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How to write powerful MBA essays that actually work

How to write MBA essays

Candidates often wonder what it takes to write strong MBA essays that work. It can be a scary and confusing process. Let’s try to figure out a step-by-step process to write a great MBA essay.

For many of us, writing an essay brings back memories of a hot, stuffy classroom on a sleepy summer afternoon, a strict English teacher keeping watch with hawk-like eyes, a mostly blank sheet of paper with the words “My Best Friend” written on top.

And in the middle of it all, you looking desperately at your friend seated next to you, hoping for some inspiration to strike. Or at the very least, for the school bell to strike, lest the English teacher see your as-yet blank sheet of paper and strike first.

In other words, you think of essays as boring. Perhaps even traumatizing, depending on how strict your English teacher was, and how inspiring your best friend was.

We’re here to tell you that that’s not what an essay should be.

An essay should be educating, entertaining, inspiring, thrilling, humorous, and heartbreaking.

Basically, anything but boring.

So if you’re writing boring essays, or if you think essays are boring, you’re doing them wrong.

What is the purpose of writing an MBA essay?

Everybody has seen The Wolf of Wall Street. Remember that famous scene where Leonardo di Caprio pulls out a pen from his coat pocket and tries to sell it to a spellbound, captivated audience hanging on to every word of his?

That’s how an essay should be.

Instead of the pen, you’re trying to sell your story. Your audience is the MBA admissions committee of your dream B-school, and at stake is your MBA dream.



But first, a word of caution – channelling your inner wolf of Wall Street does not mean that you throw form and formality to the wind. This is a B-school, and you’re still expected to wear a suit and tie.

An essay could be like a piece of classical music with multiple layers that merge seeamlessly. Or it could be like hip-hop with a catchy vibe and an impactful message.

But if you can demonstrate that you possess an aesthetic palette eclectic enough to accommodate both Beethoven and Busta Rhymes, that is impressive.

If however, you’re more of a Bollywood and Bhangra person with no appreciation or flair for classical music or hip-hop, you can still write a rocking MBA essay.

The point being, there’s no formula to create successful MBA essays. But you can still improve your odds of creating an essay that you’re proud of, if you follow these simple tips.

Here are 6 steps to writing an impressive MBA essay.

  1. Start early
  2. Understand the MBA essay prompts
  3. Demonstrate your fit with the MBA program
  4. Stick to the word count
  5. Add a little X factor to it
  6. Get someone to look over your essay

Let’s delve into each of them to understand the finer nuances.


How to write powerful MBA essays

1. Start early

Writing takes time. A slow cooked dish brings out the flavors of the food being cooked by allowing the spices to percolate, the aromas to emerge, and the textures to develop.

It’s the same with writing.

You need to let the thoughts in your head marinate on low simmer for days for them to develop into well-formed sentences that will delight your reader. Even if you think you’ve got it all sorted out in your head, putting it on paper is a different challenge altogether.

You’ll need a few days of contemplation to come up with points you want to put in. Jot these down as they strike you. Next, brainstorm with friends, foes, family – anyone willing to provide feedback, and whose judgement you trust.

Next, organize your ideas in a structured framework. What this means, in plain English, is that you need to be able to weave your ideas into a story your readers would love.

No, you don’t need a degree in creative writing to be able to do that.

It’s actually pretty simple. Every story has 3 parts – a beginning, a middle, and an end. In theater and film-making jargon, this is called the 3-act structure.

Act 1 is the set-up.

This is where we get to meet the protagonist (you!), and what is called the “inciting incident”, which is something that incites our protagonist into action. ( the need to do an MBA/ get into your dream B-school)

At this point, the stage is set for an exciting journey. The reader is now expecting an adventure of Tolkien-esque proportions. ( we’re kidding, this is an MBA application, not the Lord of the Rings)

Act 2 is the conflict

This is where our protagonist runs into challenges and obstacles. Their attempt to overcome these is the beating heart of the story. It’s the action that the reader started reading the story for, in the first place.

In your MBA essay, this is where you explain why you want to do an MBA, and why specifically from the B-school you are applying to, and how this will help you in achieving your career goals.

Act 3 is the resolution

This is the happy ending of the story. This is where you tie all the lose ends together, and the reader realizes that the protagonist has been transformed by the quest.

Remember that the journey from act 1 to act 3 is not any series of random actions strung together – it needs to be transformative. At the end of the story both the protagonist and the reader of the story get a sense of a change that has happened.

In the case of MBA essay, what this means is that your essay should convey a clear sense of how the MBA (and only this particular MBA from this particular school) will help you overcome the challenges you foresee in your career, and will thus be transformative.

Also keep in mind, that while it is important for your essay to be engaging, this does not mean by any stretch of imagination, that you invent incidents merely to spice things up. Always state facts and facts only.

Remember, facts are stranger than fiction, and the simplest stories are the most beautiful The novelist John Updike once said that the purpose of art is to give the mundane its beautiful due.

Any story can be made beautiful and exciting with the 3-step act. The journey of the caterpillar from egg to butterfly is a classic 3-step act.

There is no need to go chasing fantastic beasts and inventing imaginary islands; all the magic ingredients you need to write that rockstar MBA essay are already within you in the form of your own unique and wonderful life journey. Let the world hear it.

In the interest of time, some applicants may be tempted to use ChatGPT to write their MBA essays. Find out what should and shouldn’t be done if you are planning to use it, here.

2. Understand the MBA essay prompts

Most things in life come with user manuals. It’s the same with B-school essays.

Your school will usually provide instructions of what kind of essays they want, and what they are looking for in an essay. Make sure you follow these instructions to a T.

For instance, some B-schools might want one long essay, while others might want two to three shorter essays.

Often the essay would come with a question, or an essay statement, such as “state your short-term and long-term career goals, or “why do you want to pursue an MBA at this particular stage in your career”, and so on.

Pay close attention to what is being asked as what you write will depend on the question.

Unfortunately, most of us have a habit of tossing the user manual into trash unopened, and then call customer care when we can’t figure out how to operate the washing machine. Let this not be the case with your MBA essay.

Here’s an introduction to the most commonly used MBA essay questions

Why MBA now?
MBA Essay question: Why this school?
Long-term and short-term career goals essay
Leadership in MBA essays
Optional MBA essays
Career failure essay
career break, education gap, low GPA or any other aspects.

3. Demonstrate your fit with the MBA program

This is an exercise you need to perform as much for your own benefit, as for the admission committee’s. First and foremost, convince yourself that the particular MBA program is exactly what you need to meet your career goals.


Because MBAs are expensive, and confirmation bias is real.

Just because someone put it into our heads when we were 16 that xyz is a great B-school, it is entirely possible that we will psych ourselves into believing that this school is the perfect fit for us, even if it is not.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum are the cases where we just want to get into any B-school at all, and never really give a good thought into why we want to do an MBA.

If you’ve got USD 150,000 lying around the house, and all you want is to make more money, you’d be better off opening a post office savings account and living off the 7.5% interest you get on it.

An MBA is a different beast. It’ll take from you not just your money, but also two years off the prime of your life, a lot of energy (read pulling off all-nighters trying to crack case studies and making presentations), and time spent away from your loved ones.

If you’re going to be investing all this into an MBA, you need to be very sure of two things – why you want to do an MBA, and why you want to do it from the particular school you are applying to.

Once you have it all figured out, put it down in your MBA application. Remember, if you’re not convinced yourself, you will most certainly not be able to convince the admissions committee either.

Our MBA MAP process is a helpful tool used by many applicants to select the right business schools.

Read this:
How to write business school specific MBA essays
How to evaluate ‘Fit’ with MBA program

4. Stick to the word count

There’s an old bit of Jewish wisdom which says that a proverb has 3 characteristics – few words, good sense, and a fine image.

While the adage may be about proverbs, it is the hallmark of all good writing.

There’s a reason people remember proverbs but forget stories. Proverbs speak to us less with words, and more with sense and images.

Word counts exist for a reason. One of which, of course, is that admissions committees have to wade through a ton of applications, and their time is limited.

But, equally importantly, a word count tests your ability to communicate ideas effectively. If you can’t get your message across in a 1000 words, you definitely will not get it across in 10,000.

And a good manager is nothing if not a good communicator. So take the word count of your essay as another test that you must pass on your way to your dream B-school.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you obsessively start counting words after every sentence you type. A margin of (+/-) 5% to 10% is acceptable in most cases.

But even if the b-school’s online application form does not enforce a hard cut-off, we’d recommend erring on the conservative side and staying below the word count.

Try to fit in all you need to say within this. You really don’t need anything more than that to tell your story. You’re writing an essay, not an autobiography.

Oscar Wilde famously said that brevity is the soul of wit, and we have since come to accept that brevity is pretty much the soul of most forms of communication, MBA essays included. Be frugal with your words and fathomless in your meaning.

Read: How important is the word count for MBA essays

5. Add a little X factor to it

This one is a little difficult to pin down, since what this X factor means will differ from one candidate to another.

That little magic dust that you sprinkle on your application to make it stand out from the crowd.

This become more important when you’re fighting in very competitive applicant pools and your resume doesn’t have much that automatically grabs the admission officer’s attention.

Here are some examples of what you can look at.

A small aspect of your life-story that you may have overlooked could provide that X factor that converts a regular story into a memorable masterpiece.

Or it could be related to your extracurricular activities where you achieved or experienced something remarkable.

Or it could be your unique writing style, or the way you use analogies to bring your ideas to life.

With the right, structured introspection, you’ll find that there are several avenues to highlight that makes the essays unmistakably reflect the real you.

This is one of the reasons we strongly discourage MBA applicants from using sample MBA essays that worked for others.

At first glance, they may look impressive to a new applicant, but they weren’t designed for recycling.

Using sample MBA essays will kill the uniqueness of your essays and consequently the crucial X factor.

Read why sample MBA essays don’t work.

Before we share our 6th and final tip, let’s first delve a little into the reasons we kept it for the end.

Despite their best efforts, even the strongest applicants tend to make mistakes in their application. We invited a special guest from a top school to list them down.


Top 5 mistakes to avoid while writing MBA essays

By Rebecca Loades, Director, Career Accelerator Programs, ESMT Berlin

Essay writing tips Application essays are a great opportunity for applicants to present themselves to ESMT. They can showcase their personality and life experiences, share hopes and dreams, and demonstrate to us that they know why an ESMT Berlin MBA is right for them. We’re not looking for a specific answer – there is no right and wrong – but a good essay can help you stand out.

Unfortunately, the following 5 mistakes are all too common:

  1. Not being authentic. No matter how qualified you may be on paper, authenticity counts. The biggest mistake we see is when applicants tell us what they think we want to hear, rather than showing us who they actually are.
  2. Not answering the question or going beyond the word count. There’s a reason we ask the questions we do and limit the word count. Ignoring the prompt makes you stand out for the wrong reasons
  3. Not trying. You might have stellar credentials and a super high test score but that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a place. Being successful in an MBA program requires more than pure academics. The essays are where you can help us see beyond your CV so that we get a sense of you, the unique perspective you will bring, and what you want to achieve.
  4. Spelling and grammar errors. Spellcheck is there for a reason, use it! Ditto for making sure that you’ve spelled the school’s name properly and/or are calling us by our name vs the last business school you applied to.
  5. Jargon. We find some applicants hide behind industry jargon, technical terms, financial lingo, or management speak. Keep things simple and help us learn more about you.

With that context, it becomes apparent why this final tip is so important.

6. Get someone to look over your essay

Once you’re done writing, take a break and get some one you trust to have a look at your essay.

Having a fresh set of eyes go over your writing is always helpful. This is the reason why editors even exist.

Even the most gifted writers – the madcap literary geniuses and the Nobel Prize winners – relied on editors to polish their rough drafts into the enduring literary classics we know them as today.

The thing with writing is that when you’ve been living with the ideas in your head for so long, and then you begin the long, slow, painful process of putting those ideas on paper, you become just too familiar with them to be your own critic.

Those words have been a part of you for so long, you can no longer tell whether they’re good or bad.

It’s like how when we stare at a screen too long without blinking we begin to see the fine pixels and dots that make up the picture, but lose sight of the picture itself?

That sort of a thing.

A good editor can make that draft shine like a lapidary polishes a rough diamond to brilliance.

A “good editor” does not mean you need to get in touch with the New York Times to ask if they can loan out their literary editor for a day.

Here’s a candidate who got a USA MBA admit despite a big mistake in application.

A friend or a mentor with the experience and knowledge of the admissions process can help.

If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, and if all this sounds a little overwhelming, consider hiring a good MBA application consultant.

MBA Crystal Ball has highly experienced admission consultants who can help you polish your application.
Read more about our MBA essay editing services.

Drop us an email when you’re ready: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

That’s all folks. Make sure you follow these steps, and we’re confident that you will be able to write an amazing MBA essay that with the potential to impress the admissions committee and to get you that elite MBA seat that could change your life.
Also read:
Top MBA application tips
Sample Harvard Stanford MBA essays using ChatGPT

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