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Top Five Tips for Writing Compelling MBA Admissions Essays

Erin Wand

Erin Wand - Personal MBA Coach

Erin Wand is an mba.com Featured Contributor and the Vice President of Marketing and Operations for Personal MBA Coach, a boutique MBA admissions consulting and tutoring firm.

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For many of the business school applicants I work with, the MBA admissions essay is the part of the application they dread the most.

Does that sound like you? It doesn’t have to be! If you’re unsure about how to start on your MBA admissions essays, don’t worry. This is your opportunity to move beyond your GMAT exam scores, GPA, or resume and reveal something deeper about yourself to the admissions committee. Read along for my best MBA admission essay tips.

Crafting winning MBA admissions essays

The question is: how to you write MBA admissions essays for top-tier programs that stand out from the stack and effectively tell your story? Here are five tips for compelling essays that will stick in the minds of the admissions committee and help you get into your top choice business school program.

1. Stay focused and answer the question asked

It’s surprising how often candidates write beautiful essays but do not answer the question. While I certainly endorse thinking outside of the box and considering the “why” behind an essay prompt, first and foremost you must answer the question.

Business school applicants like you are often highly accomplished, and it can be tempting to try to include as many of the details of your accomplishments as possible into your essays. It’s crucial that you avoid this urge and focus on the specific question at hand.

2. Less can be more: be succinct

A trend I’m seeing at many leading full-time MBA programs is shorter essay word limits. Michigan Ross, Stanford GSB, UCLA Anderson, and Duke Fuqua are just a few of the programs that have reduced their essay word counts in recent admissions cycles. This trend underscores a key piece of advice: be succinct!

Remember, your essays and short answers are just one part of your application. In addition to the details you’ll provide on the application form itself, you’ll also submit an MBA resume (check out my resume tips here!). This allows admissions committee members ample opportunity to read about everything you have accomplished, all the roles you have held, and the awards you have won. There is no need to fit every detail into your essays.

Instead of squeezing in as much as you can, focus on sharing a few key highlights, peppering in some interesting details, and convey your authentic voice through your writing. This is your chance to explain your choices, show your accomplishments, and share your passions. The fewer things you try to cover in your essays, the more you will be able to achieve this objective.

3. Be authentic, not what you think schools want to hear

I can’t emphasize this enough: do not write what you think admissions committee members want to read! The qualities and experiences that make you unique are your greatest selling points. Each essay should paint a clear picture of who you are, what motivates you, and what you’re passionate about.

Related to this, don’t feel compelled to show how you fit the mold that seemingly makes up the “ideal” candidate. If you have no desire to run a non-profit, that’s okay! If you’re not motivated to save the planet, don’t pretend you are! The admissions committee will see right through this, and you could end up doing more harm than good. Instead, focus your energy on simply being authentic.

4. Keep your language approachable and focus on the “so what?”

The terms you regularly use at the office may be foreign to others, including admissions committee members. When in doubt, do not assume the reader is familiar with everything about your job. Admissions directors come from all backgrounds and fields and are not assigned to candidates with similar backgrounds. They do not know the ins and outs of your industry and do not need to. In fact, details and accomplishments that are significant only to someone in your industry are less compelling than understandable results and transferable skills.

Everyone from your grandmother to a professor of microfinance should be able to understand your essays. So even if your accomplishment would be extremely impressive to another engineer or investment banker, if the reader doesn’t understand the “so what,” you’re wasting your words.

5. Limit the amount of flowery prose

Remember: You’ re not submitting your essays for a Pulitzer Prize. All you’re trying to do is tell your story. While of course you want your essays to be well-written and free of grammatical mistakes and typos, you also want them to be relatable and easy to follow. They should also convey why you are someone others would want to study with, learn from, and eventually be inspired by. That type of person is human and down to earth. Your essays should show this. 

Erin Wand

Erin Wand - Personal MBA Coach

Erin Wand is an mba.com Featured Contributor and the Vice President of Marketing and Operations for Personal MBA Coach, a boutique MBA admissions consulting and tutoring firm.

Founded by a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan graduate who sits on the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants Board of Directors, Personal MBA Coach has been guiding clients for 14 years and is consistently ranked #1 or #2, currently holding the #1 ranking in the US on Poets&Quants.

We help clients with all aspects of the MBA application process including early planning, GMAT/GRE/EA tutoring, application strategy, school selection, essay editing and mock interviews. Our team includes a former M7 admissions director and former M7 admissions interviewers.

Last year, our clients earned more than $6M in scholarships!