Introduction to the Essay Writing Boot Camp
The essays you write for your MBA applications are one of the most crucial means of differentiating yourself from your fellow candidates. This six-lesson email course, Essay Writing Boot Camp: Basic Training for the MBA Essay Writer, will help you get your writing muscles in shape for the rigorous MBA essay writing challenges ahead of you.
In this Basic Training for the MBA Essay Writer email course, we’ll first take a look at the “8 Most Frequently Asked MBA Essay Questions” and, in Lessons One and Two, we will offer a few tips on how to score top marks with your answers. In Lesson Three, we’ll discuss the nine qualities that MBA programs value, so you’ll know which qualities to emphasize in your essays. Lesson Four will teach you how to choose topics and stories for your essays. In Lesson Five, we’ll share a valuable story outlining technique that will help you tell your stories succinctly and determine which of your stories will make the best essays. In the final lesson, we will review some key takeaways from the course.
8 Most Frequently Asked MBA Essay Questions (Part 1 of 2)
Since this is an essay writing “boot camp,” a good place to start is getting to know your “enemy” — the MBA application essays. In lesson 1 and 2, we’ll examine the “8 Most Frequently Asked Essay Questions.”
After introducing the 8 different categories of MBA Essay questions, we will go through each of these question types and give a few examples of how the questions might be worded – drawn from actual MBA applications. Then, we’ll go through each question and give you some tips for scoring top marks with your answers.
The 8 Most Frequently Asked MBA Essay Questions can be classified into the following categories:
- Career Progress
- Career Goals
- Why Our School
- Contributions to the Class
- Past Decisions
- Negative Experiences
The first category of essay questions is about career progress and what you’ve accomplished thus far as a professional. Essay questions include:
- Briefly summarize your career progress.
- Tell us about your career-to-date.
- What is your most significant professional achievement?
What this type of essay question is really asking for is your “Career Story” – a kind of executive summary of your career thus far. When answering career progress question, bullet points won’t do – that’s what your resume is for. Telling a great career story provides the connections and interrelationships between your jobs and brings your resume to life.
So what is the admissions committee looking for in a great career story?
Business school admissions committees want to admit the high-achievers. To score top marks, you’ll need to provide evidence of distinguished academic and career performance in the top 10% of your peer group and demonstrate your potential for future advancement.
Admissions officers are interested in your career history but they’re even more interested in your plans for the future. An acceptance letter to a top school isn’t a blue ribbon for past achievements – rather admission officers are interested in what you’ve achieved thus far to assess your potential for making an even bigger impact in the future. That’s why you’re almost sure to be asked about your career goals.
Just about every application will ask you to write a career goals essay, though they might not ask the question in the same way. Some variations include:
- What are your professional objectives?
- What is your career vision?
- Where do you want to be 10 years from now?
When it comes to answering this question, top marks are earned by demonstrating that you have passion for the career you describe and that your career goals are fueled by a larger sense of purpose, not the desire for a big paycheck.
Of course, they will also be looking for a credible career action plan that connects the dots between your current skills and experiences and your future aspirations.
Another question admissions committees are very fond of asking is why you are applying to their school.
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Why Our School
The “Why Our School” question might be asked in a few different forms including:
- Why do you need an MBA from our program?
- Why is now the best time for you go back to school?
- How do you think that our school can prepare you for your career goals?
The best answers to these types of questions are both personal and specific. They are personal because they cover the unique challenges that you need to prepare for in the future. They are specific because they draw distinct connections between your motivations for an MBA and the specific resources that particular school has to offer.
Answering the “Why Our School” question correctly begins with thoughtful research to decide which schools you’ll apply to. It’s going to take more than browsing the magazine rankings and spending a few minutes on each school’s website. You need to understand on a deeper level what you’re looking for in an MBA program and then figure out which schools will best meet your needs.
There are always more qualified candidates than there are seats in the class; so the admissions committee wants to know what you can contribute.
Contributions to the Class
The next essay questions we’ll talk about can take a few different forms:
- What can you contribute to our program?
- How can you enrich next year’s class?
- How will your past experiences, values, and academic background be of value to your future classmates?
The important thing to understand when preparing to answer these kinds of questions is that concrete answers about what you can contribute to the program are very important. The schools are looking for candidates who can put in just as much as they take out.
The secret to scoring top marks is to be both concrete and specific. Too many candidates answer in vague generalities: “I’ll be a student leader” or “I can offer a diverse perspective.” We don’t mean to imply that you can’t talk about softer-skills or qualitative reasons. But you should explain how those attributes and your life experiences could benefit your classmates. Don’t leave it up to the admissions officers to figure that out.
Stay Tuned for Your Next Email…
In the next installment of the Essay Writing Boot Camp email course, we’ll cover four additional question types.