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How Top MBAs Aced Their B-School Essays

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Applying to business school can be an exciting yet stressful time – especially writing all those essays! I know, I've been there. To help get you started (with Round 2 deadlines on the horizon), here’s some advice from MBAs who’ve been in your shoes and made it through with acceptance letters in hand.

Take time to prepare and know your story

 

Prep work is key. Take a few hours to sit down and write out your story. What has your path been? What are some of your proudest achievements? What areas have you taken leadership in? What challenging experiences have you learned from? What do you like to do in your spare time?

 

“Consider how your essays fit into your overall b-school application package. Your essays are part of a larger whole, along with your resume, test scores, transcript, and short answers, but they are also an opportunity for you to convey in greater detail what motivates you, what values you hold dear, and how the MBA can propel you forward professionally and personally.” – Yale MBA, ‘20

 

It’s good to choose stories that aren’t readily obvious from your resume. Don’t just summarize the bullets in your resume. Essays are an opportunity to think about how you achieved those results, what your impact was, and what the major learning and personal development moments were that made a mark.

 

“Don’t be afraid to write with some personality if that’s genuine to you – it doesn’t have to be a dry essay just because it’s a business school essay.” -- Kellogg MBA,‘16

 

Use this opportunity for self-reflection to understand your strengths, but also your weaknesses. Take some thing to think about your application as a whole including your work experience, GMAT scores, college transcript and extra-curricular activities. Consider using the essay as a way to address any gaps in employment and either clarify or mitigate potential weaknesses in other areas of your application.

 

The A-B-C Framework

 

(A) What are you doing today?

(B) What do you want to do in the future?

(C) Why does this specific business school unlock that opportunity better than any other option?

 

Even if the essay questions don’t explicitly ask for it, answering with the A-B-C framework in mind ensures your essays address this in some way. Almost everyone I interviewed for this article referenced a similar concept.

 

“Have a clear story: where I am now and why, where I want to be and why, and how that specific school will help you get there. Highlight what distinguishes you from others, whether it be your experiences, skill sets, or passions. And then ensure that every component of your application reinforces that story.” – Chicago Booth MBA, ’19

 

Now, let’s break it down.

 

(A) What are you doing today?

 

What’s your job function and role, and how has that changed over time? What are the skills that you’ve gained from this experience that you can take with you into business school? Explain how these skills will be a starting point for helping you get to where you want to go (i.e. “transferrable skills”). Even if you’re looking to make a career transition and need to gain key skills and experiences from business school, don’t lose sight of the valuable skills and experience you already have that can tee you up for success. This is also a great exercise to give you a head start for job recruiting once you get into b-school, as these same stories will likely be those you talk about in interviews (but that could be whole separate article).

 

(B) What do you want to do in the future?

 

Where do you want to take your career? Be sure to include your immediate post-MBA goals (such as a summer internship, or landing that first job after business school) as well as your long term aspirations. What kind of leader do you want to become? Where do you ultimately want to have influence? What will be your legacy? You don’t have to answer all these questions in your essays (and won’t have space), but it’s helpful to think about when preparing how you structure and articulate your unique story.

 

(C) Why does this specific business school unlock that opportunity better than any other option?

 

In other words, how will getting an MBA from X school help you achieve your future goals? How will you maximize your time at that business school to bridge the gap between the skills and experience you currently have and what you still need in order to accomplish your future ambitions.

 

“Being generic doesn’t get you anywhere. Get specific about the program where you are applying. Be sure to not only include specific professional clubs, but also the events/initiatives that you find exciting or could help your development. Also, mention any conversations with faculty, staff, alums, or current students that left a lasting impression on you.” - UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA ‘20

 

Authenticity is key

 

“Be authentic and don’t overthink it. My best writing happened when I stopped trying to think of the perfect answer that I thought would impress the schools and instead just wrote something I actually care about and believed in.” – Wharton MBA ‘15

 

While there may be a lot of consultants, bankers, or product managers applying, remember there is only one YOU applying. Your essays are the time to get beyond your resume, beyond your GMAT scores and transcript and get to the heart of what motivates and inspires you.

 

“Try and have each of your essays show a different side of you. Also, try to think about what makes you unique and how those different sides of you can be combined to showcase your overarching theme/story. In one of my essays, I showcased my ability to mentor while in another I showcased my ability to lead an office-wide initiative. Each of these traits and stories are unique, but what they have in common is that I love working with people and helping to build a better environment, wherever that may be.” – Michigan Ross MBA ‘20

 

Your essays should not only highlight what you plan to get out of the experience, but also how you plan to enrich and give back to the community (again, through your unique positioning).

 

Ask friends and colleagues to proofread your essays

 

Essays are your time to showcase your story. They should 100% be in your own words and voice, but when you’re spending a lot of time writing (and re-writing), it’s good to get other set of eyes on them. Try to get a mix of people that know you well and some that might not have as much background to review. Your reviewers might even have ideas for other accomplishments and experiences to consider highlighting! Be sure to push for critical, honest and candid feedback on how you can improve. Sugar-coated feedback won’t do you any favors.

 

Closing Thoughts

 

Remember, while writing great essays requires introspection and an idea of where you're headed, don't feel like you have to have it all figured out. Many people learn and change directions while in school - and that's great! The essays are simply your chance to connect the dots for the person reviewing your application. They're an opportunity to share your story in your own words – where you’ve been and where you’re looking to go – and highlight all the ways you’d be an incredible asset to their business school community.

CommonBond wants to help you achieve your professional goals. Our MBA alumni would be happy to take a look at your application essays and provide some feedback. Sign up here and one of us will be in touch!

And don't forget to join CommonBond's Pre-MBA group on LinkedIn, where you can ask questions, connect to other "pre-MBAs," and be first to see exclusive b-school content.

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