MBA Essay Examples, Tips, and Analysis

Your MBA application essays are your best opportunity to share meaningful life experiences that hide in the “white spaces” of the resume and to tell admissions officers not only “what” you have achieved but also “why” those achievements are meaningful to you.

Your MBA application essays are going to be crucial if you are competing for a spot at one of the world’s top business schools.

These resources will show you how to excel in the rigorous MBA essay writing challenges ahead of you, provide you with the guidance to create MBA essays that will impress admissions officers, and share MBA essay examples that illustrate our advice in action.

First, we discuss the two most common forms of MBA essays – persuasive and narrative essays.

Second, we survey the five most frequently asked MBA essay questions. We preview video essay questions and link to detailed guidance on how to tackle this emerging class of application essays.

Third, we will teach you how to choose topics and stories for your essays and share a story-outlining technique to help you tell those stories.

Common MBA Essay Forms: Persuasive versus Narrative Essays

There are two primary forms that MBA application essays take: persuasive essays and narrative essays. In a persuasive essay, you must persuade your reader that your argument is a sound one. An op-ed column in a newspaper is one example of a persuasive essay.

The classic “What Will You Contribute to the Class?” question is an excellent example of a persuasive essay question that MBA programs like to ask. The essay you write must persuade the admissions committee that you will enrich next year’s class. You will generally present evidence from past experiences and achievements to support your claims about what you can offer the MBA community.

The other style of essay you’ll encounter in your MBA applications is the narrative essay. Certain MBA essay questions don’t sound like questions at all; they are, in fact, an invitation for you to tell a story. We refer to these as narrative essays – but others call them behavioral essays or expository essays.

The Leadership Story Essay is a perfect example of a narrative essay. It’s one thing to claim to be a leader – but it’s quite another to show the admissions committee that you’re a leader by telling a captivating leadership story in which you played the starring role.

While MBA essays often fall into these two categories, the actual prompts will differ from school to school. Let’s discuss the five most frequently asked MBA essay questions.

The Five Most Frequently Asked MBA Essay Questions

Every business school application requires you to answer one or more MBA essay questions. Although the essay prompts differ from application to application, we identified five types of MBA application essay questions that appear again and again.

Career Goals Essays

A career goals essay question regularly appears in one form or another on just about every MBA application. Even if you aren’t required to write this type of essay, you will almost certainly be asked about your post-MBA career goals during an admissions interview.

Admissions committees ask about your career plans because they want to understand what you aspire to do after your MBA and how the MBA degree fits into your career plan. As it turns out, a strong career goals essay is one of the best tools in your application to stand out from MBA candidates who don’t have a compelling career vision or haven’t effectively articulated their professional goals in their MBA application essays.

Leadership Essays

Leadership essays are your absolute best opportunity to convince MBA admissions committees of your leadership abilities. Remember that MBA admissions officers will be interested in your leadership achievements both inside and outside of work.

You probably won’t be asked directly, “Are you a leader?” Instead, you’ll be asked to tell stories about your leadership achievements. When given the opportunity, you need to supply evidence that you can rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal. Therein lies the objective of a great leadership essay.

Why MBA? and Why Our School? Essays

The “Why MBA? Why Our School?” essay is your chance to convince admissions officers that their school is the perfect fit for what you need from an MBA program. The best answers to these types of questions are both personal and specific. You need to effectively convey what you are looking for in an MBA program and tell the admissions committee why their school will best satisfy your learning goals and help you achieve your career development objectives.

“What Will You Contribute?” Essays

The “What Will You Contribute?” essay presents you with an opportunity to tell the MBA Admissions Committee why you would be a valuable addition to their incoming class. The schools are looking for candidates who can put in just as much as they take out. One critical thing to understand when preparing to answer these questions is that concrete and tailored answers about what you can contribute to each MBA program are crucial.

Professional Experience Essays

The professional experience essay is an executive summary of your career thus far. A resume is a record of jobs and achievements — a Professional Experience Essay provides the connections and interrelationships between those jobs and brings your resume to life. An effective Professional Experience essay will give the admissions committee a sense of the career decisions you’ve made, your major achievements in each step of your career, and the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired along the way.

MBA Application Video Essays

MBA admissions committees are increasingly relying on technology to help them evaluate and manage their growing applicant pools. MBA application video essays are becoming a popular tool, as MBA programs can use them to learn far more about candidates than the traditional application permits. In recent years, leading MBA programs including Kellogg Northwestern, MIT Sloan, and Chicago Booth have incorporated a video component into their evaluation process. Video essays are excellent screening tools that allow admissions officers to assess candidates’ professional presence and communication skills.

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No matter which type of MBA essay question you are tackling, your primary objective is to provide evidence that proves you possess the qualities that admissions committees value most. By doing so, you will move one step closer to an acceptance letter from a top business school.

Now that you have a better picture of the classic MBA essay questions you’re likely to face, let’s cover selecting the strongest stories to present in your MBA application essays.

How to Choose the Best Stories for your MBA Essays

Story selection is something all MBA applicants wrestle with. When you first read the MBA application essay questions, it may be hard to figure out which topics to cover or which of your stories to tell. We’ll explain how to go step-by-step to choose your best stories. Here are the steps:

  1. Research the School’s Fit Qualities
  2. Categorize the Question
  3. Brainstorm Topic/Stories
  4. Choose a Topic or Story

Research the School’s Fit Qualities

To choose your best stories, you need to know what qualities MBA programs truly value when evaluating applicants. You want to tell stories that prove to the admissions officers that you possess the attributes they seek in MBA candidates. We refer to these as the school’s Fit Qualities. You might think of them as the highest-common denominators among the candidates who are accepted.

Early in your MBA essay writing process is the time to make some strategic choices about which qualities and strengths you will put front and center in your MBA essays. If you attempt to feature all of your strengths, you run the risk that admissions officers will finish your essays with no clear idea of any of them. Instead, select three or four of the qualities that your research tells you the school you are applying to prizes most of all.

Categorize the Question

Second, study the essay question to determine if it falls into one of the five essay categories discussed earlier in this article.

By categorizing each question, you’ll have a better idea of what the admissions committee will be looking for in your response. You’ll know the criteria for scoring top marks in that essay style, which will guide your application essay design decisions.

Brainstorm Topics/Stories

Third, you are ready to start brainstorming potential topics and stories. Remember that your central objective is to find opportunities to feature the key elements of your application strategy.

Choose a Topic or Story

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you to choose your best topic or story:

Are you the star of the story or supporting cast?

With very few exceptions, you need to write stories where you play the starring role. Don’t make the mistake some applicants make of writing a thrilling story about their parents’ hardships and triumphs, leaving little room for their own.

Did the experience occur recently?

It is usually best to choose stories that happened within the last three years. If an older story is incredibly compelling, then keep it on your list. However, bear in mind that admissions officers are rarely interested in reading about your high school glory days.

Does the essay feature several Fit Qualities?

Review your topic ideas objectively and ask yourself if they exemplify the school’s Fit Qualities. Because you’ll be limited to telling only a few stories, you’ll want to choose the ones that feature a few different Fit Qualities if at all possible.

Once you have selected your best stories, it is time to create an outline to organize your thoughts before jumping into the writing process.

How to Outline Your MBA Essay Stories

The persuasive essay writing style is prevalent in university and work settings, so it may have been some time since you were asked to write a story. For that reason, we want to share a powerful outlining technique called the STAR framework that will help with the “story-telling” essays you may be asked to write in your MBA application.

The STAR framework is designed to help you tell a concise story with a beginning, middle, and end.

STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

The “S” in STAR stands for Situation.

The Situation is the time, place, and context of the story; you can think of it as the setting, but it might also include the broader challenge or conflict you or your organization faced. In essence, this is the set-up of the story.

“T” in the STAR acronym stands for Task. The Task is your role and goal in the story. What were you expected to accomplish by the end of the story? An effective story has built-in conflicts and complications.

The Action of the story is what admissions officers are really interested in because this is their chance to see your strengths and qualities in action. While it won’t be necessary to write down every step you took at the outlining stage, you’ll want to jot down the highlights.

Results are the impact of your actions and the final resolution of the complication you set up at the beginning of the story. Evidence of results is almost as important as action when you’re judging your story’s quality – a positive outcome and happy ending will make the story that much more powerful.

Below is an MBA essay example told using the STAR framework. It outlines a story written by a candidate who served as a donation chair for a fundraising event for a non-profit organization.

Situation: Last year, I volunteered to chair the donations committee of Literacy Now’s annual fundraiser.

Task: Assigning specific jobs to committee members, checking on their progress, helping teammates meet agreed-upon deadlines for obtaining the donations, and offering other assistance

Action: Motivated my team by having them meet Literacy Now children. Assigned tasks and checked in regularly. Successfully mediated team disputes. Visited 20 restaurants and called 12 wineries. Ensured deadlines were met.

Result: Convinced ten restaurants, three wineries, and twenty businesses to donate, raising $15,000 for the organization and ensuring the event’s success.

A STAR outline will help you almost immediately see if a story will translate into a successful essay. Once you’ve outlined your best story options, you will be ready to start writing your application essay drafts.

Sample MBA Essays: MBA Applicant Beware!

MBA Prep School’s guide is replete with essay writing tips, and we do provide excerpts from sample essays to illustrate the most common MBA essay categories. However, while you will find page-after-page of helpful advice and building blocks for constructing your own original MBA essays and stories, we don’t publish an extensive catalog of MBA essays written by MBA Prep School’s past clients.

The problem with collections of sample MBA application essays is that they can mislead you into thinking that if you can just replicate one of those sample essays, you’ve got your golden ticket into business school. Unfortunately, the opposite can be true. The reason those essays “succeeded” is because they were an integral part of a complete story about an impressive human being whom the admission committee concluded belonged at their business school.

And the scary truth is that reading MBA essay examples might even harm your chance of admission for several reasons:

1. They might stunt your creativity and ability to express yourself.
If you are trying to mimic someone else’s essays – the content, the style, or the approach – your story and voice are likely to get lost in the process. Admissions committees want to be impressed – but they want to be impressed by you. Feature the traits and tell the stories that depict “you” at your best.

2. Sample MBA essays can undermine your confidence in your MBA candidacy.
The essays that get published as samples are often truly eye-catching, dramatic, and sensational – stories of exceptional accomplishment, rare feats, or extreme obstacles. It may seem, in comparison, that none of your stories stack up. The good news is that the whole package is what matters, not a single defining moment in a candidate’s life.

The last thing you need is to doubt your abilities or have a crisis of confidence when you’re trying to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). Trust in your own experiences and tell stories about what you – and only you – will bring to the MBA program.

3. Admissions officers can tell when you’ve “sampled” from sample MBA essays.
The pesky thing about MBA admissions committees is that they’re filled with brilliant people who know how this game is played and what resources are available. They can spot themes and clichéd stories inspired by sample essay collections. More importantly, they can sense when you’re telling someone else’s story or when the story doesn’t ring true to your MBA application’s other elements. Don’t give an admissions officer reason to doubt your authenticity by risking even the appearance that you “sampled” from MBA sample essays that are swirling around on the Internet.

At MBA Prep School, we work with clients we believe in and help them tell their stories, not someone else’s. Remember that the MBA application process is not a storytelling contest; even if it were, the winners would be chosen based on the authenticity, originality, and integrity of the stories they tell!

Final Thoughts

Critics of MBA essays often wonder if they still have a place in the application process when admissions committees can rely on quantitative data points to choose among applicants. However, your transcripts, test scores, and resume are historical documents that only tell a fraction of the story. Your MBA essays represent a powerful opportunity to communicate your goals, strengths, reasons for applying, and potential contributions to the class.

The process of writing MBA essays provides you with a rare opportunity for self-examination and self-expression. Many applicants value the introspection required of them in the MBA essay-writing process and find they can better articulate their strengths and goals during their subsequent MBA interviews as a result. By putting ample thought and effort into brainstorming and writing your MBA essays, you will almost certainly increase your odds of being accepted to a top MBA program.

Free MBA Essay Writing Course

Please enter your email below to gain 30 days of free access to our MBA Essay Writing course. Learn about the five most frequently asked MBA application essay questions and access our brainstorming tools and sample essays.

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