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MBA Admissions Essays: 10 Essential Tips for a Great Essay

The admissions essay may seem like just another hoop to jump through, but schools ask for it because they see it as a crucial tool in making their decisions. In fact, some say that the essay is the most important part of your application after your GMAT scores. Here are ten important tips to use as you go through the process.

1. Give yourself time: Your English and writing teachers have been telling you this for years, but in our want-it-now world this is a lesson that’s easy to forget. Ideally, you’ll start your essay-writing process months before your application is due. At the very least, jot down a bunch of ideas and weigh them against each other. Yes, a brilliant idea may hit you out of the blue and you might not end up using your earlier work. But you’re that much more likely to come up with a great idea if you give your brain plenty of time to consider how you should approach your essay. Creativity is difficult when you’re scrambling to get your application out the door. You also want time once your essay is written to put it away and forget about it. That way, you’ll come back to revise with fresh eyes.

2. Spend most of your time brainstorming: A great topic will get you 80% of the way to a stellar essay, so finding that great topic and thinking about how you can develop it is by far your most important task. This is the time to use all the prewriting tricks you’ve ever learned. Think extensively about why you want to get an MBA, what makes you different from applicants with similar backgrounds and credentials, and what your professional strengths are. All this effort will show in the final product.

3. Aim to write a memorable essay: If you can write an essay that can stand out as the best one the admissions officer has read all day (or all year) it will benefit you. Of course, you don’t want to be too weird, but think about how you can rise above the pack. Read other MBA essays and see what sticks out to you. Sometimes, all it takes is sharp sensory details and a genuine voice (see #8).

4. Answer the question: Yes, this is an obvious one, but it can be tempting to just write one essay and try to make it work for each school. The admissions committee takes the time to come up with an essay question for a reason, so take it seriously. If you write about what you want to write about instead, you’ll seem like you’re trying to hide something or not paying attention to your application.

5. Be focused: Your MBA essay doesn’t need a thesis statement like your English 101 papers did, but the reader should come away with one specific message. Don’t ramble on about five or six different topics and give the reader the feeling that you’re cramming in everything you can think of. One great way to achieve focus and write a strong essay at the same time is to tell a story. Stories naturally hold a reader’s attention and provide a structure for the writer to get a point across in an entertaining and convincing way.

6. Talk about results: Be sure to emphasize your tangible achievements: how you doubled your sales, how you took charge of an unproductive work group, how you managed to land the big account. This is the hard evidence that shows you deserve to enter an MBA program. Numbers are other data are great, but don’t forget to talk about “soft” accomplishments as well, like how clients always rave about how friendly and attentive you are. These are the kind of human skills that may not be coming out elsewhere in your application.

7. Use a conversational yet professional voice: Many MBA applicants are too formal in their essays and end up coming across as stiff. You should aim for a conversational tone, as if you were talking to an admissions officer in an amiable interview. For example, it’s OK to use most contractions. On the other hand, don’t get too casual or chatty. Try to sound adult and professional.

8. Be genuine: Resist the urge to “game” your essay and just give the committee what they’re looking for: often what they want is simply to get to know you better. Be brave enough to be real, and you will stand out and make a positive impression. Try to be as open as you would be when talking to a close friend or trusted teacher. This will show a solid maturity and true confidence in yourself.

9. Respect the word limit: The word limit serves two functions: to keep admissions officers from being overwhelmed, and to test your ability to make the best use of limited space. No one is going to count words, but if you go over by more than 10% it will likely be noticed. When you read a lot of 500-word essays, you develop a good feel for the length. Keep in mind that many electronic applications won’t let you go on too long, so pushing it isn’t even an option.

10. Show your essay to friends and family: You were probably already planning on doing this, but be sure to make the best use of these resources. Ask questions to push them to point out things that they otherwise wouldn’t. Ask them what they remember and if there’s any part where they were bored or confused. Ask if it sounds like you. To keep them from being too nice, always insist they give you at least one thing you could improve.


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