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MBA Essay: 4 Steps To Writing A Winning Business School Admission Essay

Successful MBA applicants tailor their essays to each business school

By  Scott Edinburgh

Wed May 17 2017

We’ve all been there: exhausted after a long work day, sitting down to write yet another MBA application essay is probably the last thing you want to do.

It can be tempting to just hit ‘find and replace’, swapping out one business school name for another. What’s the harm? Unfortunately, a lot!

As the founder of Personal MBA Coach and a Wharton MBA and MIT alumnus with over 10 years of professional MBA admissions consulting experience, I know how applicants can tailor their MBA admission essays effectively.

Here’s four steps to writing a winning business school admission essay:

1. Do your research and a lot of it

Business schools each have a unique culture, mission and set of values. It is important that for each essay you convey how you will fit in on campus and how you plan to deliver against each school’s specific mission.

Naturally, the first step in the process is doing adequate research! Read the website, in detail. Pay specific attention to any written advice from the admissions committees; they will sometimes post detailed guidance on what they are looking for. Here is an example from Stanford last year.

Visit campuses and sit in on classes. Talk to current students and alumni in your personal and extended networks about the general culture and their experiences. Look at the classes offered and the extra-curricular activities and make note of those of particular interest to you.

2. Read the question and think about its deeper meaning

This may seem obvious but the next step is to read the question very carefully and think about what is asked and what the school is trying to get at. It may sound simple but many essays I see don’t actually answer the question.

Some schools will want to know more about your professional experiences while others specifically say they do not. Heed this advice! Some schools are interested in why you want to go to that school while others take this as a given and instead want to know more about what you will bring to the table. In some cases, personal experiences are more important than professional.

3. Take an inventory of your own past and future aspirations and where they fit with the school

 Once you have determined what the specific school is looking for, take time to reflect on your background, experiences, goals, interests and values and think about what would best fit with that school. How do your values align with those of the school? Where are your strengths vs. the school’s? What attracts you most to the specific school?

4. Add in school specifics

You want to show your knowledge of the school. This means naming specific classes and/or a specific faculty member you are interested in. Discuss an organization or two on campus you are excited about. Share your goals and how the school will help you achieve them. Talk about the location, the student body, or aspects of the curriculum. Every candidate will pick different areas to highlight. The key here is to be specific, painting a story of how you will contribute to the student body and class diversity.

This is not the same approach you may have used to apply to undergraduate schools. Even though for many an MBA is considered a necessary “box to check,” saying this won’t work to get you into a top MBA program. Not every school will be the best fit for every candidate. So, take the time now to really think not only about yourself and your goals but about how each school will help you achieve them.

This is not to say that you need a different long-term goal or personal values for each school. Quite the opposite; being genuine is key! However, for most schools you have under 1,000 words to tell your whole story. What you choose to highlight might not be the same for each school and the programs best matched for you on campus also will differ from school to school. This is the type of specificity that is key as you tailor your MBA applications for success.

Scott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA and MIT alumnus and founder of Personal MBA Coach, a full-service admission consulting and tutoring firm. Personal MBA Coach has been helping candidates on all aspects of the MBA application process for 10 years with a 96% success rate.  Email for a free consultation or visit to find out more.