How To Write A Successful MBA Personal Statement

Admissions expert Stacy Blackman outlines the best tips to write a successful MBA personal statement, and the biggest mistakes to avoid

In this Applicant Question, Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, explains the importance of the MBA essay and how to craft the perfect MBA personal statement.

Every top MBA program can fill up a class based on stronger test score applicants. But they don’t focus on accepting exclusively the highest-scoring candidates because the program’s quality is driven by the diversity of the student class, with respect to industry, experience, ethnicity, global exposure, personality and more. 

Stanford’s ‘What Matters Most’ or Harvard's ‘Tell Us Anything’ prompts resemble personal statements. 

For these and other program essay prompts, authenticity is essential. Tell your story. Harvard Business School (HBS) gets over 9,000 applications a year, and Stanford gets over 6,000; there is no way you'll come up with a theme they haven't seen before. But nobody else can tell your story.

“The personal narrative really is a make or break for MBA admit success. So many applications have acceptable credentials up to that point of the application, and it is the essay execution that sets the overall application apart and earns it the interview,” explains a former HBS Admissions Officer who works on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team

“One of the most memorable personal statements was a woman who said that what matters most was to make her mother proud. It seemed so banal, until she told her story, one of those single mothers fleeing tyranny barefoot on a raft, working two jobs to raise her child kind of stories,” recalls another one of our consultants on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

“By the end of it, you knew why this mattered, and the simplicity of it seemed like a perfect fit. What made it a winning personal statement was not the theme as such, which was quite naive-sounding, but how the story made this naive theme seem totally natural. HBS thought so, too. This client was admitted to both Harvard HBS and Stanford GSB.”

Personal statement tips

We surveyed the Stacy Blackman consulting (SBC) team to ask for best practices when crafting a personal statement. The two winning tips are:

1. For a personal statement, the key priority is to explain why you are pursuing an MBA. If you have a specific long- and short-term career objective in mind, that is one way to structure the essay. If not, you will want to explain why an MBA is the right next step for you in your life. Either way, you will want to explain what skills and characteristics you have developed in your career so far.

2. As you formulate your personal statement, keep in mind the specific needs that the MBA program defines on their website. For example, Cambridge Judge states that it is seeking candidates who “are highly motivated and ambitious, thrive under pressure, and have already exhibited clear progression within their career".

Our team also identified the three key mistakes they often see in MBA essays. The errors we encourage our clients to be mindful of are:

1. A statement that is a chronological recap of the resume with filler text to try to distract the reader from the resume-repetitive language.

2. Lack of emotion, personality or self-disclosure. Be sure to include reasons for your choices and plans and describe values that drive you. “Get personal. Make sure the reader feels genuineness and authenticity,” said a former HBS Admissions Officer who works on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

3. Lack of in-depth and authentic school research. Don’t forget to include classes, professors and projects you’ll pursue to prepare yourself for your next career step.

MBA personal statement examples

Curious to see examples? My team has recently added sample essays to our site. We run through some excerpts below:

Generic personal statement example

Essay #1: See highlighted areas on the draft essay below:


Our recommendations on how to optimize this essay:


'Why Stanford?' example

Essay#2: See highlighted areas on the draft essay below:


Our recommendations on how to optimize this essay:


Short & long-term goals example

Essay #3:  See highlighted areas on the draft essay below:


Our recommendations on how to optimize this essay:


Other best practices can be found on our dual admit study, which is a collection of lessons learned from our clients who got admitted to both HBS and GSB this past season. 

For feedback on your MBA candidacy and recommendations around target schools, please request a free 15 minute consultation.

Enjoy the journey ahead!

Read another Applicant Question:

How To Write A Successful MBA Resume

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