Hi, I’m Isabella J., an MBA, GRE, and GMAT coach on Leland. Here are my top tips for acing your MBA application essay. While GMAT scores and GPAs are important components of MBA admissions, essays are arguably the only chance for you to showcase yourself as a multifaceted individual beyond scores and resumes. Essay writing can feel challenging — and that’s by design. In this arduous, self-reflective process, we also get the opportunity to learn more about our own motivations and aspirations in life.
As someone who has gone through those agonizing months of preparation, I actually think self-realization was my biggest takeaway from the process. By understanding myself better, I could better articulate what set me apart from the rest, and eventually land at my dream school. If you’d like to work with me on any part of your MBA application process, go to my profile and book a free intro call today.
How to Make Your MBA Essay Stand Out
1. Carefully read the essay prompt. 2. Be authentic. Be yourself. 3. Be clear on your goals. 4. Be succinct. Less is more. 5. Showcase how you can add value. 6. Avoid jargon and use simple, approachable language. 7. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.
At the end of the day, the goal is to represent yourself beyond grades and facts and to show the committee that both you and the school will mutually benefit from you being part of the community. Below I’ve summarized seven essay tips based on my personal experience to help your essay stand out this application season:
1. Carefully read the essay prompt.
While essay prompts vary across schools, their main purpose is to find out who you are as a person. Some common topics and themes include:
- Are you purpose-driven? (your goals, aspirations, and how an MBA can fit into that)
- Can you add value? (your background, personality, upbringing, etc.)
- Do you like challenges? (how you deal with adversity and/or success)
However, each question can have slight nuances as to how you should structure your answers and pick the best stories to tell. Make sure you pay close attention to the details in the wording, as a slight twist of sentence structure and word choice could indicate that the committee is placing different emphasis on what they’re looking for.
Before you even start writing, definitely make sure to take each word in the essay prompt into consideration and answer precisely what the question is asking for. While it might be tempting to copy and paste your essay for different schools, you risk having your essay only tangentially answering the question if you aren’t writing directly to the prompt.
2. Be authentic. Be yourself.
Naturally, we’re trying to impress in our essays. However, it’s actually counterproductive trying to take on a persona you think a business school is looking for. The committee reads countless essays each year and it’s very easy for them to catch inauthenticity in your work. Therefore, it’s really important for you to represent yourself truly, and not in a way you think the school would want to see (after all, none of us can read minds!).
Your unique background, experiences, and perspectives are exactly what make you desirable. You should articulate clearly who you are, what motivates you, and what you’re passionate about while confronting your fears and doubts head-on. Sometimes, vulnerability can be your biggest strength.
Whether you want to go into consulting, start your own venture, specialize in one field, or join a non-profit — all are desirable profiles in the eyes of the committee. There’s no cookie-cutter image of what a business student should look like. So don’t feel compelled to be someone else. Rather, be confident that you as yourself is already good enough.
3. Be clear on your goals.
I know, nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone in five to ten years' time. However, that’s a poor excuse for not setting goals. The actual goals don’t matter as much as the goal-setting exercise itself. It really forces you to think clearly about in which direction you want to grow, who you want to be as a person, and what motivates you in your personal and professional life. Too often we get caught up in the daily hustle that we never pause to reflect on where we’re going. This is the perfect time to do so.
Even if you aren’t entirely sure about your 10-year goal, start small. Set short-term and long-term goals, and know that they may well change as circumstances evolve. There’s nothing wrong about goals evolving, but you’re definitely missing out if you aren’t setting any.
When you clearly articulate your goals, it shows two things. Firstly, it shows that you’re methodical and serious about your intentions and that you’re determined to get there. Secondly, it indicates whether you’d be a good fit for the program and whether an MBA experience can indeed get you closer to your career aspirations. So definitely do not underestimate the importance of goal-setting, and do not skimp on the time needed to do this exercise.
Sometimes talking through your thoughts with a third party can be helpful in distilling and articulating your goals. The good news is, that booking some time with an MBA coach can help you do just that.
4. Be succinct. Less is more.
Just because you’re writing complex sentence structures and including sophisticated vocabulary doesn’t mean you have strong writing and storytelling skills. Many MBA programs are already restricting word count in recent admission cycles — and it’s actually more challenging to get your idea across with fewer words than more!
You don’t have to include every detail of your past professional experience in the essay, especially since your resume already does that for you. Instead, focus on reflecting on your intrinsic motivations, belief systems, your worldview, and your personality. Share the key highlights and delve deeper into the interesting details that really illustrate how you’ve grown as an individual. And be sure to remain authentic and honest throughout your writing.
If you’d like some writing guidance, it helps to get a professional writer to polish up the language for your drafts.
5. Showcase how you can add value.
As an applicant, it goes without saying that you find value in an MBA education. However, it’s equally important for the admissions committee to see how you can add value to their business school community too. After all, they want people who can enhance the classroom discussions, improve the experience of their peers, and become valued alumni in the future who can continue contributing to the community one way or another.
Try to showcase who you’re like when you’re part of a larger community or organization, and how you made other people’s lives better by being an active member of the group. We all like doers and active contributors who constantly uplift others and bring value to the table. If you could incorporate instances like that in your essay and think in the shoes of the admissions committee, you’re more likely to make a compelling case.
6. Avoid jargon and use simple, approachable language.
MBA applicants come from all walks of life and bring deep expertise from all types of industries. Although we are very familiar with our own profession, others might be less so. As a rule of thumb, don’t assume that your readers are familiar with your job, or the language you use on a daily basis. What you consider as impressive accomplishments in your field might be lost in translation to someone outside the industry. Therefore, try to think in the shoes of someone who might not be familiar with your day-to-day work and ask yourself if they’d understand what you’ve written down.
Your essay should be easily understandable by people from all walks of life, and it shouldn’t take them two or three reads before fully digesting a sentence. Therefore, try to stay away from long or complicated sentences, and definitely don’t use flowery prose or jargon when writing your essays.
7. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.
This might sound trivial to some, and overstated to others. However, it is so important that your essay reads well to an outsider with no prior knowledge of you, and is free of any grammatical or spelling errors. Seek out fresh perspectives and make sure your arguments are logically clear to your readers. If you want essay writing help and professional writing services to help you polish up the drafts, feel free to book my services here.
Most importantly, believe that you are already good enough. We all have the potential to get into business schools, you just have to figure out your unique values and make your application stand out. Fortunately, as someone who has personally gone through this journey and helped many others succeed in their applications, I can offer fresh and insightful perspectives on what sets you apart as an applicant, and how to articulate that throughout your application. If you’re interested in seeing if my help would be valuable to you, you can book a free intro call with me.
PS. Interested in working together on your MBA essay? I'm a coach on Leland; click here for my coaching profile.
Leland provides you with the content, community, and coaching that you need to get into your dream MBA program and accomplish other ambitious goals. Sign up today to gain access to additional free resources, community events, small group classes, world-class coaching, and more.
August 17, 2023
How to Write a Powerful MBA Essay—With Examples
The MBA essay is critical to your business school application. Read our guide to writing the perfect MBA essay, with successful admit examples.
May 4, 2023
Why ChatGPT Can’t Write Your Personal Statement
While ChatGPT is multifaceted, there is a compelling argument against using AI for your personal statements. Here is one expert's take on the revolutionary technology and application essays.
February 27, 2023
Craft a Powerful Essay for Stanford GSB: What Matters Most & Why?
Ben L., a GSB MBA, expert coach, and pro writer, outlines his top advice for nailing the challenging and broad Stanford essay prompt, to help you get into one of the most prestigious MBA programs in the world.
August 4, 2023
A Guide to the Columbia Business School Essays (2023-2024)
Coach Melanie E. walks you through each Columbia Business School essay prompt for the 2023-2024 cycle, breaking down what adcoms are looking for and offering expert advice on how to nail your responses.
September 22, 2023
The Ultimate M7 MBA Essay Guide
Everything you need to know to write a killer essay for your M7 MBA application, including prompts, deadlines, expert advice, coach recommendations, additional free resources, and more.
February 3, 2023
How to Nail Your Kellogg MBA Application Essays
Tips and tricks that will help you craft the best application essays possible and get admitted into Kellogg.
August 17, 2023
A Guide to the Wharton MBA Essays
Tips and tricks to writing a stand-out essay for your Wharton MBA application, including an overview of the questions, expert advice, and how to get started.
August 23, 2023
A Guide to the Booth Essays
Tips and tricks to help you write the best essays possible for the Booth MBA Application, including essay and application deadlines as well as Booth coach recommendations.
February 3, 2023
The Best MBA Essay Editing Coaches of 2023
MBA application essays are challenging and require substantial self-reflection and many iterations. These 10 coaches will help you brainstorm, write, edit, and polish as you find a story that wows the adcom.
September 27, 2023
A Guide to the HBS Essay
Our guide to one of the most important parts of the MBA application for Harvard Business School: the essay, including our hand-picked HBS coach recommendations and other articles to get you started.
September 6, 2023
How to Nail the NYU "Pick Six" MBA Application Essay
The NYU Personal Expression or "Pick 6" MBA essay is unique as it asks applicants to explain themselves in only 6 images. Here are tips to help you choose the right photos and submit the best application possible.