There are a handful of business school essay questions that seem to capture the heart and imagination of many an MBA program.
It seems that, across the board, admissions committees feel these queries offer the best insight into the minds of their applicants. Here's a sampling of some common questions, as well as some tips to help you craft the perfect answer:
Question 1: Describe your specific career aspirations and your reason for pursuing an MBA.
This may be the most important essay question you tackle. You must convince the admissions committee that you deserve one of their few, cherished spots. Reference your background, skills and career aspirations, demonstrating how this degree is a bridge to the next step in your professional life. Be sure to speak to how this particular program will help you realize your potential.
It's okay to present modest goals. Deepening your expertise and broadening your perspective are solid reasons for pursuing this degree. If you aspire to lofty goals, like becoming a CEO or starting your own company, be careful to detail a sensible, pragmatic plan. Don't be unrealistic.
Question 2: What are your principal interests outside of work or school? What leisure and/or community activities do you particularly enjoy?
There's more to b-school than the library. The best programs buzz with the energy of a student body that is talented and creative and bursting with personality. They're not just about case studies and careers. Describe how you will be a unique addition to the b-school community.
B-school is also a very social experience. Much of the work is done in groups. Weekends are full of social gatherings, and the networking you do here will impact the rest of your career. Communicate that people, not just your job, are an important part of your life.
Question 3: Who do you most admire?
The admissions committee wants to know the qualities, attributes and strengths you value in others and hope to espouse. Drive, discipline and vision are fine examples but try and look beyond these conventional characteristics. Tell a story and provide specific examples.
If you choose someone famous (which is fine), remember that you risk being one of many in the pile. Instead consider a current boss, business associate or friend. Know that your choice of person is less important than what you say about him or her.
Question 4: Describe a situation in which you led a team. What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
The committee isn't looking to see how you saved the team through your heroic efforts (so put yourself on ego alert). They want to see how you helped foster an environment in which everyone contributes, illustrating that the sum is greater than its parts. B-schools like leaders, but they like leaders who can help everyone get along and arrive at a collaborative solution.
You should shift gears for this question. Almost the entire application process thus far has asked you to showcase "me-me-me." Now the focus of your story needs to be on the "we" and how you made the "we" happen.
Question 5: Our business school is a diverse environment. How will your experiences contribute to this?
This essay gets at two concerns for the admissions committee: (1) how will you enrich the student body at this school and (2) what is your attitude toward others' diverse backgrounds?
Diversity comes in many shapes. If a grandparent or relative is an immigrant to this country, you can discuss the impact of his or her values on your life. Perhaps you are the first individual in your family to attend college or graduate school. Maybe you are involved in a meaningful or unusual extracurricular activity. Whatever you choose to write, it's vital that you discuss how it contributes to your unique perspective.
Question 6: Describe a personal achievement that has had a significant impact on your life.
Don't pull your hair out just because you haven't founded a successful start-up or swum across the English Channel. Smaller accomplishments with a lot of personal significance are just fine if they demonstrate character, sacrifice, humility, dedication or perseverance. A good essay describes how you reached a personal objective and what that meant to you. Maybe you didn't lead a sports team to a victory. Maybe the victory was that you made it onto the team.
Question 7: Discuss a non-academic personal failure. What did you learn from the experience?
Many applicants make the mistake of answering this question with a failure that is really a positive. Or they never really answer the question, fearful that any admission of failure will throw their whole candidacy into jeopardy. Don't get crafty. You should answer with a genuine mistake that the committee will recognize as authentic.
Write about a failure that had some high stakes for you. Demonstrate what you learned from your mistake and how it helped you mature. This is a chance to show b–schools your ability to be honest, show accountability and face your failures head–on.