In Essay Writing 101, we teach you the basics of MBA essay writing. We begin by looking at the five "classic" MBA essay questions and offer tips on how to score top marks with your answers. Second, we identify nine qualities that MBA programs value that you'll want to emphasize in your essays. Third, we distinguish between two different essay styles you'll see in an MBA application. Last, we share a valuable story outlining technique called the STAR framework that will help you with the essays in which you are asked to tell a story.
Let's look at the lesson plan.
In Essay Writing 101, we'll first take a look at the 5 Most Frequently Asked MBA Essay Questions and I'll offer a few tips on how to score top marks with your answers. Then we'll discuss nine qualities that MBA programs value – qualities that you will want to emphasize in your essays. Next, I'll distinguish between two different essay styles you'll run into frequently in an MBA application – persuasive versus narrative. Last, I'll share a valuable story outlining technique that will help you with the narrative essays in particular.
Let's begin with the 5 Classic MBA Essay Questions."
On your screen, I've listed the 5 Classic" MBA Essay Questions; they're the ones that we will be investigating in detail in the Essay Professor Courses.
Each school words their essay questions differently, so we'll start with a few example essay questions of each type drawn from actual applications. Then, I'll give you some high level criteria for for scoring top marks with your answers.
In the Essay Professor Courses themselves, we'll provide you with a detailed Essay Scoring Chart which you can use to choose your essay topics and improve the quality of your essays on the way to completing your final draft.
The first of the classic essay questions is the Career Progress Essay – this is your opportunity to tell the admissions committee about what you've accomplished thus far as a professional.
-- An essay question might ask you to summarize your career progress.
-- Or to tell the admission committee about your career-to-date.
-- Or you might be asked about your most significant professional achievements.
What the essay question is really asking for is your Career Story" – a kind of executive summary of your career thus far. When answering career progress question, bullet points won't do – that's what your resume is for. Telling a great career story provides the connections and interrelationships between your jobs and brings your resume to life.
So what is the admissions committee looking for in a great career story essay?
Business school admissions committees are searching for the high-achievers. To score top marks, you'll need to provide evidence of distinguished academic and career performance in the top 10% of your peer group and demonstrate your potential for future advancement.
Admission officers are interested in what you've achieved thus far to assess your potential for making an even bigger impact in the future. That's why you're almost sure to be asked the next classic MBA essays question – What are your career goals?
Just about every application will ask you to write a career goals essay, though they might not ask the question in the same way. Some variations include:
-- What are your professional objectives?
-- What is your career vision?
-- and Where do you want to be 10 years from now?
When it comes to answering this question, top marks are earned by demonstrating that you have passion for the career you describe and convincing the ad comm that your career goals are fueled by a larger sense of purpose.
Of course, they will also be looking for a credible career action plan that connects the dots between your current skills and experiences and your future aspirations.
Another popular essay types is the Leadership Story Essay.
A leadership Story Essay question you to to share stories about your leadership achievements. Typical questions include:
-- Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development.
-- Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
-- And: What impact do you hope to have as a leader of consequence in the future?
To score top marks with your answer to these leadership questions, you'll be expected to show the admissions committee plenty of evidence that you have an ability to rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal.
The fourth classic essay type is the Why Our School Essay." This type of essay is your chance to convince admissions officers that the school is the perfect fit with what you are looking for in an MBA program.
You might be asked:
-- Why do you need an MBA from our program?
-- Why is now the best time for you go back to school?
-- Or how do you think that our school can prepare you for your career goals?
The best answers to these types of questions are both personal and specific. They are personal because they cover the unique challenges that you need to prepare for in the future. They are specific because they draw distinct connections between your motivations for an MBA and the specific resources that particular school has to offer.
Answering the Why Our School" question correctly begins with thoughtful research to decide which schools you'll apply to. It's going to take more than browsing the magazine rankings and spending a few minutes on each school's website. You need to understand on a deeper level what you're looking for in an MBA program and then figure out which schools will best meet your needs.
There are always more qualified candidates than there are seats in the class; so the admissions committee wants to know what you will contribute if accepted. Questions about your possible contributions to the class can take a few different forms …
You could be asked:
-- What can you contribute to our program?
-- How can you enrich next year's class?
Or– How will your past experiences, personality, and leadership skills be of value to your future classmates?
The important thing to understand when preparing to answer these kinds of questions is that concrete answers about what you can contribute to the program are very important. The schools are looking for candidates who can put in just as much as they take out.
The secret to scoring top marks is to be both concrete and specific. Too many candidates answer in vague generalities: "I'll be a student leader" or I can offer a diverse perspective."
You can talk about softer-skills and qualitative reasons, but you should explain why those attributes will benefit your classmates. Don't leave it up to the admissions officers to figure that out.
No matter which type of essay question you're answering, your primary objective is to provide evidence that proves you possess the qualities admissions committees value most. By doing so, you'll move one step closer to an acceptance letter. Let's talk now about the some of the most import qualities to feature in your essays..
The nine qualities that we believe all top MBA programs value are listed on your screen.
--A Collaborative Nature
--A Community Orientation
--A Global Viewpoint
Let's quickly define these nine qualities:
Leadership is the ability to rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal. Some candidates struggle to distinguish between an individual accomplishment story and a leadership story. The best way to tell the difference is that a leadership achievement is something that you couldn't have accomplished on your own. Leadership is about achieving your goals by harnessing the energy of other people.
A collaborative nature relates to your ability to be a team player and your willingness to contribute to the success of your teammates. It's the opposite of selfishness and self-interest.
Integrity is a big word -- it has to do with honesty, ethics, and morals -- and your sense of right and wrong. It boils down to character -- doing the right thing, building trust with others, and keeping the promises you make to yourself and to other people.
Analytical intelligence has to do with your ability to run the numbers, solve problems, identify patterns in information, and make data-driven decisions.
By comparison, emotional intelligence -- also known as interpersonal intelligence -- has to do with your aptitude for understanding other people's feelings and your capacity as a leader for tapping into emotion to inspire your followers to realize a higher degree of success.
Creativity, or creative intelligence, relates to your ability to cope with new and unusual situations by drawing on existing knowledge and skills. It also means seeing the world in your own unique way and developing something that hasn't existed before.
Community Orientation means that you devote energy to serving your community and making it stronger. Your community service accomplishments provide an important signal that you are a giver, not a taker. Remember, the schools are looking for students who will contribute just as much as they take away.
A Global Viewpoint has to do with life experiences that extend beyond your domestic borders. In your essays, you can emphasize your cultural and international experiences in your stories and through the global scope of your career goals.
The last of our 9 Qualities , Self-Awareness, relates to your capacity to see yourself objectively, assess your own strengths and weaknesses, and learn from your mistakes, growing beyond existing limitations.
All nine qualities are essential, but you won't be able to emphasize every single one of them to the same degree. That's where your application strategy comes in. You'll need to decide which of these qualities you want to spotlight.
Now that you have a better picture of the classic essay questions you're going to face and the qualities you'll want to feature – let's cover two of different styles of essays you're likely to encounter into in your MBA applications – Persuasive and Narrative Essays.
There are two types of essay styles that appear most frequently in an MBA application: Persuasive and Narrative. In a persuasive essay, you're trying to persuade the reader that your argument is a sound one. If you've ever read an op-ed column in a newspaper, that's essentially a persuasive essay.
The classic What Will You Contribute to the Class" question is a good example of a Persuasive Essay. The essay you write must draw on your past experiences and achievements to persuade the admissions committee that you will be able to make similar contributions and enrich next year's class.
The other style of essay you'll encounter in your MBA applications are narratives essays. Certain essay questions don't sound like questions at all; they are actually an invitation to tell a story. We refer to these as Narrative Essays – but others call them behavioral essays or expository essays.
The Leadership Story Essay we discussed earlier is a perfect example of a Narrative essay. It's one thing to claim to be a leader – but it's quite another to be able to show the admissions committee that you're a leader by sharing a leadership story.
A narrative essay must still be persuasive. After all, your ultimate objective in writing these essays is to persuade the admissions committee that you possess the qualities that they are looking for.
In my work as an admission consultant, I've found that many of my clients struggle most with the Narrative Essay. So I want to share a powerful outlining technique called the STAR framework that will help you with the story-telling" essays you are asked to write.
STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
We'll cover the basics of the STAR framework and look at an example of how Steven, an MBA applicant, used the STAR framework to outline a Leadership Story Essay.
The S in STAR stands for Situation.
This is the time and place and context of the story – in essence you are setting the stage for the story.
In Steve's case, the situation of the story is a fundraising event for a not-for-profit – Steven served as the donations chair for the event.
Next, let's look at the Task portion of your story outline.
The Task is your role in the story -- and it often takes the form of a goal or objective statement.
Steven's main tasks as the donations chair were assigning specific jobs to committee members, checking on their progress, helping them meet their deadlines, and offering other assistance.
Next comes the Action portion of your outline.
While it won't be necessary at the outlining stage to write down every action you took, you'll want to jot down the highlights.
In this example, Steven writes down how he motivated, supervised, and led the team. He also includes the important tasks that he performed personally, such as visiting restaurants and calling wineries.
Finally, you'll share the outcome of all of your hard work.
Results are the impact of your actions and 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 the quality of your story – a positive outcome and happy ending will make the story that much more powerful.
Specific details count here.
For example, Steven plans to quantify his results: his team recruited donations from 10 restaurants, 3 wineries, and 20 local businesses. He proves that this hard work paid off, as his team ultimately helped the organization raise over $15,000.
Let's take a look at what happens when we put all four elements of the STAR framework together.
While your actual STAR outline will likely include more details than this sample, you can see how this technique helps you tell your story succinctly with a beginning, middle, and end.
A STAR outline will help you see almost immediately if a story is going to translate into a successful essay. But how do you decide which stories to tell? In the next lecture in the Essay Professor professor series we will share an innovative technique for choosing your best stories.
But before we conclude, let's review the key lessons in Essay Writing 101.
In this Essay Writing 101 course, we introduced the 5 classic MBA application essay questions. These are the essay questions we'll be focusing on in the individual Essay Professor lectures.
Second, we told you about the nine qualities MBA programs value – qualities that you'll want to feature prominently in your essay.
Third, we distinguished between two common styles of MBA essays – persuasive and narrative.
Finally, we introduced the STAR outlining technique – Situation, Task, Action, Result – which will help you to outline the stories that you want to tell.
When you're ready, proceed to the next lecture in MBA Prep School's Essay Professor Series – Choosing Your Best Stories.
A GMAT score is just one component of your MBA candidacy. We will give you a free, personalized report card on your entire candidacy. Let us assess your strengths and weaknesses in the following areas:
- Academic Profile
- Test Scores
- Career Progress
- Career Goals
- Knowledge of Target Schools
Find out if you "make the grade" for the world's top-ranked business schools!
Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes