When you first read the essay questions in your application, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out which topics to cover or which stories to tell. This lesson will help you by providing a step-by-step process you can use to discover your best topics and stories.
Review the Valued Qualities
First, it will help you to have the qualities that MBA programs value at your fingertips. Spend as much time as possible at the self-assessment stage and have the qualities you want to highlight in your essays clearly in mind when it’s time to brainstorm topics and stories for your essays.
You will also need to make some strategic choices about which qualities you want to put front and center. If you try to feature every one of your strengths, you’ll run the risk that admissions officers won’t finish your essays with a clear idea of any of your strengths. Instead, select three or four qualities to emphasize.
Categorize the Question
Second, you want to read the essay question very carefully. Try to determine which of the 8 categories it falls into – is it a leadership question, a career goals question, a contributions question…? By categorizing each question you’ll have a better idea of what the admissions committee is going to be looking for in your response and what will be required to score top marks.
Third, it’s time to start brainstorming potential topics and stories. Remember that your goal is to highlight the valued qualities that you’ve decided to feature in your application strategy work.
Choose a Topic or Story
Finally, you’re ready to choose a topic or story that looks the most promising so that you can outline it and try a rough draft.
Evaluating Your Rough Drafts
Here are a few questions you should ask to help determine which of your ideas have the most potential.
First, ask which essay topics or stories on your brainstorming list offer the greatest opportunity to feature the 9 qualities MBA programs value most.
Next, ask yourself if the topic or story will score top marks for this essay type. For example, if this is a leadership essay, did you rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal? You would cross off any stories where you were working on your own, and circle the stories in which you made an impact by leading others.
Another important test is whether you think the essay can be written with a clear beginning, middle, and end within the word count provided. You need to choose stories you can tell in a succinct way. For example, instead of writing about a trip around the world, perhaps you can focus on a portion of the trip that was particularly meaningful.
A related question to ask yourself is whether the story will be easy to understand without a great deal of background or technical knowledge. Again, you won’t have the space to tell a story that requires an elaborate set-up in 500 words or less.
Finally, are you the central player in the story versus supporting cast, and did the experience occur recently?
99% of the time you need to write stories where you play the staring role, as those are the stories that will help the admissions officers get to know you better.
It’s usually best if the stories happened within the last 3 years. There is some leeway on this criterion if an older story is especially powerful. Just bear in mind, that the longer ago it happened, the more impact the story needs to have.
Stay Tuned for Your Next Email Lesson…
Once you’ve narrowed your topics and stories to your best options, you should briefly outline your stories. In Lesson Five in this email course, we’ll share an outlining framework that you can use to create outstanding essays.