MBA essays are a key element of your application package. Admissions officers pay a lot of attention to them, because your essays show your expectations from each MBA programme.
Essays also reveal your personality and your potential for a unique contribution to the MBA class and the business school culture.
MBA essays are the second biggest challenge for MBA applicants after the GMAT, as many have shared. Each word in your essays should be carefully selected. But most importantly, the messages that your essays convey should be part of a well-planned strategy.
MBA essays take much longer to prepare than usually anticipated. They should be different for each business school to which you apply. Business schools may require up to ten essays. Recently, Harvard Business School challenged applicants by giving them the option to skip the essay and rely only on the rest of the application package.
Find expert advice in the summary of the Q&A live session conducted by PrepAdviser in January 2015. Iliana Bobova, Head of Admissions Consulting at PrepAdviser, answers the questions of potential applicants from different parts of the world. Candidates are at different stages of their preparation for MBA or Master’s admission.
Q: What should you highlight in the MBA essay if you do not have so many years of experience?
A: First, each essay has a different topic. You should focus on the essay topic. There are no essays which ask you about the number of years of work experience. Rather, they may ask you about your most challenging experiences, lessons learnt, achievements, etc. These are not necessarily related to the years of work experience. But you do have to make sure that you have the minimum work experience required by the business school in order to apply for admission. If you have that then there is nothing to worry about, because your stories will be based on the required experience.
It is very important to understand the essay topic and what the school is really asking you with each essay. Focus on experiences which are unique and which will differentiate you from the rest of the applicants. Before you start working on the essays you should review the whole application package and build a strategy for your messages. What will you say in the essays? what will be mentioned in the recommendations? how will these statements be supported in your CV/resume? etc.
Q: As far as I saw, many business schools no longer require a statement of purpose. Instead they give you around 2-3 essay topics. Am I right?
A: This differs from school to school. In general, if you apply for admission to a Master’s programme you may be required to provide either a Statement of Purpose or one or several essays. If you apply for an MBA, one or several essays will be required.
Q: Hi, could you suggest any plan for the MBA essay and Master’s programmes, and what would be the difference between the two?
A: For a Master’s programme you may be required to prepare a statement of purpose. If so, this is more like a motivation letter – why you want to study in your selected field, why you selected this university, why you think that your academic and professional background makes you a good candidate for this programme, what you expect to gain from the programme.
MBA or Master’s essays have specific topics/questions. In this case, you have to focus on answering the question in a way that speaks about your unique qualities and experiences. Be specific, give examples, and avoid clichés and generalisations.
Q: I would like to know if European schools tend to focus on any specific topics for the MBA essays. I am especially interested in the UK schools.
A: Each business school has a set of essay topics. You should follow the requirements of each school. Some European schools may require up to 10 “mini-essays” on different topics/questions.
Q: How can I prepare perfect MBA essays? I’m looking to apply to SDA Bocconi and a few other schools.
A: Start working on your essays as soon as you select the schools and programmes where you will apply. Second, make a strategy for the message you want to convey with your whole application package. Then, decide what you will mention in the essays, what in the recommendations, etc. Third, brainstorm on the essays before you decide what the content will be. Your focus should be to talk about the things which differentiate you from other applicants. Try this: how am I different from other women from my country or region in terms of experience, personality or career goals, etc? This should be applied to each essay topic. Also watch this short video: The Candidates Business Schools are Looking for
Q: Is it necessary to have work experience in the field in order to apply for a Master’s programme?
A: This depends on the requirements of the university. For example, there are Master’s in Finance programmes which require that you have prior financial experience, but there are also others which do not. Check carefully in advance.
Q: Do you know how long the GMAT certificate is valid? And should it be valid during the whole programme or just for the admission process?
A: GMAT score is valid for 5 years. This is good because you can first focus on taking the GMAT and start selecting business schools when you are happy with your score. GMAT only needs to be valid at the time of application only – that is, by the application deadline. It may expire during the programme and this is just fine.
Q: How can I make sure that my essay is competitive with other candidates’ essays?
A: The key to a competitive essay is for it to be really personal and to reveal your own personality, motivation, story and potential contribution to the programme. Here, I should say that if you have selected the schools and programmes carefully, then you have done half of the work. If you are convinced that this is a good programme for you, then you just need to give the arguments in the essay in a very personal and relevant way.
If you are applying to highly competitive MBA programmes, it is a good idea to work with an admissions consultant/coach on the whole application package. Consultants have an outside perspective; they know the “typical” MBA applicant and what each b-school is looking for. Thus, they can clearly see what differentiates you.
Q: Do you have any recommendation in the choice of admissions consultant/coach?
A: There are many admissions consultants. I will be glad to give you guidelines on how to select the best for you. They differ in terms of the schools they can help you with, their fees, whether they work face-to-face or online, etc. Find some more details in How to Select an Admissions Consultant. Please, contact me in the Forum to provide more details about where you are located and what kinds of schools you are targeting. I will be glad to provide further guidance on selecting a consultant.
Learn more about what is MBA consulting
Q: I have to prepare essays on the following questions…I would like to know what the most effective approach would be. Question 1: Please give a detailed description of your role, your responsibilities and your achievements in your current (latest) position and explain how your role and responsibilities have evolved through your career. (300 words). Question 2: What makes the EDHEC Global MBA stand out from other MBA programmes and how do you expect the curriculum to help you professionally? (300 words).
A: Q1 is about career progression, challenges, lessons learnt, management responsibilities, leadership examples. Q2 is about why you selected this school and programme, why is it better for you than other programmes. You have to give specific examples related to the elements of the programme, such as those courses which will help you. But everything should be related to your post-MBA career goals. For example, “The course in Managerial Finance will be helpful, because I have not studied finance. I had some practical experience in my last job, but my goal is to run my own company and financial knowledge is a must for me.” — This is just a simple example.
Q: What are examples of good first statements and last statements in the MBA essays…for example…possible quotes?
A: Essays have a strict word limit so you should select each word carefully. I would not recommend that you use jokes, because you are never sure that the person reading your essay has a sense of humour or will understand the joke. At the beginning of the essay, go straight to the point of the essay question. At the end, say whatever you want them to remember about you and your application.
Check out different types of Admission Essays
If you were unable to join this live chat on how to prepare outstanding MBA essays, you can still post your questions in the Forum and Blog. Take the opportunity to join our next chat sessions covering a variety of topics on MBA and Master’s admissions.