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4 Things You Might Not Know About The MBA Essay

Find out some surprising facts about the MBA essay and how you can write a winning essay for your dream business school

Tue Oct 24 2023

With an increasingly competitive MBA admissions process, it's important to understand what makes an applicant stand out.

MBA admission teams consider more than just high GPAs and stellar GMAT scores. Business schools want to have a diverse class of students, approaching the application process holistically. 

This means that your MBA admissions essay is essential. In fact, application essays can account for up to 15% of your total MBA application. 

To help you write an MBA essay that will stand out among the pile of top GMAT scores, we have compiled a list of key things you might not know about the MBA essay. 

1. Business schools usually ask two to four essay questions 

While you will have relatively free reign to showcase your personality and achievements, you will be given prompts for MBA admission essays. These prompts typically range from two to four essay-type questions. 

The MBA essay questions are designed to assess applicants from multiple angles, helping schools make informed decisions about the individuals they admit into their MBA programs.

Questions often ask about different aspects of the applicant's background, skills, and goals, giving schools a well-rounded view of the student.

The main types of MBA essay questions include open-ended essays, ‘why MBA?’ essays, leadership experience essays, and personal story essays. 

An example of an open-ended essay question is: “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?”

The school might also ask questions around the students experience with diversity, encouraging applicants to showcase how they can contribute to a dynamic learning environment.

2. MBA essays aren’t always written

While written essays are a staple of MBA applications, some business schools have embraced creative alternatives to evaluate candidates. Two notable examples are NYU Stern's "Pick Six" and the video essay required by Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. 

1. Visual essay:

NYU Stern takes a unique approach with its "Pick Six" essay. Applicants are asked to choose six images, each representing an aspect of their life, experiences, or goals. 

They are then required to write a short caption for each image. This unconventional format encourages candidates to express themselves through visuals and words, offering a more holistic view of their personalities. 

2. Video essay:

Video essays, which are requested by some schools, offer another unique approach to the essay portion of the application. The video essay might be provided instead of or alongside a written essay.

At the Tepper School of Business, applicants are asked to record a two-minute response to a question on their post-MBA career goals. This allows admissions committees to assess an applicant’s communication and presentation skills.

Click here to download the free BusinessBecause MBA Essay Guide 2024   


3. Students write on average 10-20 essay drafts before submitting their MBA application

As the essay is an integral part of the application, it’s essential that you have written and rewritten your answer to make it as successful as it can be.  

Crafting winning MBA application essays often involves a lot of revision. It's common for applicants to create and refine 10 to 20 essay drafts before submitting an application to leading MBA programs, according to Vantage Point MBA Admissions Consulting. 

Writing and rewriting your MBA essay, and having a reliable proofreader to double-check your work, will lead to a higher chance of success. 

4. Some MBA essay questions may have a strict word count limit 

While MBA applicants will have a wealth of experience and strengths to highlight, you need to be strict with yourself when writing your essays as business schools often restrict applicants to word limits. 

On average, MBA essay questions come with word limits ranging from 250 to 500 words. With these types of essay questions, it’s crucial to be concise and directly address the question. 

Chicago Booth School of Business requests a personal statement that’s a minimum of 250-words, with no maximum. Columbia Business School has three essay questions, two of which have a 250-word maximum.

Some schools, however, are more generous with the word count and ask for longer responses. This could take the form of a motivation letter. 

While a motivation essay may seem challenging, you should think of it is a good opportunity to  showcase your personal brand, emphasizing your fit for the particular business school.

To find out how to harness these key things and write a winning MBA essay, download our BusinessBecause MBA Essay Guide 2024, which provides top tips and insights from business school experts, MBA alumni, and students.