If you’ve already got a college degree, and you’re thinking of going to graduate school and getting your Master’s of Business Administration, then you need to be prepared for the most common essay questions that applicants to MBA programs face. Much like a law school essay, the business school essay is required for a more personal glimpse of the applicant. While there’s no guarantee that the school you’re applying to will ask you to write an essay on any of the questions below, the odds are very high that they’ll ask at least one of them. Some will ask you to write more than one essay. Here are the most common essay types, and some tips on how to write a good essay to enhance your chances of getting into business school.
The most common essay question for prospective MBA students is Why Do You Want To Get An MBA Degree From Our University? Everyone has their own reason for wanting to earn an MBA, and for a lot of people it boils down to the fact that having an MBA will enable them to earn a lot more money over the course of their career. And while there’s nothing wrong with that motivation, that isn’t what admissions committees want to hear. And the question usually won’t be that short and sweet, although it will essentially boil down to your reasons for wanting an MBA. Usually you’ll be asked to describe some past accomplishments, and what your goals are for the future, and how you envision an MBA helping you to accomplish those goals. They want to know where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re headed. You really need to have this thought out before beginning the essay, because this question is often the make or break one for admissions committees. If you write in vague generalities, and seem to have no clear goals in mind for wanting to pursue an MBA, you run the risk of them not even finishing your entire essay, and winding up immediately in the rejected pile. So be clear, firm, and direct, and have one or two specific goals that you aspire to that you can write about with enthusiasm. Write briefly about a couple of your more significant achievements in the past, then move on to what motivated you to pursue an MBA degree, and then describe what you hope to achieve once you’ve graduated with your MBA. And don’t swing for the fences on that part-you’ll want one, or at most two, specific career goals to write about. You’ll also want to make it clear that your somewhat familiar with the school’s program, and that you’re knowledgeable about some of the faculty and a few of their more distinguished graduates, without coming across as obsequious-just let them know that you have some awareness of their school and its program. Break it down like that, and it’s a lot simpler. The main thing is to demonstrate that you’ve done some important things in the past, and you have important, specific plans for the future. Do that, and be direct and avoid vagueness and generalities, and you’ll have an edge on a lot of your competition.
Another common business school essay question is How Will You Contribute To And Diversify Our School? Again, that’s the short and sweet version-what you’re likely to see will be much longer and broken down into two or more sections. But that’s the gist of it. This may sound somewhat similar to the previous question, but it’s not the same thing. That question was more outward oriented, wanting to know about your experiences and goals. This one is inner directed. It’s asking who you are, what makes you tick, what things are important to you and fill you with passion. Everyone in the universe is unique. In what ways are you different from everyone else? What sets you apart from the crowd? What drives you? What excites you? What qualities do you have that will enhance the business school experience for everyone involved? This can be a bit tougher to answer than the previous question. Some people are good at introspection, but many of us are not. They say the unexamined life is not worth living, but many people would disagree. What is certain is that the unexamined life is going to be a hindrance to your earning an MBA if this question comes up. So take a good long look at yourself. Ask yourself what you consider important, what you care about. Often we need an objective observer to help us with this. Talk to your friends and family. Ask them how they would describe you to a stranger. Ask them what kind of person they consider you to be. A leader? A thinker? A doer? A team player? An individualist? Take what they give you and work with that. Of course, you may not need to get anyone’s opinion. If you know exactly who you are, then put it into words. If you’re radically committed to social justice, write about it. If your libertarian heart beats for even increasing liberty for all, then put it into words. But don’t try to fake it. Insincerity on this question is tough to pull off, and will probably be seen right through. Know who you are, and share it with the admissions committee.
Another common essay on business school applications is What Are Some Of Your Accomplishments? You’ll want to have at least two, and possibly three, to write about. Give this some thought, because this is an area where you can really set yourself apart from the run of the mill applicant. And the things you write about don’t have to be earth shattering. What’s important is that you chose something significant to yourself and saw it through from beginning to end. Did you organize and complete a voter registration drive? Did you prevail upon local authorities to improve the city park system? Did you take your company department or division from the cellar to first place in your region in a couple years? Have you had any articles published, even in small publications? Whatever you’ve done that you’re proudest of, write about that. You don’t want to boast, but don’t be self effacing either. Just state what you did in a matter of fact tone. If you won first prize in a state or national competition, say it; you certainly don’t want to hide it, but just don’t dwell on it. They’re asking for this information, so this is no time for modesty. And if you’ve had to overcome significant adversity to get where you are today, be sure to include that. You’re not asking for a pity party, but if you completed college in four years while being confined to a wheelchair, that’s quite an accomplishment in and of itself, and the committee will want to know about it. So be yourself, and be honest, but don’t be embarrassed to make your best case and let them know that you’ve done something with your life. This is what they’re looking for. An applicant who’s been able to accomplish things is likely to continue to build on their accomplishments after graduation, and that’s the kind of student they’re looking for.
Another question you’ll be asked on a lot of business school application essays is How Have You Demonstrated Leadership In The Past? Typically, you’ll be asked to give two or three examples of when you took a leadership role in your life. These can be small things or large; what’s important is that you demonstrated some initiative in taking charge and leading people in a common task. Have you headed up any political campaigns? Have you run for or held student government positions? Have you organized a litter clean up effort in your neighborhood? Have you suggested projects at your company and then led a team effort to fulfill the project? All of these are leadership efforts, and you should be able to think of many times in your life when you’ve done something similar. If you have trouble answering this one because you don’t think of yourself as the leader type, then you should stop and give serious consideration as to whether you’re really cut out for business school. Business schools graduates usually wind up in management, and you can’t manage people if you can’t lead them. Leadership is an important quality for MBA holders or seekers, so give this question some serious thought. You’ll want to come up with your best leadership efforts in the past to write about.
Another topic you may be asked to address when applying to business school is A Time I Failed And How I Learned From It. If you’re like most people, you have some embarrassing events in your past where you just didn’t perform, get the job done, or live up to your promises. On this essay, you’ll pick one and write about it, and the lessons you’ve learned from it. It’s best to pick something fairly recent, as writing about not finishing your 8th grade science project will make it look as if you’re saying you haven’t failed since then, and since you’re human, that’s not possible. Another thing to keep in mind-refrain from writing about personal or moral failings. That’s not the sort of thing they’re looking for with this question, and writing about something like that would not only quite possibly shock the readers, but it would also reveal a serious lack of propriety and discretion. But we’re all human, and so we all have plenty of instances we can write about without revealing embarrassing personal information about ourselves or others. And don’t beat up on yourself; just as in the essay about accomplishments, this essay should be written in a matter of fact tone. This will reveal that you’re aware of your shortcomings and can face them honestly, as well as learn from them.
Another common essay question on business school applications is Who Is Your Role Model/Who Has Greatly Influenced You? By seeing whom you respect and try to emulate, the university will get a better picture of what kind of person you are, and what kind of student you’ll be. Generally, this shouldn’t be someone famous, but someone you actually know. If you do happen to know someone who’s famous, and they’ve been a big influence on you, or they’re your role model, it may be alright to write about them. The trick will be to pull this off without sounding like you’re namedropping. If you don’t think you can manage that, then it would be best to write about someone else. It could be a teacher, a parent or other relative, someone you’ve worked for, someone you know who‘s devoted their life to a worthy cause. But it should be about a person you actually know well. The only exception to this would be if your life has been profoundly changed by reading a book by or about somebody-in that case, you may write about that person, but it has to be authentic. Your first choice should always be someone whom you’ve personally interacted with. In the essay, talk about the person and your relationship with them. Then describe some of the character qualities that you respect about them, and that made them your role model or influence, and give some examples of how they live out these qualities in their everyday life. You shouldn’t grovel or fawn, but simply communicate your profound respect for this person and what they’ve done to earn it.
The Moral Quandary is another topic you may be asked to write about when applying to business school. For this type, you’ll be asked to describe a particularly difficult situation you’ve faced which was impossible to resolve without hurting someone’s interests, or violating a moral code. In other words, a situation for which there was no good resolution, and which couldn’t be sidestepped, and you had to make one of two difficult choices. It’s a bit more complicated than just having to solve a difficult problem, or having to choose between “the lesser of two evils.” What you’ll want to communicate here is that you’re able to understand that life isn’t perfect, and that sometimes a person has to do something they’d rather not do, but which has to be done. Furthermore, you’ll want to illustrate that you looked at the problem from all sides, and considered the impact that both decisions would have on all parties involved. You’ll then describe the decision you made, and write about your reasons for doing so. The Moral Quandary essay is a bit more difficult one than most of the others, and you should really give this some thought before writing it. One thing that really needs to come through in your essay is a sensitivity to the needs and desires of others.
The last essay type you’re likely to run across is the This Is Your Life sort of exercise. Far more personal than the other essay types, this one may ask you how you’ve grown as a person since you graduated from high school, or what major life goals you’ve chosen for yourself. You may be asked to describe your family life growing up and talk about how that experience helped shape you into the person you are today. Or you may be asked to write from the perspective of the end of your career, and asked to look back and talk about what your proudest achievements are, what you would have done differently, and what you’ve learned about what’s really important in life. All of these questions are just roundabout ways of asking what kind of person you are-what are your values, how you view yourself and others, and where you see yourself going in life. Everyone has changed in many different ways between high school and business school; for this question, you’ll want to stress a couple major changes in yourself and what precipitated them, and how your life is different as a result. If asked about your family, be honest, but not disparaging or fawning. If you grew up in a chaotic or broken home, talk about it, and how going through that experience made you more independent and resilient. Again, this type of essay is a chance for you to reveal a bit more about yourself than it’s possible to do on the other types. You don’t want to give too much information, or try to make people feel sorry for you or give the impression that you have an extremely high opinion of yourself, but you do want to do a bit of self revelation. Don’t be abrupt, and make it clear that you’ve given these matters a lot of thought.