A Guide to “Why MBA?” and “Why Our Business School?” Essays

During your MBA application campaign, you will almost certainly be asked why you believe you need an MBA. Often, this question is not just about “Why MBA?” it is also asking why you want an MBA from that particular business school.

The “Why MBA” Essay is your chance to convince admissions officers that their school is the perfect fit for what you are looking for in an MBA program. The best essays are both personal and specific. You need to effectively convey what you are seeking from an MBA program and tell the admissions committee why their school will best meet your needs. This article takes a close look at the “Why Our Business School” Essay and provides you with the insights, tools, and examples you need to succeed.

First, we’ll talk about the common mistakes that applicants make when writing a “Why MBA” Essay and highlight resources for preparing better answers. We’ll also share the characteristics of an outstanding essay response. We’ll even provide you with a set of building blocks for crafting a unique and powerful essay of your own.

In the final section of this article, we analyze a sample “Why Our Business School?” Essay so that you see all of the principles in this article in action.

Common Mistakes in a “Why MBA” Essay

You might seriously undermine your chances for admission to a top-tier program with a weak or generic answer to the “Why MBA” question.

Effectively answering this MBA essay question begins with careful research to select which business schools to apply to. That work will take more than browsing the rankings and spending a few minutes on each program’s website. When admissions committees ask you why you are applying to their school, you need to explain at a deeper level what you’re hoping to gain from an MBA program and how that exact school best meets your needs.

Because so many applicants submit generic, flawed answers to the “Why MBA” question, it’s worth spending a few moments examining an ineffective essay response.

Here we have printed an example MBA essay written by an aspiring student who failed to read this article and follow our advice:

I am applying to your school because I need a thorough grounding in general management and the key business disciplines. In your program, I will have the opportunity to study with world-class professors, alongside ambitious students who have distinguished themselves as future leaders. Your school’s alumni network will open doors and prepare me for long-term success. In short, I couldn’t be more excited about spending the next two years in your program and would be honored if offered the opportunity to do so.

This would-be MBA will cut and paste this response into all of his MBA applications and assume that he’s adequately explained his motivations for applying for an MBA. Months later, he’ll scratch his head and wonder what went wrong when the “ding letters” start rolling in from business schools he hoped to attend.

But what’s wrong with this example essay? His reasons for applying to the school appear logical on the surface, and he’s written flattering things about the program.

To understand the problems with this sample essay, put yourself in an admissions officer’s shoes. Would this essay response convince you that the applicant knows what sets your program apart from the others? Has he proven that your school is an excellent fit with his specific career goals, academic needs, and cultural expectations?

An effective “Why MBA” essay begins with thoughtful research on the programs available. If you haven’t started your school research, then you have plenty of work to do before you begin outlining the contents of this kind of essay. Once you have chosen your target programs, you’ll need to dig deeper into the specific resources each program offers that make it a good fit.

Research Tips for “Why Our School” MBA Essays

Where can you go to generate valuable material for a “Why Our Business School?” MBA essay? Here are some sources you may not have considered:

Visit the School

School visits will provide you with first-hand observations that admissions officers appreciate. For example, in your essays and interview, you can reference students you met and things that stood out to you while visiting the school. However, don’t go overboard; if it feels like you are name-dropping or padding your answer, this strategy can backfire.

Join Official Email Distribution Lists and Read Admissions Blogs

Many MBA admission offices communicate regularly through traditional and new media channels. We recommend that you make every effort to stay on top of information the admissions office publishes. Be sure to add your email to the distribution list of each school on your target list so that you don’t miss important news and events.

Follow Student Blogs

An increasing number of MBA students are writing blogs to share their experiences in business school; while some are sanctioned by the admissions office, others are not. Do not overlook these opportunities to benefit from current students’ eye-witness accounts.

Talk to Current Students

An information source even more valuable than a student blog is a chat, whether on the phone or in person, with a current student. Many MBA students are happy to play the role of ambassadors for their program and give you the “inside scoop” on classes, clubs, and the student experience. Officers of student clubs related to your personal or professional interests are possible options if you don’t have friends or friends-of-friends in your network. Make sure to respect the time of everyone you speak to — they are very busy people. Think carefully about what you want to learn so that you can ask questions that will lead to great insights for your “Why MBA” essay.

Chat with Alumni

The school’s alumni network is one of the most critical assets of any MBA program. Many alumni are ready and willing to tell you more about their experiences and relive their days in the program by sharing them with prospective students. Search your professional networks (such as LinkedIn) for connections to alumni from the schools you will apply to and ask them if they would be willing to have a quick chat with you about their alma mater.

Once you’ve gathered this information, it’s time to start thinking about which data points to include and how to assemble them. To do this successfully, you need to know how to score top marks with the admissions officer reading your essay.

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How to Score Top Marks on the “Why MBA” Essay

The best answers to the “Why MBA” essay questions are both personal and specific. They are personal because they cover the unique challenges that you need to prepare for, given your short-term and long-term career goals. They are specific because they draw distinct connections between your motivations for an MBA and the distinctive resources that a particular school offers. An excellent response will prove that you don’t just want an MBA; you want an MBA from that individual school!

Let’s look at the characteristics of an outstanding “Why MBA” Essay.

First off, MBA admissions officers tend to use the “Why MBA” essay question as a test of your decision-making abilities and your ability to communicate your rationale for a decision. These skills are fundamental to succeeding in business school and as a business leader in the future.

Do you have crystal clear reasons for pursuing an MBA at that school? By this stage in your application process, you need to have the building blocks of a convincing case for pursuing an MBA and pursuing an MBA there. Armed with those points, you are ready to make your case to the admissions officers. Your overarching objective is to persuade admissions officers that attending this program will benefit you tremendously – not just any student, but you specifically.

In the earlier essay example, you learned not to cut-and-paste boilerplate reasons for why you want an MBA. Instead, show admissions officers that you genuinely understand the school’s unique resources and culture. “Boilerplate” answers like “I’m applying because you have great professors, an amazing student body, and a powerful alumni network” just won’t cut it. Look carefully at each point in your essay outline – if you can make the same point about any top MBA program, then you haven’t tailored your essay enough to prove to the admissions committee that you value what their school has to offer.

Building on that idea, write about the classes, clubs, professors, and special programs that matter most to you. An essay that sounds like a list of bullet points analyzing the program’s competitive advantages can entirely miss the mark. The things that are different about the school must connect to your learning goals — the new skills, knowledge, and experiences you hope to acquire in the program that will help you succeed in the future. Armed with a clear understanding of your learning agenda, tell admissions officers how you plan to close those gaps as a student at their school.

If you’ve done your school due diligence, you’ve taken active steps to get to know the program. However, simply name-dropping the professors, students, or alumni you’ve spoken to won’t help. Instead, tell your reader what you learned in your school research that impressed you and why.

Next, once you have a complete draft, consider the tone of your essay – have you expressed excitement and enthusiasm? Your emotional and personal reasons for applying can be just as convincing as the logical ones.

Finally, while some schools may ask a separate “what you plan to contribute” essay, this prompt offers another opportunity to share plans for being an active contributor on campus. For example, if you write about a student club that appeals to you, also tell the admissions officers how you might make the club even better as a student leader.

Let’s take a look at the content building blocks for an outstanding “Why MBA” Essay.

Content Building Blocks for the “Why MBA” Essay

You already know that, to create a strong “Why MBA” Essay, your points must be personal, specific, and convincing. The trick is to connect your learning goals — the new skills, knowledge, experience, and relationships you must have to succeed in your future career – with the unique resources that impressed you about the school — the academic programs, professors, student organizations, special programs, and relationships that only this school can offer you.

On the way to showing you an effective sample MBA essay, let’s look at the brainstorming process of a hypothetical applicant who has a plan for showcasing personal and specific evidence for her “Why MBA” essay.

Our case study applicant “Cheryl” plans to start a luxury retail goods company long-term. In general, Cheryl wants to build marketing expertise through an MBA. Specifically, she wants to acquire expertise in building a brand in the luxury retail sector. During her school research, she discovered that Columbia had several courses, professors, and resources that matched her learning goals. She combined her career planning and school research to create sharp points for her “Why MBA” essay.

First of all, Cheryl will go beyond boilerplate answers such as “I need to learn about marketing” and plans to write about the “Design and Marketing of Luxury Products Course” offered by Columbia.

Second, instead of a generic point about building relationships with her fellow students, she will make the more specific point that Columbia is the ideal place to build relationships in the luxury retail sector because of its location in New York, a global fashion hub. Furthermore, Columbia is one of only a handful of programs with a Retail and Luxury Goods Club, and Cheryl aspires to be the President of the club.

Finally, whereas the flawed sample essay refers vaguely to the appeal of “Top-Notch Professors, ” Cheryl is going to write about her plans to conduct a field study with the former CEO of Saks 5th Avenue, who, she learned, is currently a visiting professor at Columbia.

In the sample essay below, you can see how Cheryl assembled her content building blocks into a compelling “Why MBA” essay.

We hope this example convinces you of the power of synthesizing your development goals with thorough school research. If you do that, you will have points for your “Why MBA” essay that describe your learning goals and illustrate how they link to the school’s unique attributes and resources.

“Why Our School” Essay Sample

One of the most valuable things I have learned in my two years founding and building an Internet retailer is what I don’t know. After successfully selling my start-up to a larger firm, I have decided to apply for an MBA from Columbia to learn how luxury brands are built.

Columbia’s courses, professors, location, and extracurricular organizations make the program an ideal place to prepare me for my career aspirations to build a luxury goods brand.

“Why Our School” Point #1
At Columbia, I can learn how a fashion brand is built. I was thrilled to discover Columbia’s “Design and Marketing of Luxury Products” Course – where I would have the chance to study cases of successful luxury brands and to collaborate on a class project with designers from the Parsons School of Design.

“Why Our School” Point #2
Only at Columbia will I have the opportunity to study with Professor John Smith, a recognized guru in the luxury goods world and former CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue. Furthermore, in the school’s innovative Master Class program, I can engage with a luxury goods retailer in my second year and apply what I have learned about luxury brand building in the Columbia classroom.

“Why Our School” Point #3
Columbia’s location in New York, a hub of international luxury goods companies, will enable me to build relationships in the sector. Ideally, I will be elected as president of the Retail Luxury Goods Club in my second year and will have a chance to invite some of the leaders of iconic luxury brands to campus for speaking engagements.

Final Thoughts

When you conduct school research to determine which MBA programs to apply to, assess the program’s “fit” with your goals and preferences. Your “Why Our Business School?” essay is your chance to present that evidence to admissions officers to persuade them that their school is the perfect match with your academic needs, career goals, and cultural expectations. Aligning your interests with the program’s strengths and resources in a personal and specific way will get you one step closer to an acceptance letter from 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.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.