In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic downturn, business school application volume has increased around the globe, making the elite schools tougher than ever to crack. In this climate, a successful MBA application requires significant time, planning, and self-reflection. One of the most important elements of that application is the essay, which is where you set yourself apart. The right essay can have a positively transformative effect on your profile—and, with it, your admissions decisions.
Given our decades of experience in advising top MBA applicants, we at Stratus strongly recommend that prospective students start preparing NOW if they have not started already. Based on our clients’ results and our understanding of the admissions climate, we believe that candidates who start the application process 8–12 months BEFORE they actually apply are…
Admitted into more schools
Admitted into more elite programs
More likely to get scholarships
More prepared for business school by the time they arrive on campus
And the early starters become the better prepared applicants—they are your competition!
An old Chinese proverb advises, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” So, that’s your first step: START EARLY.
Below are six steps you can and should take NOW to craft successful MBA application essays.
1. Deep dive.
It is critical to understand yourself, your candidacy, and your goals when—and even before—you begin writing your MBA application essays. Knowing who you are, what motivates you, and what you want to do in your career affects what MBA programs you’ll want to explore. Take the time to do this active thought.
At Stratus, we counsel applicants via a thorough introspection and self-reflection process to help them home in on specific narrative threads—and these are then used to ground the essay. Remember, you can’t build a skyscraper without a flawless foundation.
2. Organize outlines.
During your undergraduate work, and likely before, you were probably told about the importance of brainstorming and outlining. Although you need to keep the narrative alive throughout an essay and ensure you support each point with evidence, you don’t necessarily need to write each essay chronologically. This is where outlines come in; they give you the opportunity to perfect the sequence and structure of your content before writing in full sentences and paragraphs. You can experiment until you get it right, making writing the actual essays much less painful.
Also, your essays absolutely should not simply rehash your resume. Resumes are complicated, and maintaining order in your pre-writing is key. In addition, don’t waste time on full versions of drafts created from disorganized outlines. Have someone else review them before you start.
3. Be specific.
You aren’t just writing ONE essay; you are writing an essay for EACH SCHOOL to which you are applying. In fact, you’re often writing more than one! Columbia requires three essays, for example, and INSEAD has seven. Keep in mind that you need to tailor what you write for each school’s essays. You will need to point to specific courses, specific extracurriculars, and more as evidence of why you are applying to that program.
4. Be authentic.
Don’t lie! Sure, that’s easy. But more difficult is don’t write what you think the admissions committee WANTS to hear. Admissions officers have read thousands of essays and can spot genuine interest from a mile away. If you tell the story that only YOU can tell, your real passion and interests will come through.
It may take you three or four drafts of an essay (after two to four drafts of an outline) before you are ready to have it reviewed. Don’t skip this step! The more knowledgeable the reviewer is on the school and its particular admissions process, the more valuable the review will be for you. Having a second and even a third pair of eyes on your essay is critical. However, make sure to apply proper skepticism to comments made by reviewers who are not professionally qualified, such as family and friends who are neither alums nor MBAs.
Nothing can drain a sentence’s power faster than a typo. Therefore, you must review your essays with a fine-tooth comb. Evaluate flow and word choice in addition to looking for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Also, don’t forget to double-check things like school names, course names, and professor names!
Following these six steps will launch you on your way to crafting solid MBA application essays.