Essay Preparation

Prompts may vary widely, but every MBA program requires at least one essay as part of the application package. For many MBA applicants, writing the essay is a stress inducing event. What does the school want to see? How should I best present myself in writing? How should I think about the essay? These and many similar stressors can be frustrating obstacles to beginning the MBA school journey. Yet, no matter what the prompt, there are broadly applicable recommendations to approaching the MBA applications essay that we believe can truly guide to you put your best self forward in writing to the admissions committee.

Connect the dots between your past, your goals, and how that MBA is going to help you get there

You can frame it as, “I did XYZ (accomplishments); and what I learned from that was ABC. I hope to take that experience to the next level in my goal to start a social enterprise in saffron in Afghanistan to help those Afghan women I came across while deployed. Harvard Business School has a terrific track record of producing social entrepreneurs. I talked to ____ and ___ who are both graduates and they told me what great resources HBS offered: the iLab, Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Social Enterprise Fellowship…I am excited to do XYZ after HBS…”

You can talk about your accomplishments as it relates to how it supports your goals in the future

Be Genuine

The essay is an opportunity for you to express yourself, and the best way to do it is to be genuine and tell a powerful narrative about yourself and how the MBA school experience is best for you based upon reality. You’ll find that the essay becomes easier to write and more compelling if you dig deep to highlight your impactful experiences and illustrate your goals. Yes, being tactfully boastful to market yourself to the admissions committee is recommended and very much in line with being genuine as long as it is based in reality.

What becomes a problem is when people become insincere on their essays because for whatever reason, they believe identifying certain topics or using certain buzzwords are standard fare to get admitted. Some examples of such troublesome essay writing are such occurrences:

  • Highlighting a career path that there is zero interest for or knowledge about in order to sound compelling (e.g., want to go into finance without grounding in reality)

  • Unfairly exaggerate or extrapolate prior military experience (e.g., after being a Platoon Leader in Afghanistan, I can start the next unicorn startup)

  • Use MBA buzzwords repeatedly in an essay (e.g., return on investment)

Highlight how the school in particular can best equip you to be a successful businessperson and leader

It is important to have a good appreciation for the qualities of each MBA school and coherently highlight how what the school offers makes it an exceptionally good fit. Some potential areas to highlight are:

  • Education delivery (e.g., teaching style, global capstone, or certificate programs)

  • Extracurricular opportunities (e.g., community consulting)

  • Community culture (e.g., if a smaller program like Georgia Tech has a very tight-knit culture)

Highlight how you can best contribute to the MBA community

MBA schools are also looking for how individual candidates can contribute to the MBA learning experience and community. Once again, in order to highlight this in your essay, it really helps to have a good appreciation of each MBA school. Two areas that would be good to know are how:

  1. Structured learning challenges that are present in each MBA school (e.g., some schools have an intense pre-term or capstone that are infamous for being points of student stress)

  2. The community presents opportunities to add towards the MBA experience (social, academic, or professional)

It should be pretty easy for veterans to highlight how they can be a bedrock of stability through tense situations like an MBA group project or be a student leader in the community. The key to doing so most effectively on an essay is to signal how your veteran experience makes you a strong contributor to your classmates and the MBA school at large.

Slim it down. Keep it terse. Illustrate, don’t tell.

  • Use direct verbs, i.e. subject-verb-object, rather than passive voice.

  • Actively edit your essay to make it punchier and to-the-point

  • Don’t use too many SAT words, but use a few!

  • Show, don’t tell. Example: instead of “Our company leadership expanded the operational capabilities of our unit, solving the toughest challenges in the face of the region’s kinetic environment,” would rather say, “Our executive officer immediately upgraded our vehicle armor against rocket propelled grenades while our first sergeant mandated that dismounts and gunners cross-trained. Because of their leadership and logistical support, our platoon was better equipped to survive in the Afghan province of Ghazni.”

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