Most of the MBA admissions directors and coaches you talk to will tell you that the application essay is one of the most important elements considered for admission to top MBA programmes. What is the high value of the written word in telling your story, highlighting your motivation, and illustrating your professional worth?
In broad terms, the MBA application essay is your best opportunity to summarise and explain your choice of B-school and studies in your own words. The way your goals and expectations fit the focus of an MBA programme is of primary importance for preselection for admission and an invitation for an interview.
In some cases, to apply for an MBA programme you may even need to submit more than one essay. Although this shows just how important the essay can be for MBA admission, do not waste time stressing over your application but, instead, engage in effective preparation. As soon as you have your list of MBA programmes to apply to, make sure you are aware of the specific requirements listed by each of them because there may be considerable differences. Admissions directors can see right through an application essay that has not been tailored for their programme so sending the same piece of text to different universities and hoping one of them takes the bait is out of the question.
In an attempt to aid you in the essay writing process even further, we got feedback directly from the admissions directors of top international MBA programmes. Their advice will give you a better idea of how you can make the most of the essay and use it as an opportunity to stand out in the application process.
Demonstrate your motivation
Rebekah Melville from Yale School of Management (US) points out one of the most commonly cited pieces of advice for MBA applicants – justify why you are the right person for this class and explain how your aspirations will fit in with the school’s values:
What we are looking for is to get a little bit deeper in the sense of who you are, what you value the most and the actions you’ve taken towards your beliefs. No one gets in on the basis of a fantastic essay, but it is another valuable piece of your application.
Although this is easier said than done, getting to know your studies of choice in detail will help you present a more convincing argument. Lauranne Bardin, who is in charge of recruitment for the MBA programme at HEC Paris in France, the UK, and Asia, also stresses the importance of an applicant’s motivation:
[Applicants] really need to make us feel that this choice is the best one for them and for their career. They need to point to aspects of the programme that they like and they need to show us that they know the programme and have done their research. We also want our candidates to have clear career goals. Of course these goals can change during the programme, but it’s important to see that they already have a career plan which is in line with their experience.
Although making a strong case for yourself is essential, do not try to polish your essay to the extent that it loses your personal touch. Yulia Koroleva, Associate Director of Admissions at ESADE Business School (Spain), shares that it is best for applicants to present a genuine application that reflects their individual profile:
The most important thing for us is to make sure that what we see through the application is the real candidate. I would say the motivation and profile are the most important. I would advise our candidates not to try to give the answer that they think we expect, but to be honest when answering essay questions and demonstrate who they really are.
Check out: Be Yourself During the MBA Video Essay
Highlight your professional experience
MBA programmes are designed for ambitious professionals who wish to elevate their career to a higher level. Naturally, this drive for growth has to be reflected in your application. Claire McKeown, full-time MBA Recruitment Manager at Warwick Business School (UK), further explains:
We’re looking mainly at people’s work experience, the progression that they’ve made and evidence of their managerial and leadership skills. In terms of essays, we do ask specific questions to try to bring out evidence of those qualities. So we’re paying quite close attention to how well a candidate has given us examples of those things. And then if a candidate is shortlisted for an interview, we will explore that further at that stage.
Show how you stand out
For the strongest possible application essay, relevant professional experience and good motivation may not be convincing enough on their own. Admissions directors often say that they are looking for applicants who truly stand out with their unique profile, experiences, and goals. Iliana Bobova, Head of Admissions Consulting at Advent Group explains:
Profiling your uniqueness is very important because MBA admissions teams aim to build a diverse MBA class in terms of academic and professional background, culture, and experiences. Learning from peers is a considerable and highly valued part of the MBA experience.
So, find a way to bring out your uniqueness in your application, and especially, in the essay. Anna Pauwels from Emlyon Business School (France) clarifies further:
We pay most attention to diversity. In our programme we have a very diverse cohort, both in the Full-time and the Executive MBA. Speaking for the Full-time MBA, we have between 30 and 40 students and, for us, diversity is number one – not only cultural, but also professional diversity. So, if you do something out of the ordinary – for example, if you are a DJ in your spare time or if you have a little business on the side – talk about that. In our cohort, we want everyone to be different and we want everyone to bring something else to the class. This is the best piece of advice I can give.
Whether you have already found your dream MBA programme or you are planning to apply to several business schools, you need to come up with a clear plan for your application essay. Brainstorm different approaches, think of your strongest achievements, and do not forget to ask colleagues or peers to check the final work. If you prepare well and use the right strategy, your essay will successfully lead you to the next steps in the MBA admissions process.