Giving Reflection the Time It Deserves in MBA Applications

MBA applications frequently ask applicants to talk about their backgrounds, aspirations, and inspirations. In order to submit the most cohesive narrative possible, it's important to take time to reflect on these areas.

Arielle A.

By Arielle A.

Posted March 13, 2024

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Successful MBA applications require some level of personal reflection. Essay prompts like, “What matters most to you and why?” and, “What else should we know about you?” give applicants the opportunity to go beyond surface-level topics or accomplishments from their resumes and share more meaningful stories. However, these types of essays can also leave some applicants stuck and feeling unclear on what to write and where to start. Placing an emphasis on personal reflection early in your application process can help you feel equipped to share a clear and compelling story.

I was fortunate to have coaches and peers to support me in my own self-reflection process. I was selected for the Management Leadership for Tomorrow MBA Prep program, which supports underrepresented minority and indigenous applicants in the business school application journeys with coaching and a cohort of peers to go through the process with. Our early assignments in the program were heavily focused on reflection, and the program created space for us to explore questions and prompts on our own and with support from coaches and other fellows. These assignments helped me clarify the foundational elements of my story so I could clearly communicate why I wanted to get an MBA and how my past experiences connected with my aspirations.

As you begin your business school journey, I encourage you to dedicate time for reflection and identify three to five stories, qualities, or leadership examples that have shaped you. There are many tools available to support personal reflection. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Assessments: You’ve probably taken a personality quiz at some point, and workplaces are increasingly using them as team-building tools. Here are a few online assessments that are particularly helpful for reflection as you’re beginning your MBA application process: Clifton Strengths Finder by Gallup, Enneagram, and VIA Character Strengths Assessment. After you take each, think about what results resonated with you and which ones surprised you. Which strengths or qualities align well with the goals you want to achieve post-business school? Are there common themes across assessments?
  • Journaling: I love journaling to relieve stress and capture important or challenging moments. If you’re like me and have kept a journal for several months or years, this tool is for you. One exercise I found helpful during my MBA application process was to read my past journal entries over several years. I noted themes across entries and discovered past dreams I had achieved. Reviewing my journal gave me insight into my decision-making throughout my early career and which life experiences had been the most impactful.
  • Friends and Family: Our friends and family see aspects of our character that we don’t notice at times, and they can be helpful for self-reflection. Engage them in your process by asking for their perspectives on specific questions, such as what they appreciate most about you and what have been your most character-shaping experiences or challenges to date. Note the ones that align with your perspective and probe the responses that surprised you.
  • Performance Reviews: I was fortunate in the years leading up to business school to have a thoughtful manager and mentor who provided me with constructive and tactical feedback in real-time and through formal performance reviews. I leveraged her feedback to identify my areas of strength and opportunities for improvement and assessed where they aligned with or deviated from my assessments of my performance. While feedback from managers or peers isn’t always helpful, it can be used as another data point as you think through your qualities and how others perceive you in a professional setting.

These tools can help kickstart your self-reflection, and there are many other approaches to try as well. Remember, there’s no perfect way to reflect. The key point is to find an approach that resonates with you and utilize it early to gain clarity on your experiences and qualities before you are in the trenches of applications.

Interested in working together on personal reflection or anything else related to your MBA application? Head to my Leland coaching profile and book a free intro call to get ready.

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