Narrative essay questions require you to tell a story – but which of your stories should you tell? As you will learn in this course, you want to tell stories that prove to the admissions officers that you possess the qualities that they value most. We refer to these as the school's "Fit Qualities." They are the qualities admissions officers are looking for when they read your essays. In this lecture, we'll show you how to use a school's Fit Qualities to choose the best stories to feature in your essays.
The Leadership Story Essay that we cover in the proceeding Essay Professor series is a good example of an essay question that requires you to tell a brief story about a personal experience:
Other examples include:
– Tell us about a time you led a team …
– What accomplishments are you most proud of … and
– When have you made a lasting impact on an organization?
You're being invited to tell a story – but which story should you tell?
Clearly, you want to tell stories that prove to the admissions officers that you possess the qualities that they value most. We'll 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. These are the qualities admissions officers are looking for when they read your essays. In other MBA Prep School courses, we show you how to define a school's fit qualities. In this lecture, we'll assume you already know what the school's fit qualities are – in this course, we'll show you how to to use those qualities to choose the best stories to feature in your application.
Let's begin with a few examples that will illustrate the Fit Qualities concept.
The qualities that MBA Admissions officers value are fairly well-understood and intuitive.
Those valued qualities, which we discussed in Essay Writing 101, range from leadership to analytical intelligence to self-awareness.
This list is helpful, but it's really just a starting point. There is enormous power in determining the specific qualities the programs you're applying to value most.
For example, consider the quality of leadership. Every single MBA program values leadership, but are they all looking for exactly the same kind of leader?
The Haas School at UC Berkeley certainly prizes leadership in its students but is looking for a certain kind of leader they refer to as the "innovative leader" – a leader whose leadership qualities are equaled by his or her creative capacity. So if you're building a list of Fit Qualities for Haas -- Innovative Leadership would be on the top of your list.
Similarly, some research on Stanford reveals that Stanford values a quality they call "Intellectual Vitality" which is a combination of collaborative nature, analytical and emotional intelligence.
Columbia prizes the "Entrepreneurial Mindset." MIT Sloan values "Drive." And so on…
In the "Select Your Schools" module in our Prepare to Be Accepted video series, we show you how to do your own detective work to identify each school's specific "Fit" qualities. Before you embark on writing your essay, you need to do this detective work either with MBA Prep School's guidance or on your own.
What do Fit Qualities have to do with choosing your best stories? Everything as it turns out. If you don't remember anything else from this lecture, I want you to remember this: Proving you fit is about knowing what qualities the program values most and using that knowledge to select and shape the stories you tell in your application essays.
Because simply claiming you possess the school's Fit Qualities won't convince admissions officers – you need to learn how to use your knowledge of the school's Fit Qualities to search for stories, evaluate stories, and choose the stories that will best display the qualities you know the school is looking for. In this course, we'll show you how it's done.
If you follow the Essay Professor process we're about to share with you, you'll make better story choices and have more confidence in the choices you make.
Let's get started.
After you've done the research to define the school's Fit Qualities. you'll use those Fit Qualities to search your memory banks for possible stories to tell.
To me, searching for stories is a lot like searching for information on the web; so I'm going to use a search engine analogy to describe to you how it's done.
I'm going to show you how to use the Fit Qualities you identify in your school research to quote-unquote "Story Search Terms."
I think an example will help.
Let's assume that I am applying to Stanford and I know that Intellectual Vitality is one of the qualities they'll be looking for.
I refer to the definition of Intellectual Vitality I created when I was building my Fit Qualities list…
…which is now on your screen.
– to paraphrase an intellectually vital person is "a person who inspires other people to learn and contributes to other people's learning."
From that definition of intellectual vitality, I create some phrases to spur my memory.
I ask myself -- When have I done that in the past? When have I...
...sparked a lively discussion and took it further
...spurred other people to think and learn more
...or been so fascinated by a topic I wanted to master it and then teach others
Those are going to be my "story search terms."
Once I have my search terms, I can start "brain-searching" for intellectual vitality stories. I'll be guiding my imagination and memory with the story search terms I've developed.
So with my improved story search terms, here's what I come up with -- Let's call them "Story Hits"
-- My marketing thesis on new product development with Nike
-- The World Leader biography book club I started
-- and the research I did on software R&D spending and the model I built to allocate my employer's annual R&D budget
Hopefully now you're starting to see the power of turning your fit qualities into story search terms. I realize that we're all different, but at least for me, it just doesn't work as well if I sit back and ask...
"What stories can I tell that will prove I fit at Stanford?"
Or even more specifically: "What stories can I tell that prove I possess intellectual vitality?"
Those just don't generate many story hits for me. But when I ask myself "When have I been so fascinated by a topic that I wanted to master it and then teach it others...?" Bingo -- things start jumping to mind.
For me at least, the discipline of following each step in the process produced much more promising results.
What if instead of 3 stories for intellectual vitality, I came up with 10? Well, in that case, there's a very good chance that Intellectual Vitality is going to be a quality I want to emphasize in my Stanford application – and my essays in particular.
Alternatively, what if, even with great story search terms on some other quality, say negotiating abilities, my search page still comes up blank? Well, then that quality isn't going to be one that I emphasize.
Searching for stories is about generating options, your next step is to match your best stories to the essay questions asked.
It would be nice if admissions officers provided an open invitation to tell any story you'd like to, but we all know that they are going to have specific questions they want answered.
So your next steps is to see if any of the Narrative Essay Questions asked provide an open invitation to tell the Fit Stories you most want to tell.
Back to our example, luckily for me, Stanford asks a question about Building a Team that Exceeded Expectations, which feels like a great opportunity to tell my Nike Story – which was about leading a field study team that designed a pair of sneakers for the company:
For the final step in the process – Selecting Your Best Fit Stories -- let's assume that you have a few good stories in contention for a particular essay question. At this point, you should outline those stories using the STAR framework that we covered in the Essay Writing 101 lecture and then use the series of test questions on the next slide to help you pick the winner:
The first question to ask yourself is: Which story is the best match for the question asked?
For example, if you've been asked to tell a leadership story cross off any stories where you were mostly working on your own, and circle the stories in which you made an impact by harnessing the energy of others.
Next, ask which of the possible stories covers the greatest number of qualities you know the school is looking for. Because you'll be limited to telling only a few stories you want to choose the ones that feature a number of fit qualities if at all possible. For example, the Nike story features intellectual vitality but it's also a good story to tell to show off my team leadership skills.
Of course, you want to make sure that you are the "star" of the stories you tell versus supporting cast. Stories in which you play the starring role will allow the admissions officers to get to know you better.
Another important test is whether you think the essay can be written with a clear beginning, middle, and end within the word count provided. If your outline exceeds the word count of the essay itself you are probably going to struggle to tell the story in the space allowed. One way to address this is to focus the camera on a particular moment in the story instead of trying to cover everything that happened.
A related question to ask yourself is whether or not the story will be easy to understand without a great deal of background or technical knowledge. Again, in 500 words or less, you won't have the space to tell a story that requires an elaborate set-up .
And finally, it's generally best to choose the stories that happened the most recently – say within the last 3 years. Some schools like Stanford actually make this a requirement. Otherwise, there is some leeway on this criteria if an older story is especially powerful. Just bear in mind, that the longer ago it happened, the better the story needs to be to justify choosing it over something that happened more recently.
[Before we wrap up, let's review the key takeaways from this lecture. You're an old hand with the STAR framework by now so why don't we use it to review the central concepts you've learned in this class.
The situation is that you want to choose the best stories to tell in your essays.
Your task is to choose stories that Prove You Fit.
The actions I recommended in this lecture are to:
> Search for Fit Stories
> Match Your Best Stories to Essay Questions Asked
> Select Your Best Fit Stories
The results you are aiming for are a selection of stories that represent the best of who you are.
I began this lecture by telling you that proving you fit is about knowing what qualities the program values most and using that knowledge to select and shape the stories you tell in your essays. Instead of telling the admissions officer that you possess a quality such as "intellectual vitality," you can show that you do by telling a a story that shows this quality in action.
Story selection is by no means an easy process, but if you work at it and follow the steps in this Essay Professor Course, I think you'll be able to choose the Best Stories for your business school essays.
Your next step in writing your essays is to gather all of the essay questions for the schools you are applying to and use the Essay Professor Classification System to categorize them into one of the five types. Remember, not all your essays will fit into one of the five classic types – but many of them will.
In the self-study materials for the Essay Professor Introduction video, you can download a copy of the Classification.
Once you've classified your essays for the schools you are applying to you can proceed to the relevant Essay Professor lecture, which are titled by essay type.
In addition to our core videos and transcripts, as a free registered member you can:
- Track your progress through each application module;
- Follow our specific "Next Step Actions" to keep you focused on the most critical tasks each step of the way;
- Receive our Essay Writing Bootcamp email course; and
- Listen to recordings from our Premium Member Q&A sessions.
Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes