Writing a powerful “What Will You Contribute?” Essay

There are always more qualified MBA candidates than there are seats in the class. The “What Will You Contribute” Essay is your opportunity to tell the admissions committee why you would be a valuable addition and how you will bring something different and desirable to the school community.

This essay question 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 critical thing to understand when preparing your answer to these questions is that concrete ideas about what you can contribute to the program are essential. MBA programs are looking for candidates who can put in just as much as they take out.

How do you build a powerful essay addressing the question: “What Will You Contribute to Our Class?” First, we’ll talk about why the admissions committee asks you to identify how you will hypothetically contribute to their MBA class and share the characteristics of an outstanding answer.

We’ll even provide you with a set of building blocks for crafting a unique and persuasive essay of your own.

In the final section of this article, we analyze a sample “What Will You Contribute?” Essay so that you see the principles we taught you in action.

Admissions Committees Want to Know Who You Are

One of the secrets to developing a meaningful “What Will You Contribute?” MBA Essay is starting with a thorough understanding of who you are, your strengths, and what you have to offer the schools you’re applying to.

Directly and indirectly, Admission Committees will be asking: “What will you contribute to our school if accepted?”

There are always more qualified candidates than seats in the class, so the admissions committee wants to know what you can bring to the table.

An outstanding essay conveys what we will call your “Points of Difference,” or PODs for short. Points of Difference is a marketing term that refers to the positive ways in which a company’s product differs from its competitors. Used in this context, your PODS are the positive ways that you are different from other applicants. PODs capture the essence of who you are, what you’ve experienced, what you stand for, and what you can contribute to the class.

A good exercise to identify some of these PODs is by thinking of them across 11 categories:

  1. Important Life Experiences
  2. Significant Personal Achievements
  3. Cross-Cultural Experiences
  4. Talents
  5. Expertise
  6. Things You’ve Started
  7. Things You Have Created
  8. Passions and Interests
  9. Honors and Awards
  10. Causes/Communities You Care About
  11. Friends in High Places

Once you brainstorm your list of PODs, you’ll want to narrow them down to the items that are most unique and essential to who you are.

How to Score Top Marks on the “What Will You Contribute” Essay

The admissions committee will evaluate your “What Will You Contribute” essay across a few different dimensions. Still, your primary mission is to write an essay representing the best of who you are and persuading the admissions committee that you will be a valuable addition to next year’s class.

Let’s briefly review the characteristics of a successful “What Will You Contribute?” Essay.

First, this essay serves as a test of self-awareness and maturity. The best way to ensure that you display a high degree of self-awareness is to invest a great deal of time and care into crafting this essay. In our experience, every candidate has several unique things they might contribute, but it often takes work to identify and articulate what those things might be. Self-awareness is hard-won, which means you can’t rush the process, and you must work at it.

The second scoring criteria is related to the first – it has to do with the substance of your essay. When taken as a whole, does the essay portray you as a well-rounded individual with diverse interests and life experiences?

Will your essay have an admissions officer thinking, “This candidate seems interesting – I’d like to meet him or her”? Or have you written an essay that is indistinguishable from the thousands of others the admissions officers read every year?

These essay questions are an invitation to express your unique personality, perspective, and values, which we defined as Points of Difference. Your life experiences, how they’ve shaped your perspectives, and how they could benefit your classmates are gifts that only you can give. To build on that point, remember that admissions committees want to get to know you as a total person – don’t make this essay all about your professional persona and work accomplishments.

Another flaw that we frequently see in these essays is they are full of messages (or we might call them bullet points) about how the applicant is unique, yet the messages don’t fully explain how these differences might be valuable to the class. Don’t leave it up to the admissions officers to figure out how your attributes and life experiences will benefit your classmates. We will share a technique for addressing this problem in the content building blocks section up next.

Providing examples of how you’ve contributed in the past is a great way to convince the admissions committee that you’ll be a “giver” as a student. Does the evidence you present in the essay portray you as someone who has enriched others’ lives? If possible, weave in examples where you’ve made the communities you’ve been a part of that much stronger. If you can do that, then the admissions office will likely conclude that you will enrich their MBA community if accepted.

However, this essay isn’t only about what you’ve contributed in the past — concrete messages about what you plan to add to the school if accepted are critical. Too many candidates answer this question with vague generalities: “I’ll be a student leader” or “I can offer diversity to my classmates.” While schools are looking for candidates who plan to get involved and make a difference once accepted, they will be more convinced of your intentions if you highlight specific plans for doing so.

A final red flag to watch out for is the tone of your essay. Finding the right balance between explaining how you shine and bragging can sometimes be tricky. Ask your reviewers to keep an eye out for spots where you might have crossed the line into bragging.

In the content building blocks section for this essay, which we’ll cover next, we will show you how to shape messages about what makes you unique into effective points about what you will contribute to the class if accepted.

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Content Building Blocks: Transferring Your Points of Difference into Potential to Contribute

In short, the secret to scoring top marks with your “What Will You Contribute?” essay is to be both concrete and specific. The important thing to understand is that your unique attributes are not your contributions; rather, they relate to your potential to contribute. What you need to do now is to take your output from the self-assessment exercises and shape those ideas into benefits to the program and your classmates. As we mentioned, too many candidates answer in vague generalities: “I’ve traveled extensively” or “I am an outgoing person.” Recall our definition of Points of Difference – they aren’t just differences; they are differences that other people, namely your MBA classmates, will value.

You are unique – but don’t stop there. Ask yourself: “How could these different, interesting, and unusual things about me benefit the program and my future classmates?” As you work through your list, you will discover that some of the unique things about you may not easily translate into benefits to your classmates. The ones you want to concentrate on in your essay are those that will. You may have to be creative in your translation work, as we’ll see in our example.

For each benefit you come up with, the final step is to customize it for the MBA program you are applying to. The building block question is: “In what concrete ways can I deliver those benefits if I am accepted?” Don’t make the admissions officers infer how you will deliver the benefit you are promising – tell them directly.

This essay is about painting a picture of the kind of student you will be if accepted; furthermore, you show your knowledge of the program by specifying how you can get involved.

Let’s look at how an MBA Prep School student translated his Points of Difference into essay points.

Travis, our example applicant, completed his self-assessment work and identified three points of difference that he’d like to focus on in his “What Will You Contribute” Essay:

  • First, he was an Army brat who moved to a new city every three years growing up.
  • Second, as a professional, he had done extensive work on alternative energy and recently published a study on the business models that alternative energy companies are pursuing.
  • Finally, as the community service coordinator for his firm, he developed an ability to motivate his busy colleagues to help others.

The outputs of the self-assessment exercise become the inputs to this essay. Let’s look at how Travis shaped the first of these three points – that he was an Army brat — into a content building block for his essay.

Travis started with a somewhat unique feature about his childhood — he was an Army brat and had moved to a new city every three years when he was growing up.

While interesting, he needed to ask himself how this aspect of his life experience might benefit his classmates. After some thinking, he realized that his Army brat upbringing had taught him how to build new friendships quickly wherever he went. He was quite adept at breaking the ice and making friends, so he could help his new classmates connect.

Travis now had a Point of Difference that would enrich the school community, but he still had one more step to customize that contribution to the school.

After some research, Travis learned that first years at his target school could volunteer for the entering student orientation committee; that committee needed outgoing members who could help newly arriving students get to know one another. In his essay, Travis wrote that he’d like to serve on this committee as a first-year and lead the committee as a second year.

As you can see, Travis now had the makings of an excellent essay point about one of the ways he could contribute to the MBA community. His answer was both concrete and specific.

So we’ve covered one example of how this candidate translated a Point of Difference into a tailored benefit for the school he was applying to.

Below you will see how he translated the other two points into concrete, specific benefits and then wove these together into a “What Will You Contribute” essay for his Kellogg application.

“What Will You Contribute?” Essay Sample

Three specific ways I want to contribute to Kellogg would be as a student member of the Orientation Committee, a leader in the Energy Club, and a coordinator for Kellogg Cares.

I love meeting new people and helping others find their footing in new situations, and so I’m excited about getting involved with student orientations. Growing up, I was an army brat, so we moved every three years, and I know how daunting it can be to move to a new city and start over. The good thing about doing it eight times so far in my life is that I know how to break the ice and make new friends easily. One way I could contribute at Kellogg is by arriving on campus early and volunteering for the first-year orientation committee. I’d like to lead the committee in my second year.

Another way I think I could add to my classmates’ experience is through the Energy Club. At McKinsey, I completed a year-long case on business model best practices for Alternative Energy plays. I could share what I learned in the Energy Finance class, and also I’d like to start a speaker series and invite the industry leaders I met to speak on campus.

Finally, my experiences as the Community Service Lead for the analyst class in McKinsey’s Dallas office will also benefit my Kellogg Classmates. I learned how to motivate very busy people to dedicate time to community work. My classmates will be just as busy and overwhelmed as McKinsey analysts, and I could apply what I learned about motivation as part of the leadership team for Kellogg Cares. I found that with enough advanced notice and frequent pep talks, you can get busy people to participate, and once they do, they’re hooked. I’d make it a goal to get more of my classmates involved in Kellogg Cares than ever.

Final Thoughts

MBA programs want to admit candidates who already have a plan for putting in just as much as they will take out. As a result, admissions officers seek to build a class of dynamic classmates who have already exhibited a consistent commitment to enriching their communities.

By combining your unique Points of Difference with real examples of your past contributions, you can set yourself up for success in the “What Will You Contribute” Essay and the overall admissions process.

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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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