply to the best possible schools you find a good fit and where you have a good chance of getting in!

If you need help in short listing the business schools and having a review of your application strategy, our MBA MAP process can help you gain clarity before you apply.
 

 
McCombs Texas MBA essay tips We asked Stephen Sweeney – Director, Full-Time MBA Recruiting and Admissions, McCombs School of Business – to share some tips on writing MBA essays.
 

Common mistakes in the MBA essays

The most common mistake we come across when evaluating our essay prompts is the applicant not actually answering the prompt. Some applicants may respond with what they think we want to hear, but miss the mark. Others may try to re-use part of a response from another school’s essay question to answer ours. We are looking for applicants to clearly, concisely, and articulately answer the question our prompt asks.
 

Dealing with plagiarism

Typically, plagiarism is not an issue. Our essay prompts are very personal in nature and we want to get to know the applicant as best as possible. We are also looking for clear, straight-forward business language, rather than verbose language.
 

Essay writing tips

Outline the essay and the topics you want to write about. I would do a great deal of reflection before writing the actual essay. We have word limits so fitting everything that you want to write is a challenge. The more you reflect and plan, the better the end essay will turn out.
 

What we look for in essays

The overall application along with essays are reviewed multiple times by multiple people on the Admissions Committee. We are looking at whether the applicant has truly answered the prompt. We are also evaluating the level of research a particular applicant has conducted on our program and whether or not they understand how they are going to optimize their time in our program. For everyone, but especially international applicants, we are also evaluating English writing skills as well.

 

4. Respect the word count

How seriously should you consider the essay word count?

Well, do not take it lightly. When you’re given a word limit for an essay, you’re expected to respect it – a slight variation may be acceptable, however try to adhere to it as far as possible. Some colleges may mention that a ±5-10% deviation is acceptable. However we’d still suggest, do not overshoot it. And on the other hand, don’t under-utilize it either. The reviewer may feel you don’t have much to talk about.

Avoid repeating facts that you’ve already presented in your resume or recommendations. Let your essays be as concise as possible. Editing for grammar and eliminating redundant usage can help shorten the length of the essay.

Read:
How important the word count is for MBA essays
How to write MBA essays within the word limit
 

5. Get your essays reviewed and edited

After you’ve read your own essays a hundred times, it’s not unusual to develop blind spots. Having a second pair of eyes review your work will help you gain fresh perspectives as well as identify gaps or missing elements in your story.

Put your best foot forward and hope for the best!

Also read:
Top MBA application tips
Dealing with silly mistakes after submitting your MBA application

If process seems to be getting too complex to manage, and you’re looking for some help, refer to these pages for our:
MBA essay editing services
MiM essay review services


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Swati //
Swati
After working for over a decade in technical and managerial roles in the corporate world, Swati now works as a freelancer and writes on a variety of topics including education, career guidance and self-improvement.
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7 Comments

  1. Nikhil says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I am completed BE in Computer Engineering. I have 4.2 years of experience in IT application support profile(Mostly in Financial Domain and Investment Banking). MIS is the field my interest lie in. Could you please let know the colleges and the GRE/TOEFL score I should be aiming for. Also could you please let know the average total expenditure(Tuition fees, Boarding etc) that would be incurred. Also additionally any certifications I need to complete to get some brownie points while applying.
    Academics :
    10th – 85%
    12th – 77%
    BE – 64%

  2. Praneen says:

    Hi
    I am applying for the MS in informatics program and have been asked the question.. how do you relate the experience to goals that I have for the program … cam u please let me know..

  3. Khushi says:

    Does our UG college standing not affect the application process? What i’m trying to ask is what is the list of good UG colleges Harvard will accept?

  4. Mrinal Mishra says:

    Please send me details regarding scholarships. I am open to all the top universities over the world.

  5. Dilemma1 says:

    I am currently pursuing IV B.TECH , I’m thinking to do job for 2 years after my graduation then do PGDM in SPJMR university , what do you suggest

  6. Hemang says:

    I am an IT professional with more than 22 IT Infrastructure Management experience (with 10 years international exp) and still continuing. I have done BE (Electrical), MS, EMBA (all from India) and many IT Management certifications. Now I want to migrate to Canada (not applied for PR) for my son’s studies.

    However my question is I also want to go as a student for an MBA or EMBA program which can give me 100% placement. Please advise if know any such program which can give me an opportunity to reestablish my career in Canada.

  7. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Nikhil: This should get you started:
    https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2016/05/23/mis-usa-top-ranking-universities-average-gre/
    https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2015/08/10/ms-in-usa-cost/

    @Praneen: MS programs SoPs and essays work a little differently compared to MBA programs. Since the focus of MS programs is more on the technical side, it would help if you can show that you’ve already got the basics sorted out – academically and professionally. There may be some gaps that are preventing you from getting to the goals, right? List them out objectively and think of how the MS program you’re targetting will help. Then it’s a matter of putting the pen to the paper.

    @Khushi: Yes, your undergrad college matters. If it’s a highly selective and respected name (like IIT), then Adcoms know that you’ve already crossed a very tough entry barrier. If you don’t have a top notch college on the resume, in your essays, you can talk about the other things that matter to Adcoms. Read this for more ideas: https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2015/11/23/what-admission-officers-in-business-schools-want/

    @Mrinal: Your wish is our command. Read this: https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2013/02/02/gmat-scholarships/

    @Dilemma1: Always a good idea to get some work experience before going for an MBA. If you are ready to wait for 2 years, why not wait for a year or two more and apply to international programs?

    @Hemang: None of the good colleges will guarantee you a job. However, the work permit policy in Canada is very international student friendly. Here are some good MBA programs: https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2015/09/01/best-mba-in-canada-international-students/

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