8 Tricks to Writing the Perfect Business School Essay

Writing the personal essays for your MBA applications can be a relaxed and enjoyable opportunity for self-discovery, especially if you keep in mind some simple and helpful pointers.

For many business school applicants, writing the application essays can seem like the most frightening and arduous part of the entire process. After all, sometimes there is nothing quite so intimidating as the empty page (or screen).

It doesn't have to be that way. Writing the personal essays for your MBA applications can be a relaxed and enjoyable opportunity for self-discovery, especially if you keep in mind some simple and helpful pointers.

Before you start, you need to realize that every MBA application comes with its own set of essay topics, each with its own word limit. Look through your applications and identify overlapping topics. Nearly every program, for example, will have some variation on the question, “Why is an MBA right for you at this point in your career?” However different schools may have very different word limits on this question, and might ask for more or less information in your answer.

Once you’ve categorized the various questions and identified those you might be able to recycle or adapt, you’re ready to start writing.

1. Think of Yourself as an Individual

Consider what makes you special. Think about what you love to do, both at work and beyond. What part of your job do you most look forward to? What volunteer or leisure activities give you the greatest and deepest satisfaction? Focus on what you're really good at, chances are the committee will react positively if you feel good about what you are telling them.

2. Write Clearly and Vividly

Use specific detail to illustrate a few major points, rather than stringing together a series of vague abstractions. Support every claim you make with concrete evidence. Use precise description grounded in sensory perception; the reader should be able to picture in her mind what you write on the page or screen. Use active verbs to describe yourself taking action as the star of your own story.

3. Use the Proper Tone

Brag some, but sound at least a little humble just the same. Let your accomplishments shine without sounding like you’re pumping them up. Be honest, but not too honest. For instance don’t go on and on about a failure, and don’t apologize for your weaknesses. No one is perfect; you should focus on the positive. Emphasize your leadership and good judgment, and especially your ability to work with others to achieve measurable goals.

4. Use Your Essays to Tell Stories and To Make a Case

Tell stories about your life and career to this point, but don't be primarily anecdotal. Use the essays to convince the committee that their business school will play a significant part in creating the story of your life, which will be a life well spent making the world a better place. Show them that you can act in concert with others to make real your values in the face of obstacles that might defeat others. Tell a consistent and plausible story that teaches them who you are, what you care about, and what you hope to make of yourself.

5. Be Professional

Answer the questions you are asked, not the questions in your head or the questions you wish you had been asked. Don’t repeat yourself in multiple essays for a single program. If you say the same thing in each essay, then the reader will assume that you see yourself as a limited person. Although for the sake of efficiency you should re-use ideas and topics from one application to another, be very careful not to put the wrong school name on the wrong application. Imagine reading essays for Kellogg for example, and coming upon an applicant who assures you that Darden is a great fit for her. You will probably assume that the applicant is not genuinely interested in Kellogg. Proofread your essays several times, and then proofread them again.

6. Never Exceed the Word Limit

The word limit is there for a reason. The MBA admissions committee reads many essays and can run a digital word count just as easily as you can. You may think that by giving them 600 words instead of the 500 they asked for you are going the extra mile and demonstrating your deep commitment; in fact you are showing your disregard for their time and for the rules.

7. Don’t Just Write About Your Work Experience

Certainly your time on the job will be at the center of your application, you are applying to business school after all, but be sure to write about your other activities. Volunteer work, hobbies, intellectual interests are all part of what the committee will want to know as they consider whether you will be a strong contributor to their community. Together the essays should form a complete picture of you.

8. Submit a Professional Product

Ask a strong writer to help you by reviewing your drafts for clarity, concision, coherence, grammar and syntax. You don’t want to submit essays that an English teacher would mark up with red ink. At the same time it’s important not to get too much help, or the wrong kind of help. Absolutely don’t use B-School essay writing services that do most of the heavy lifting as the savings in time and effort are outweighed by the risk that your work will not sound like you, or even worse, will sound too much like other applications that a ghostwriter has written.

Your essays are a crucial part of your applications, so be sure to start early. Write lots of drafts, and get plenty of good feedback from smart and helpful people you trust. Put forward your best self in your strongest and most confident voice, with an emphasis on clarity and professional presentation, and your applications will have their best chance of acceptance.

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