Do's and don'ts

MBA Essay Tips: 10 Essential Do’s and Don’ts

MBA application essays are your chance to demonstrate your unique qualifications for, and commitment to, a career in business management. MBA essays present an opportunity to discuss relevant experiences, people and events that influenced your decision to enter the field. That’s a lot to accomplish.

The key to success lies in focusing in each MBA essay on a few illustrative incidents as opposed to giving a superficial overview. Detail, specificity and concrete examples will make your answers distinctive and interesting. You’re also trying to create a narrative that holds the reader’s attention.

On the other hand, generalities and platitudes that could apply to every other business school applicant will bore. If you use them, you’ll just blend into the crowd. Make your MBA essays real and interesting.

These Do’s and Don’ts tips for your MBA personal statement will help you write compelling, focused MBA essays. You’ll transform from a collection of numbers and classes into an interesting human being that people from the business school would like to meet in person.

10 Do Tips for an MBA Application Essay

  1. Unite your MBA essay and give it direction with a theme or thesis and core idea. The thesis is the main point you want to communicate. Make sure it answers the question.
  2. Before you begin writing, choose what you want to discuss and the order in which you want to discuss it.
  3. Use concrete examples from your life experience to support your thesis and distinguish yourself from other applicants.
  4. Write about what interests you, excites you. That’s what the admissions staff wants to read.
  5. Start your essay with an attention-grabbing lead — an anecdote, quote, question, or engaging description of a scene.
  6. End your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the lead and restates your thesis.
  7. Revise your essay at least three times.
  8. In addition to your editing, ask someone else to critique your personal statement for you.
  9. Proofread your personal statement by reading it out loud or recording it and playing back.
  10. Write clearly and succinctly.

10 Don’t Tips for MBA Essays

  1. Don’t include information that doesn’t support your thesis.
  2. Don’t start your essay with “I was born in…,” or “My parents came from…”
  3. Don’t write an autobiography, itinerary, or résumé in prose.
  4. Don’t try to be a clown (but gentle humor is OK).
  5. Don’t be afraid to start over if the essay just isn’t working or doesn’t answer the question.
  6. Don’t try to impress your reader with your vocabulary.
  7. Don’t rely exclusively on your computer to check your spelling.
  8. Don’t provide a collection of generic statements and platitudes.
  9. Don’t give mealy-mouthed, weak excuses for your GPA or test scores.
  10. Don’t make things up.

Successful MBA Essay Examples

Here are examples of MBA essays that succeeded! The applicants were accepted into the relevant business school. Note that we’re only showing some parts of the total application. References are supplied.

Describe a setback or a failure you’ve experienced. What role did you play and what did you learn about yourself? (500 words)

In my 2nd year in university, my 2 study partners and I were all working for software companies. We frequently discussed ways to make quantum career leaps. One that fascinated us was starting our own company. One day we came up with an idea that would increase sales for consumer goods retailers and simultaneously decrease monthly consumer expenses. Each day, we polished our idea together for a couple of hours.

After 2 weeks, I decided to get outside feedback. I looked for people who had at least 10 years experience in consumer goods. Finally, I convinced a friend, to connect me with a board member of the 3rd largest consumer goods retailer in my country. I presented our business model to the board member, and he instructed his right hand to set us meetings with managers who could evaluate our plans. Over the next month, we went to one meeting after another. The responses varied from enthusiasm to skepticism. Each time, we improved our presentation according to the feedback.

Finally, I managed to set a meeting with the previous CEO of the largest consumer goods retailer. He concluded our meeting with: “Guys, in my opinion, it’s not going to work”. I couldn’t say if it was the pressure from school and work or the CEO’s negative feedback, but since that meeting, I wasn’t able to motivate the team to go on. We consciously gave up.

2 years later, one of my teammates called out of the blue: “check out this link…it works!”. I think he expected me to feel disappointed. Actually, I felt pride – my first business attempt was viable after all. But, I had failed to push it through.

Looking back, it was an amazing experience. I learned much about myself, but two lessons stand out. The first was that, at the time, I didn’t question what drives each team member. For me, it was primarily an adventure, and losing some money because I was working fewer hours for a while was a risk I was willing to take. Later, I realized that one teammate, who was already in a long-term relationship, was really worried about financial security. Then I understood that that was the core reason for many of our business strategy disagreements. Since then, I have learned to analyze others’ motives. I found out that it not only improves my communication with peers, but it also helps me convince my supervisors.

The second lesson was an eye-opener. I learned that I simply enjoy business. I was excited before each meeting and had fun analyzing business models and role-playing with my friends. I experienced energy levels that I had only ever felt playing hockey. I realized I am not willing to compromise on a career I will just tolerate, I want one that excites me. This realization completely simplified all my future choices. About 2 years ago, my CEO gave me a choice between a business and a technological position. That was the easiest decision I made in my life.

Wharton MBA Admissions Essays Example. Source: ARINGO

What leadership characteristics make for the best leaders, and how do you cultivate them? Conversely, how are you avoiding potential leadership pitfalls that you observe?

In my opinion, a good leader should be able to communicate and collaborate, and in the process, inspire people to work towards the goal. Working closely with others, listening to the issues they are facing, and collaborating with them to work towards a solution creates a bond. Later, when faced with problems they will reach out to their leaders for solutions to deal with the situation.

A few months ago, I was working as a Product lead on a critical and time-sensitive project to upgrade one of our key external integrations. The project had a huge operational impact for our clients and had a tight deadline which required the team to put in several extra hours. I worked out a plan with the technical team and stayed back late nights with the technical team though I did not have a role to play. My action boosted the morale of the team who volunteered to work harder to meet the deadline. However, a few days before the deadline, we ran into a serious issue that jeopardized the project. The solution I proposed was deemed risky as it involved significant coordination and required an explicit approval from all of our clients. In 24 hours, I coordinated a mass effort with 10 different account teams to get the needed permissions from 100+ clients.

Finally, the project was delivered on time, and in the process has saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. When my group’s VP praised me for my effort, I told him that the real credit should go to the technical team who worked round the clock to make this project a success. Later that day, the technical lead informed me that my VP had appreciated the team’s effort. The technical lead thanked me for my gesture and mentioned that in the past projects the team was not given the due credit.

Another quality of a great leader, I believe, is the ability to identify the right talent in his team, groom their skills and build efficient teams. Earlier this year, our company went through a merger. We welcomed five new team members to our team, and as the lead of the digital product, I was tasked with integrating the team. The members of the team had varying experience and technical backgrounds and were spread across three different time zones. I first identified the strengths of each of the new members and assessed how their qualities and abilities could complement the team. Through discussions, I found out their interests and skill set. I then created several two-people groups and assigned them to work on specific areas so each member would complement the other’s skill-set, pick up new skills in the process and lead to cross training. Every few weeks, the members changed teams and the areas they worked on. Within a few months, this process created a well-knit and skillfully diverse team, which was efficient in handling various tasks. The integrated team was able to handle 30% more workload and improve their average response time for support by 50%. Its huge success motivated two other teams to implement a similar approach.

I think the largest pitfall that I have observed in a leader is being deceitful. Giving false promises and skewing the facts may work in the short term but will eventually lead to losing peoples’ trust. A leader should be able to communicate factually and set realistic goals to inspire others. If I had not been truthful in communicating to the technical team that they will have to work long days and nights and set real expectations on the end results, the project would have been a failure.

Another major negative quality of a leader I have noticed is being selfish and putting one’s self interest before that of the team/organization. I keenly notice the contributions of every specific team member and make sure everyone gets their due recognition. If I had taken the credit for the success of the project, the word would have gotten out which might have affected my chances of expecting the same level of cooperation for the next project. I strongly believe that having leadership in thought and vision is not enough to make one a leader. The small personal gestures enhance the perception of a true leader and can motivate others to work towards the ultimate goal. I am excited to further enhance my leadership qualities through the courses and workshops offered through the Lead Exploration and Development program offered by Booth.

Booth Leadership Essay, My Essay Review

Provide a candid description of yourself, emphasizing personal characteristics you feel to be strengths and weaknesses. Discuss key factors that have influenced your personal development, giving examples as required (500 words).

Three months ago, when I was looking for bridesmaids for my wedding, I reconnected with a friend. She told me: “You’re my role model. When I met you, I told myself to become a woman like you: strong-willed and open-minded”. But I was not always this way.

I was born as an ethnic minority in a mountainous rural area of Southwest China, where poverty prevailed, and educational opportunities were rare for girls. As a kid, I asked my mom whether boys were smarter because teachers said so. But she, a college educated woman, told me they are not. She took me to Beijing for a short trip, encouraging me to cross those mountains that surrounded us. This inspired me to grow from a girl who led other girls to play wildly in playgrounds, to a woman capable of leading a global team to overcome the most challenging projects. In university, I was bullied because I could not speak English; at work, people questioned my ability to lead big projects because I am not a German male. It has been joyful to surmount these obstacles. I have even passed determination to others as when I coached another female peer to become a successful project leader or when I guided a team of inexperienced members to collaborate effectively.

These experiences shaped me to feel naturally comfortable in international settings and built up my ability to alleviate cultural conflicts.

I only started to work with Western coworkers when I was 25, and set my feet outside of China for the first time in 2013. Since then, numerous international trips to various countries grew my curiosity for different cultures. A strong affinity opened my heart to express respect and care for people from different backgrounds and to bridge us with universal values. As a result, not only am I currently enjoying life in a country as different to China as Germany, but I am married to a French, and I combine professional career in Germany with continuous trips to France. These experiences shaped me to feel naturally comfortable in international settings and built up my ability to alleviate cultural conflicts.

Thomas – the best boss I have ever met – gave me complete autonomy to leverage my problem-solving skills in order to discover issues and search for solutions. I, therefore, created processes to close gaps in change management after I observed changes were not tracked systematically. I organised resources to modify designs inherited from past products in Germany when I saw they no longer fulfilled new requirements.

As a female leader, I am always proving myself to be as capable as men. Therefore, I tend to carry others’ workload all by myself without asking for help when needed, which puts unnecessary pressure on myself. I am just concerned that I will be judged as a woman who cannot honour commitments. My husband is helping me to discover that it is okay to properly show my struggles and seek support. INSEAD Gender Initiatives will bring me to an international community of female leaders who have experiences to share on how to position ourselves in men-dominated industries.

INSEAD Strengths and Weaknesses Essay, The Crimson

What Makes a Good MBA Essay?

Impressed

As with any writing, you’ll know, or at least suspect, an MBA essay is coming together well when you find writing easy. A flow to your writing means you’ve found a story that’s authentic, so you’re not laboring to make something out of nothing. Effortless writing also suggest that you’ve found a good starting point from which to tell the story.

The admissions committee from the business school are just people who have to read through loads of dull text. A good MBA essay will cut through and grab their interest. Each paragraph will connect to the other, resulting in an easy read and the message being received. They’ll be impressed with your craft.

The best way to get these kinds of results is to ruminate and think before you start typing. Answer the question being asked in your mind. Think of the most illustrative experiences you’ve had. Create a storyline that you could explain naturally to a friend. Then you may have the makings of a good, or great, MBA admissions essay.

How Do You Write a Compelling MBA Essay?

Businessman reading document

If you follow the tips we’ve provided so far, you should be well on your way to writing compelling MBA admissions essays that stand out. But there are a few things you can do to make a story extra compelling.

An important point is to make sure you answer the question. We recommend including a paragraph early in each essay that essentially answers the question in a succinct fashion. That way, the admissions committee can have confidence in your response even before they get into the main part of the essay. They’ll be looking for you to expand on your answer rather than hoping you’ll get to the main point eventually.

Another technique to make your essay stronger is to cut out anything that doesn’t add to the story. Unnecessary details, including evidence of your achievements, should be left out if you want to produce a great MBA essay. Distracting from the central narrative to boast about something may actually be unimpressive to admissions officers. The trick is to be humble while providing concrete examples of your brilliance that fit with the rest of the content.

To hook the attention of admissions committees, be prepared to reveal who you are or what you’ve done. An authentic essay that no-one else could have written will reveal your unique qualities and background. Your essay, and you, then become more interesting. But just try to be different in a good or neutral way, showing traits or experiences that don’t make you look unsuitable for MBA programs.

How Can I Improve My MBA Essay?

Business essay

Once you’ve completed your MBA essays to perfection, don’t believe that you’re done. The essays may not be as good as they seem.

Consider that the acceptance rate from a leading business school is often below 50%. At least 10 business schools have acceptance rates below 25% according to US News. Do some further work on your essays to help ensure you make the cut.

Get fresh eyes on each essay

Having someone else read over your essays will help ensure any major issues are picked up. Ask them for brutally honest feedback. Did they enjoy reading it? Did it make sense. Do I seem stupid or unqualified at any point? Is there something embarrassing that should be cut?

If it’s a hassle to find a proofreader, make sure you at least take a good break before reviewing essays again. Have a read at a different time of day, or when you’re in a different mood, and see if the text still reads well. Sometimes, you might read essays in “critical editor” mode and others in “casual reader” mode.

Make your MBA essays less self-centered

Here’s a bonus tip. Go through the documents and remove as many “I’s”, “me’s” and “my’s” as makes sense. Stories are more interesting when you’re writing about a topic and not just yourself. There are many ways to discuss yourself without always reverting back to “me” and “I”.

What About the Rest of the Application?

Should you write an MBA essay with an eye towards the other questions on the application and aspects of the MBA program, such as whether it is online? Absolutely!

Never think that you’re writing this essay in some kind of a vacuum. It is part of an overall picture made up of different pieces: your academic record, professional experience, extra-curricular activities, hobbies, personal background and, of course, other essays. Write an essay as one piece in a jigsaw puzzle representing you to the business school.

Personalized Help Services

Writing and editing services

But wait. Before putting the pieces together, what if you are still not sure how to develop a unifying theme for your MBA application? Or perhaps you don’t know which experiences to focus on, or simply lack confidence in your writing skills, or have suddenly developed an acute case of blank-screen-it-is!?!

Remember, you can have one-on-one, personalized assistance every step of the way. Accepted.com has a complete service; designed to give you the guidance and direction necessary to draft a compelling essay. Plus, you get the comprehensive editing needed to perfect your MBA applicant essay.

4 Responses

  1. Chris
    | Reply

    Should I hire someone to proofread? I’m not the best with grammar and I know I overlook things. I also know computers don’t always get it right with spell-check and everything. I’m paranoid that my essay will come off sounding or looking like the writer was incompetent.

  2. Phil
    | Reply

    Fabulous, really, it is superb. The don’ts especially, I was like this seems like me, in every second point. I would have completely messed up my essay If I hadn’t read this. And not only that, but now my essay would be one of the best after reading the tips and the way it should be written. I would like to thank you from bottom of my heart.

  3. Luis T
    | Reply

    Great tips! I wish I consulted something like this during my application. Looking back it was not as great as I wanted it to be. I still did get accepted to the program I was applying for though, so there might be some good into what I wrote. Ha-ha!

  4. Oliver
    | Reply

    I am in the midst of writing an essay and I was not sure how to start or where to go with it. I had been looking for helpful tips for the last hour or so and of everything I read, this has been the most useful and straightforward. Thanks for the “don’t” list. I find that was more helpful than the “do” list.

Leave a Reply

Your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *