When it comes time to apply to business school, many MBA applicants search high and low for sample MBA essays written by successful applicants, in the hope that they can unlock a hidden essay writing formula that will assure admission to their dream schools.
Enterprising MBAs have even created businesses that publish their classmates’ acceptance-winning words (yes, I’m talking to you, Harvard Business School). But the thing that books like 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays won’t tell you is that the reason these essays “succeeded” is because they were an integral part of a complete story of a unique MBA candidate who the admission committee decided “fit” at their business school.
The truth of the matter is that there is no secret formula for successful MBA essays. 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 essays, you’ve got your golden ticket. Sorry, Charlie, no such luck.
In fact, sample MBA essays, while being of questionable value in and of themselves, can actually harm your chance of admission for a number of reasons:
#1 – They 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 your voice are likely to get lost in the process. For example, if the sample essay you are trying to emulate focused on the writer’s work experience and your strengths are best featured on the baseball diamond, then your essay will probably strike out. What if the writer has a very poetic style and you are more matter-of-fact? If so, the voice that the admission committee hears won’t be your own.
Admissions committees want to be impressed – but they want to be impressed by you. So feature the traits and tell the stories that depict “you” at your best.
#2 – Sample MBA essays make you feel bad about yourself – and that’s not a good place from which to start the writing process.
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 own 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 borrowed inspiration or words from sample MBA essays.
The pesky thing about admissions committees is that they’re actually filled with really smart people who know how this game is played and what resources are available to the players. Over the course of their careers, they’ve read books with sample MBA essays and they can spot themes and clichéd stories that are clearly inspired by sample essay collections. More importantly, they can sense when you’re telling someone else’s story and/or when the story doesn’t ring true to the other elements of your MBA application. The last thing you would ever want to do is give an admissions officer reason to doubt your authenticity, so don’t risk even the appearance that you “sampled” from some of the published works that are out there.
We wrote this article because we want you to be wary of sample MBA essays and to understand the risks involved in reading them, let alone “borrowing” from them. At MBA Prep School, we work with clients who we believe in and help them tell their story, not someone else’s. Remember that the MBA application process is not a storytelling contest and, even if it were, the winners would be chosen based on authenticity, originality, and integrity of the stories they tell.