Even worse, each school has its own take on the MBA essay, with differing lengths that average between 250 and 500 words. This means if you’re applying to multiple programs you’re going to have to come up with several original ideas.
Plus, being a business whiz doesn’t necessarily make you a wordsmith. If English isn’t your mother tongue (or if you struggled during high school literature class), it seems unfair to have your talents dismissed simply based on a writing exercise.
Luckily, we’ve got you sorted. With a little advice from business school admissions experts, here’s how to write a top MBA essay.
1. Research the school’s values
No matter the essay prompt, deciding exactly what to write during your MBA essay can be a challenge.
Fortunately, you’ll be pleased to discover that admissions boards don’t expect you to write a Pulitzer-prize winning novel: they just want to see why you’re going to be a good fit for the program.
The best thing you can do to form the bones of a winning essay is thoroughly research the school to find out what its values are, and what kind of qualities the admissions team is looking for in applicants.
Lindsay Lloyd, executive director of MBA Admissions at NYU Stern, says: “Candidates should try to be Stern-specific in their responses, which should give the reader a chance to see how they hope to contribute to, and be impacted by, the Stern experience.”
2. Don’t leave it until the last minute
We’ve all been there. It’s midnight, you’re half-awake at your desk, and the only sound you can hear is your keyboard furiously crackling as you bang out the assignment you should have done months ago.
While this may have just about seen you through your undergrad, it won’t cut it for your MBA application. You’re not just looking to pass—you need to show the admissions board the best that you can do.
This means giving yourself enough time to write out a considered, structured essay plan, as well as plenty of room to ask for, and take on
“The biggest mistake is not giving the MBA essay questions enough thought and detail. We want to see thoughtful answers, and hopefully a clearer picture of you as an applicant,” says Alastair Brewer, recruitment and admissions manager of MBA Programs at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business.
Don’t forget to give your essay a second, or even third edit, too. You can be surprised at all the minute spelling mistakes you make, or even more embarrassing blunders, such as getting the school’s name wrong.
3. Answer all parts of the question
Particularly if you’re nervous about making a good impression, it can be easy to latch onto one part of the essay prompt without considering other aspects of the question.
A good idea is to read over the question slowly, and to highlight each individual topic it’s asking you to cover.
Be careful as well to home in on what specific words are being used. If a prompt is asking you to talk about why or how you did something, they don’t want to hear a long, winding account of what you did.
“Don’t neglect to answer the question. Applicants often become so determined to drive home a particular point, or worse, drift off into a tangent, that they fail to succinctly answer the question,” says MBA consultant, Stacy Blackman.
4. Identify and convey your personal brand
Despite the amount of time we spend in our own heads, we can sometimes struggle to pick out what exactly it is about us that makes us interesting.
The good news is that, even if you haven’t lived abroad or launched your own business, sometimes the most arresting qualities can be found in our authenticity.
Do you have a great sense of humor? A unique work philosophy? A strong goal? Even stories about ordinary triumphs, such as getting over a bad grade, can paint an inspiring picture.
“Be yourself. Don’t feel compelled to use timely business jargon if that is something that you don’t naturally do. Make sure that you are answering any prompts from the heart with honesty and authenticity.” says Rebecca Mallen-Churchill, director of graduate recruitment and admission at W. P. Carey School of Business.
5. Focus on your goals
With the large investment of time, money, and brainpower, taking on an MBA is no easy feat. This means you must have something strong driving you forward—so make sure to highlight it in your essay.
Whether you have dreams of helping your local community, or accelerating future healthcare development, you want to give the admissions team a reason to root for you.
“The best applications start with self-reflection. You should know the foundation of why you want an MBA, how it will help you reach your professional goals, and the areas of development that would help you become the professional you want to become,” says J.R. McGrath, executive director of masters admissions at Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.
Keeping these top tips in mind, you should be able to write a great MBA essay in no time.
To find out how to create an authentic and tailored MBA essay, download our BusinessBecause MBA Essay Guide 2024, which provides top tips and insights from business school experts, MBA alumni, and students.