In a relatively old survey, admission officers from several business schools shared their views on the relative importance of each component in a typical MBA application. Here’s how the cookie crumbles.
Source: Poets and Quants
Here’s the disclaimer. It’s great to have a numerical breakdown such as this, but it’s also important to know that this is based purely on perceptions.
While it may provide an indicative overview, it is not an accurate depiction of how admissions work. There’s a whole lot of subjectivity involved in the decision making process than this table might reveal.
Adcoms participating in the survey consider MBA essays the second most important component (after the GMAT score) in an MBA application. That says a lot.
Though its weight (15%) may not appear as significant as the GMAT score (weighing at 22%), keep in mind that MBA applications are assessed holistically – which means that the decision making happens after all the components have been considered – and not on a piecemeal basis.
Certain components like standardized test scores (GMAT / GRE) and GPA are the hygiene factors. They may save you from getting rejected outright. But on their own, they don’t have the power to guarantee an admit.
That’s where your high-quality essays come into the picture, to nudge your application closer to the finishing line.
Why MBA essays are important
Business school adcoms are keen on exploring what the applicant brings to the table. And they have a range of tools to do that – ranging from the college grades to the final interview.
Your MBA essays are the only component within the MBA application that allow the adcoms to gain a more intimate understanding of who you are, before they invite you for a 1-on-1 interview.
They use essays to gain insights into your personality, interests, skill-sets, extracurricular involvement, leadership qualities, career goals, various achievements both academically and professionally.
The MBA essays form the crux of your application, offering you a canvas to paint your story in vivid colours.
A good storyline is the essence of your essays. With the right content and packaging you can use your essays to bring your story to life.
Compare this to a movie. Every high-budget movie does not become a hit even if the cast is top-notch.
On the other hand, even a low-budget movie with an interesting story and a good director can appeal to the audience and become a huge success.
This art of good story-telling can go long way in making a connection with the audience/reader.
MBA applications are as much about emotions as they are about hard numbers, scores and grades.
When you’re competing with the best applicants in the world, you can tilt the scales in your favour, through well-written essays that go beyond the basic facts and figures.
What makes MBA essays more important than other parts of the application?
It wouldn’t be fair to write off any application component, with the sole purpose of making the essays look superior. Each one of them is there for a reason.
But each one also comes with its fair share of shortcomings. Let’s take a quick look at what those might be.
It is quite common to have several applicants, especially from engineering backgrounds, applying with a high GMAT score, so there is intense competition.
Even those applying with perfect 800 GMAT scores have been turned down by their dream school. This proves that doing exceedingly well on the GMAT alone is not enough.
On the other hand, there are candidates who may not do so well on the GMAT / GRE due to certain reasons (like test anxiety) but may have excellent professional credentials.
In each of these cases, your MBA essays could be used as the differentiating factor to make your application stand out.
A good GPA speaks volumes about your persistence, hard work and dedication during your undergrad days.
However, it reflects the effort you’ve put in during your student days which was several moons ago.
It may not be recent or relevant enough to let Adcoms know how you’d perform in their MBA program.
As an example, they can’t assume that a computer engineer with a high CGPA would do equally well in a management program that requires a different set of capabilities.
Plus it’s water under the bridge. There’s nothing you can do at present (while working on your MBA application) to improve or change it.
A resume gives a bird’s eye view of your past achievements in academics and career. It’s meant to provide a quick summary of the important milestone in your journey.
The issue is – most applicants from the same industry look like clones on the resume. The human element is completely missing.
The other issue is when you’re aiming for a career change. What you’ve done in the past may not help the Adcoms figure out the motivations for the transition, your expectations from the MBA program, and the probability of success after you graduate.
MBA recommendations typically follow a standardized format. And the perspectives come from a third party i.e. you don’t have as much control over them as with the other aspects that you are directly working on.
Recommenders with a ton of to-do items on their table, generally don’t have the same enthusiasm as the MBA applicant, to work on creating a masterpiece that fits perfectly with the rest of your application.
We’ve seen cases where there’s been a conflict between what the applicant has claimed in the essays and what the recommenders have said.
These are important, as they form the final piece of the puzzle you’ve been working on for months.
But they come into picture only after the initial filtering process i.e. only if you’ve been shortlisted.
If your essays are bad, you will not have a chance to interview. All the work before this is down the drain!
Now, coming back to the MBA essays, if you happen to stumble in any of the other areas of your application, you can try to use your essays you regain your balance.
Let’s inspect various scenarios to see how this can be done.
Using your MBA essays to overcome a low GMAT score
The GMAT is the Achilles’ heel for many candidates. if multiple GMAT attempts have failed to improve your GMAT score, you can use your essays to highlight the excellent work you’ve done that required quantitative skills.
Or you could mention the additional quant-related courses that you may have taken, or your excellent performance in quant oriented subjects during your undergrad days.
You may come from an unconventional professional background and may have done some amazing work with a quant focus in your field, that may not be obvious from your resume.
If you’re unable to cover this in the main essays, some colleges also provide an optional essay for discussing these additional points.
International test takers usually get low verbal scores compared to native English speakers. In such a case, you can also showcase your strong verbal skills through well-written essays.
We’ve shared stories of candidates who’ve focused on writing strong essays and managed to get into the top Bschools despite a low GMAT score:
- Wharton MBA: Indian applicant gets into Wharton in Round 2 with low GMAT score
- HEC Paris: Below average GMAT score 640 for HEC Paris: Admitted with scholarship
- INSEAD: After 6 Rejections & 4 GMAT attempts, Praveen gets into INSEAD
- CUHK, EDHEC, Babson : 3 top MBA programs with scholarship despite 580 GMAT score
- ESADE, St. Gallen: MBA in Europe admits with low GMAT score after 4 rejections
Using the MBA essay to explain a low GPA
You can use your optional essay to explain the reasons for a low GPA, or even a break in your academic/professional life.
You may have reasons why you weren’t able to do justice to your academic performance. Was it because you were busy with extracurricular involvements? Or perhaps you had taken up part-time work? Or did you have health issues?
You can explain all this in your essays. Explain how a low GPA has not held you back from doing well in your professional life.
Building a strong profile and having your essays speak about it can help. Getting a high GMAT/GRE score would also help offset a low GPA. Choose your schools wisely so that they are the right match for your profile.
Get professional help if you feel overwhelmed and need expert guidance on bschool shortlisting, MBA essay-editing and MBA application services.
Here are some low GPA Success stories:
– Computer engineer with low GPA successfully cracks 5 top bschools with scholarships
– INSEAD admit with low GPA in engineering degree
– How I got into an Ivy League university as an older student with low GPA
– Low GRE and GPA scorer gets MBA admit with full scholarship worth $125,000 after 15 rejections
– Some more low GPA success stories
MBA Essay Tips from an Admissions Officer
We thought it would be helpful to get some practical insights from an admissions officer who has read thousands of MBA essays over the years, and can separate the wheat from the chaff in an instant.
We reached out to Maria Pineda, Senior Director of Admissions for MBA and Specialty Masters Programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
We asked Maria to share the top 5 things that impress her while evaluating MBA essays. Here’s her response.
1. Generic essays don’t work
Essay submissions vary widely from applicant to applicant. Thus, we have a baseline expectation for our essay: We want our specific question answered.
We understand candidates apply to multiple programs, and oftentimes, essay prompts sound similar.
Tailoring your essay to the specific prompt and program will address the primary question and demonstrate your interest in the school.
There is a reason for the question we’ve selected — we want to get to know you.
2. Focus on clarity
Essays can also be impressive and memorable. The essay is your platform to tell us about yourself. We have found clear and concise essays to be the best.
The key is to answer the questions we ask in a succinct manner. If you can do that, you are on the right track!
3. Customize your essays
We appreciate essays that truly speak to Maryland Smith. This shows us that you understand what we have to offer and can see how your growth is imminent by joining our program.
Think of it as connecting the dots between where you are now and where you want to be post-MBA.
[Related article: How to write business school specific essays]
4. Avoid repetition
Use the essay as a platform to share relevant information not found in any other part of the application.
Think of your initial application packet – the only forward-thinking aspect is your essay. Use this application real estate wisely.
Make it count by telling us more about yourself, not repeating other parts of your application.
5. Keep it real!
Lastly, authenticity is key in essays. We want you to share more about yourself. Use your genuine voice.
Tell us about your plans, about your expectations from an MBA program, about your “Why?”
Help us understand you, how you plan on transforming over the next two years, and how our program can help you achieve your goals.
[Related post: Exaggeration, lying and hiding facts in MBA applications]
A word of caution: Don’t overload your MBA essays
By that, we mean – don’t make your MBA essays do all the heavy lifting while the other components take it easy.
From our admissions consulting experience, we’ve found that the best MBA essays are usually a culmination of all that the candidate has done before working on the application.
This means starting the ground work beforehand. Many approach us for MBA profile building help a couple of years before they’re ready for the MBA application.
If you’ve missed the bus, and don’t have time to work on improving your profile, then do the next best thing. Have a strong MBA application strategy in place before you work on your applications.
Which means, if not a few years early, at least start a few months before the application deadlines. Check out our MBA MAP service that many use to build a rock solid foundation before moving on to essay work.
You can send across an email (info at mbacrystalball dot com) if you’d want us to help you not only write stellar MBA essays, but also make sure the rest of the application is ready to impress.
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