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 they are also sometimes called behavioral essays or expository essays. The leadership essays we discussed earlier are good examples of a narrative essay.
We have found that MBA Prep School students struggle with narrative essays the most; so we want to share a powerful outlining technique called the STAR framework that will help with the “story-telling” essays you will be asked to write.
STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
In this unit, we will cover the basics of this helpful outlining framework. We will also look at an example of how Steven, an MBA Prep School student, used the STAR framework to outline his leadership essay.
The “S” in STAR stands for Situation.
This is the time, place, and context of the story; you can think of it as the setting but it might also include the broader challenge or conflict that you or your organization faced. In essence, this is the set-up of the story.
Case Study: How to Outline Your Stories – Steven
Steven, one of our MBA Prep School students, decided to write a Leadership Essay about serving as a donation chair for a fundraising event for a non-profit organization.
For the Situation in his outline, Steven wrote:
Last year, I volunteered to chair the donations committee of Literacy Now’s annual fundraiser.
“T” in the STAR acronym stands for Task. The Task is your role in the story – and it often takes the form of a goal or objective statement.
For example, Steven’s main tasks as the donations chair were:
Assigning specific jobs to committee members, checking on their progress, helping teammates make agreed-upon deadlines for obtaining the donations, and offering other assistance.
The Action of the story is what admissions officers are really interested in because this is their chance to see your strengths in action.
While it won’t be necessary at this outlining stage to write down every action you took, you’ll want to jot down the highlights.
Steven summarizes his action as follows:
Motivated my team by having them meet Literacy Now children. Assigned tasks and checked in regularly. Successfully mediated team dispute. Visited 20 restaurants and called 12 wineries. Ensured deadlines were met.
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 are judging the quality of your story – a positive outcome and happy ending will make the story that much more powerful.
Specific details count here, as we will see in Steven’s case.
Steven quantifies his results, which is highly recommended:
Convinced 10 restaurants, 3 wineries, and 20 businesses to donate, directly helping to raise $15,000 for organization, ensuring the event’s success.
Your STAR Story
While your STAR outline is likely to include more details than our example, you can see by looking at Steven’s complete STAR outline that this technique will help you tell a complete story succinctly with a beginning, middle, and end.
Table 10: Completed STAR Outline
A STAR outline will help you almost immediately see if a story is going to translate into a successful essay. Once you’ve outlined your best story options, you will be ready to start writing the drafts of your application essays.
Unit Review: How to Outline Your Stories
- The STAR outline is a helpful framework for narrative (i.e., storytelling) essays.
- Situation: the setting of the story
- Task: your role or objective in the story
- Action: what you actually did to achieve your objective
- Results: the outcome you achieved
- The benefit of the STAR outline is that it will help you to quickly see whether a particular story will be the best one for the essay question asked.