By Chioma Isiadinso
We've reached the part of the year where business schools are releasing their essay prompts for the 2017-2018 application season. If you're still trying to decide whether an MBA is the right next step for you, or narrowing down your list of target schools, admissions essays may not even be on your radar yet.
However, I would encourage you to begin thinking about them now. MBA essays are more about the ideas than the writing, so the more time you can give yourself to generate and refine your ideas, the better off you'll be. Unfortunately, too many students wait until they have an essay prompt in front of them – and the rest of the application completed – before they start thinking about their b-school application essay.
Here is what brainstorming for a b-school essay does not look like: reading an essay prompt, trying to think of a relevant example, and then starting to write. For one thing, if you're only coming up with an example or two, then you are clearly not choosing the best story to illustrate why you are the right fit for this school; you're choosing the first example you can come up with.
I would strongly encourage you to separate the act of brainstorming for your MBA admissions essays from the prompts themselves. Instead, if you can treat this as a way of preparing your ideas for the application process as a whole, you will be better prepared not just for your essays, but for your application and interview as well.
Asking the right questions
As with all good brainstorming sessions, you want to generate a lot of ideas, without worrying about refining them (at least, not in this initial stage). Set aside some quiet time in a space where you're able to focus, and try to come up with examples or anecdotes from your past. Areas to consider include:
- What are some of your early jobs and leadership experiences (e.g. working in a family business during college, starting a club or a charitable organization, getting elected class president)?
- What have been some of your major successes and significant failures? What have you learned from them?
- Think about your core values: family, work ethic, faith, service to your community, financial security, social impact, etc. Where and how were those values formed? Why are they important to you, how do they impact your life now, and how have they impacted your life in the past?
- What is unique about you and your experience? Applicants often get hung up on this, but remember that it's not about what sets you apart from the people you grew up with, but what might set you apart from your fellow business school applicants: Did you grow up on a farm, go to boarding school, were you a military brat, a child of immigrants, an immigrant yourself? Are you an entrepreneur, a woman in a male-dominated field, a military veteran, a former member of the Peace Corps?
- What was the catalyst that led you to apply for an MBA?
If you give yourself a couple of days to mull over these questions, you'll often find that you come up with more stories and more details for each example. The result should be a solid list of experiences and values that have shaped the person you are today.
Now when you narrow down your list of target schools and start working on your MBA application essays, you aren't wracking your brain for an example that you can tweak to fit the prompt. You're sharing a story from your background that truly illustrates why this school is the right fit for you, and why you will be a great asset for the school.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.