Writing Your MBA Application Essay

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Thursday, September 29, 2016
By Pat Nickinson
The MBA application essay is an opportunity to demonstrate that you'll benefit from an MBA and have the capacity to flourish in the program.

You’ve decided that an MBA is just what you need to create the dynamic professional future you can see right over that hill. You’ve even gotten as far as narrowing down which of the hundreds of MBA programs you’ll apply to. Most MBA and EMBA admissions applications require the same kinds of credentials: undergraduate GPA, GMAT or GRE scores, maybe work experience, and . . . the personal essay or statement. Some programs will ask you to respond to one or more very specific questions: In 500 words, describe a time you overcame adversity. In 1,000 words, write about your professional goals. Others will be far less specific: write a 1-2 page personal statement. Wide open.

But not all MBA programs care equally about the application materials. Yes, they all look at the whole package, but unless you’re applying to the most highly competitive MBA programs, says Irene Hurst, director of MBA programs at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business, the essay may be less important than quantifiable benchmarks like your GPA, your GMAT score, or your work experience. Programs that give less weight to the essay often won’t ask specific essay questions; they’ll ask you to submit a one-to-two-page personal statement, and how you fill that is entirely up to you.

Why the MBA Application Essay Is a Personal Essay

The MBA admissions essay has two basic goals: (1) demonstrate that you belong in or will benefit from an MBA or EMBA program and (2) demonstrate that you have the intellectual, social, or emotional capacity to flourish in the program.

These are two very different things. The first is about your plan, your vision for your professional life, your understanding of what an MBA or EMBA can do to help you succeed. The other is about what you bring to the table: can you express yourself clearly enough to be effective in a classroom or working on a group project? Do you have the attention to detail, the sense of professionalism and professional courtesy that would make you an asset in an MBA cohort?

Strategies for Writing an Effective MBA Application Essay

Take a hard, realistic look at both your dreams and the programs you’re applying to. What do you want to do with your MBA, specifically? You need to be able to put that into words. Use the essay to demonstrate that you know how to create a workable plan. Where are you going, and how will you get there? Knowing each MBA program’s options may help you sharpen your ability to state your professional goals, though the less competitive programs won’t expect you to know precisely which track you want to go into.

Use all of your existing skills to write a clear, direct, statement that demonstrates how professional you are.

  • Display your attention to detail through scrupulously following instructions about essay length and topic, as well as proofreading carefully. No typos.
  • Convince the MBA admissions committee that you understand conventions of professionalism through the level and type of language you choose (no profanity, no ranting, no slang, but equally, no attempts to wow them with pompous, inflated language).
  • Demonstrate an organized, clear mind by arranging your ideas logically, in paragraphs that each develop a main idea, and by providing connections between the ideas.
  • Avoid writing a flashy opening or a hook. The committees have been there, done that. Do, however, incorporate a believable take on who you are professionally and why an MBA is right for you.
  • If there’s no defined topic, you can use the personal statement to explain any weaknesses in your other credentials. Just make sure to approach this professionally: no excuses, no whining.

Remember that the MBA application essay is an opportunity to display your professional writing skills, demonstrate that you are goal oriented, and show that you are a good fit for the intended MBA program. Use your words wisely!

Pat Nickinson
Director, BizComm Center for the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida in Tampa
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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