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.

Posted January 9, 2024

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Featuring John K.

Your essays are perhaps the most important element of the MBA application. They’re also one of the parts of the application where applicants struggle the most. In this guide, we break down a system to help you brainstorm ideas, create a structured outline, write a powerful essay, and polish it into something you are proud to submit.

Also, be sure to read: The Road to the Prestigious M7: Tips to Secure Your Spot

What Are You Trying to Accomplish with Your Essays?

When you’re about to leave for a trip, you would never leave before figuring out where you’re going. The same goes for your essay-writing journey; before you get started, you have to know your goals.

Many of our candidates struggle to choose the right angle from which to approach their essays. Before you start writing anything, let’s first identify what you are trying to achieve with your essays. With the essay, you are trying to accomplish three main goals:

  1. Answer the specific essay prompt;
  2. Show the admissions committee (adcom) who you are; and,
  3. Communicate (directly or indirectly) why you are a fit for their program.

Let’s explain each of these a little more in-depth:

1. Answer the Specific Essay Prompt

To an adcom reviewing MBA applications, there’s nothing worse than reading an essay that completely ignores the prompt. Actually, there is: reading an essay that not only ignores the prompt but also answers the prompt of a competing school!

So first things first: write an essay that answers the question and doesn’t come across like repurposed content. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t repurpose any content at all; you should absolutely leverage content when applying to multiple schools. However, it shouldn’t read like copied-and-pasted content to the admissions committee. It may sound simple, but make sure you are responding to the respective essay prompt.

2. Show the Adcom Who You Are

Almost every other part of the application shows what you have accomplished (GMAT scores, resume, activities & interests, honors & awards, etc.), but the essays are about showing the adcom who you are. You are an individual with dreams, worries, goals, doubts, passions, and insecurities – not a walking application. Adcoms know this, and they aren’t looking to admit applications; they are looking to fill their schools and create a cohort of exemplary individuals.

The essays are your opportunity to highlight the complex dimensions and special qualities of yourself that are too difficult to cover in other places. Chances are, you are not the first person applying to these schools with your GMAT score, university, or career path; but you are the first you applying, so take advantage of this to stand out among other applicants with similar credentials!

3. Communicate (Directly or Indirectly) Why You Are a Fit for Their Program

At the end of the day, each school is looking for leaders who will make a positive impact on the world. However, each school has a different take on what the formula might be to accomplish that. They want to know that your background will be a good fit for their program.

Avoid simply listing reasons why you will be a good fit for their program; instead, be mindful of what the school is looking for, and authentically highlight how you have those traits. Show that you are passionate about that specific school.

A few questions from some schools’ applications directly ask you to explain why you are a good fit for their program and read something like: “Why did you choose our school?,” or “How does our school fit into your professional goals?” But while other schools don’t directly ask you why you’re a good fit for their school, they still certainly intend to understand why you’re going to contribute to their unique program.

No matter which essay prompts you are responding to, every word you write should point to why you are the perfect candidate for that school.

Brainstorming Answers to Each Essay Question Type

We are finally ready to start writing! The first step is to brainstorm. Based on the essay prompt, brainstorming could go in a few directions. We break the essay prompts into three main categories. Almost without exception, every prompt can fall into one or more of these essay types:

1. Personal statement prompts: Ask for a general personal statement related to who you are or what you value (HBS, Stanford GSB, Kellogg, Booth, MIT Sloan)

2. Why an MBA/Why this school prompts: Ask why this school will help you, or why you’re choosing that school (Stanford GSB, Wharton, Booth, Columbia, MIT Sloan)

3. Behavioral prompts: Ask a behavioral question, or ask for a story (Stanford GSB, Kellogg, Columbia)

Let’s do a deep dive to explain a little more about each type of prompt and to get you started with your brainstorming.

Essay Prompt Type #1: Personal Statement

Adcoms ask these kinds of questions because they want to find out who you are, what makes you different, and how you became who you are today. They already have a dozen other pieces of your application to judge you by; now, they want a deeper look into your character, sense of self-awareness, and individuality.

These prompts may sound like:

  • What matters most to you, and why? (GSB)
  • As we consider your application, what else would you like us to know? (HBS)

To help you choose the right direction to take in writing a personal statement essay, type or write two lists of five bullets each. Please note – there is a space for you to answer these brainstorming questions at the end of this section.

List #1:

Strengths, important experiences, top skills, and/or achievements that you feel are your strongest strategic differentiators against other applicants. Try to back up each point with one or a few personal or professional experiences that have built that characteristic or led to your achievement in that area.

List #2:

Personal characteristics that you feel like you'd be remiss to not mention. These are key aspects of you that you feel will fill in essential pieces of the overall picture of who you are, and that aren't adequately captured in your resume, recommendations, etc.

You probably won’t end up including everything in your essays, but that’s not the point. This exercise will help you consider enough options to choose the most important characteristics to cover.

Here are a few additional questions to ask yourself when making the two lists:

  • Who are you? As in, if someone were to describe you, what would they say about you? (It may be helpful to ask your close family and friends what they think are your defining characteristics.)
  • Reflect on your life, who you are, the decisions that you’ve made, and the direction you want to go. Which themes or common threads emerge? Are there stories, quotes, or anecdotes that may illustrate that theme?
  • Make a list of important events, decisions, or people in your life. How are they connected?
  • If you had to give a TED Talk about your story, what would you say? (Note that “your story” is not the same as your professional story.)
  • Have you experienced any struggles, setbacks, challenges, or hardships? What did you learn from these experiences? How have they affected you and made you a better person and professional?

See what our Founder, John, wrote on his own brainstorming list as he began writing his MBA application essays:

List #1: Strongest differentiators in experiences, achievements, etc.

  • Church Mission in Brazil - Dedicating 2 years of my life to helping and empowering others in a foreign country
  • Entrepreneurial/Professional Leadership Experience - Kore, Uber, etc.
  • Investing experience through several internships in VC/PE
  • Community Service – Google, youth mentoring, BYU Tech Club
  • Family Situation - Ability to lead and inspire others during challenging times through positivity, strength, and a genuine concern for others

List #2: Important characteristics

  • Strategic hustle and ownership of personal development/career path
  • Pattern of leadership throughout life - mission, Kore, Tech Club, Uber, etc.
  • Deep desire to help and empower individuals around me and those who are at a disadvantage in life
  • Relentless pursuit of self-improvement and success; not to be "better" than others but to be my very best self
  • Ability to think independently, solve challenging problems, and make things happen

Essay Prompt Type #2: Why Our School?

This type of question comes in a few forms, such as:

  • Why Stanford? Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them.
  • Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you?
  • How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals?
  • “... introduce yourself to your future classmates via video. Include a bit on your past experience and why MIT Sloan is the best place for you to pursue your MBA.”

Keep in mind that the adcoms don’t just want to know why you will take advantage of the opportunity if admitted to their school; they care even more to see why the school will benefit from your attendance. The good news for you is that answering the former also answers the latter, and here’s why: If you can prove that you will treasure the chance to go to their school, they will count on you to get great grades, participate in the community, not drop out, and go on to be a highly successful representative of the program.

That’s why, almost always, the best way to answer these types of prompts is by looking forward rather than backward. It may be worth mentioning your alumni lineage or other notable connection to the school, but as a rule of thumb, talking about the past should be a peripheral part of your essay.

To brainstorm for this essay, follow these steps:

Think about your own life plans. What are your ultimate career goals?

  1. List 1-5 long-term career goals for the biggest accomplishments you hope to achieve, positions you want to hold, and/or the company you most want to work for.
  2. For each goal, write down 2-5 steps (or smaller goals) that you can take that will get you to your top goal. Think about necessary career moves and hard skills you need to learn (becoming an assistant manager, learning high-level accounting, studying and applying data science, etc.), but also the soft skills you need to improve on in order to qualify for your goals (leadership skills, active listening, teamwork, etc.).Pro tip: Here, you want to be ambitious and inspiring in laying out your future career, but not naïve. Walk the line between shooting for the stars and sounding dreamlike and uninformed.

Think about the school you are applying to.

  1. List the top 3-5 items about the program’s strengths and purpose that resonate with you. (Refer to their mission statement, website, and/or social media accounts.)
  2. Identify which of those items resonate with you and your goals best. Circle, underline, or otherwise emphasize those items.
  3. With these points in mind, specifically write about how this school will help you achieve your long-term goals, your smaller goals, or both. How will this program, specifically, supercharge your career? Pro tip: To demonstrate that you've done your research, and to help the admissions committee envision you in their program, indicate which classes you might take when earning your MBA and why, which professors you might hope to study with, and in which clubs you might participate.
  4. If you have a story or other reasons you chose to go to this school, list them as well. (You may or may not end up including them in your essay, but go ahead and get them off your chest so you can examine their strength and relevance.)

Essay Prompt Type #3: Behavioral Prompts

A behavioral question asks for a story from your past that illustrates who you are, including your character, skills, and personality. They are also common in the interview portion of the admission process, so you have more than one reason to master this type of question.

  • They want to see what lessons you have learned and real-life examples of your actions. Here are a few samples of what that may sound like:Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school. (GSB)
  • Share a time in which you engaged with a perspective, identity, community, or experience that was different from your own and how it impacted your worldview. (Darden)
  • Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? (GSB)

Behavioral questions can be a little more subtle, so you may not know right away they are asking for a story. Here are a few examples:

  • Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you? (CBS)
  • Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (Yale SOM)

Here’s a big hint for knowing if an essay prompt is actually a behavioral question: the truth is, a lot of MBA essay questions (particularly the general personal statement prompts) are actually behavioral questions in disguise. For most of these essays, the adcoms want to hear a story. That’s why behavioral prompts are so important to study and really nail.

To choose the right story, first, pick a few options from your life that you might want to talk about. Don’t write out the whole story at this point; just jot down a few notes to identify the main points. For each option, write down at least one powerful result from the experience. To choose powerful results, think about how you have changed as a student, professional, friend, or person as a direct result of the experience. The strongest story results prove that you allowed the experience to change you and make you better, more committed to your morals and ethics, etc.

Creating Your Essay Outline

Once you’ve brainstormed some ideas for the main ideas and elements you want to include in your essay, you’re ready to begin creating an outline.

After brainstorming, a lot of people try to jump straight into writing a full essay from beginning to end. While you can just start from the beginning, we strongly recommend beginning with at least a general outline. If you are like most people, it will make the writing process easier, keep you on topic, and make every part of the essay focused on the endpoint. Remember, your final essay may or may not resemble your outline, and neither way is bad. An outline is about making the process easy and the outcome effective.

No matter which of the three prompts you respond to, your essay should read like a story. Therefore, although there are many acceptable ways to make an outline, we recommend building your outline like a story.

Here are two ways to think about it:

Beginning, Middle, and End

This is the story format with which most people are familiar. The most important part of your story is the end, so know what point you want to drive home. This should be reflected in your essay outline.

The story you write may or may not be very chronological; rather, it should show personal development, an increase in strength of the points you bring up, and/or another positive change.

Beginning

Your beginning doesn’t need to look like “once upon a time,” and it doesn’t need to mean the beginning of your literal academic or professional life. Remember, this is just the beginning of your essay. You decide where it begins!

If the essay is a meal, this part is the setting of the plate and silverware, with a small appetizer and maybe a few dressings. Set the scene and get the reader ready for what’s coming next.

What kind of energy level do you want to begin with? Do you want to start on an emotional note? With something funny? How you choose to begin sets the tone for the direction of the rest of your outline and essay. Start with something compelling, but save a little space to develop the story.

The beginning should take up very little of your essay, and your outline should reflect that. From the elements and ideas you brainstormed, ask yourself which story, theme, idea, and/or tone you want to emphasize, and pick just one or two of them to start with.

Middle

The middle is the carbs, the bread and potatoes of your essay. This is where you collect all your ideas and develop them toward an end.

Which points do you want to use to build on your beginning, and to lead toward a powerful ending? These could be anecdotes, lessons learned, or just the details of a story. Make a list of those points, and try to order them in a way that each builds on the other.

End

This is the meat of your essay, the protein that’s going to stick with the adcom for a while after they’re done reading.

This should be the most compelling part of your essay, and it should answer the big question: “So what?” Here, you need to spell out for the reader why all of what you said not only answers the prompt, but sets you apart as a person, a professional, and an applicant. Your essay should make you go from one of a million, to one in a million.

Your ending should explain why you are the hero of the story, how you changed, and what you learned. You could also include a final short anecdote or emotional strong point.

When writing your outline, it may be helpful to begin by choosing the end before the beginning and middle. That way, you know where you are going every step of the way and the adcoms will be able to trace your steps without even thinking about it.

The STAR Method

The STAR Method is a powerful choice to outline any type of essay, but for the third type of essay prompt–behavioral questions–we strongly recommend you use the STAR Method. As already mentioned, behavioral questions also come up in interviews, and you need to be ready to answer with the STAR Method. Keep in mind that the STAR Method can outline your entire essay, but you also may want to incorporate a few smaller stories into your essay using the STAR Method on a smaller scale.

In other words, bookmark this page for future reference!

Each letter of the STAR Method can make up a part of your outline: Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

S - Situation

Set up the situation for your story. In these essays, your goal is to make the situation as short as possible while still giving enough context for the reader to easily follow your story.

Especially as you are just making your outline, this part can be as simple as:

S - “During my internship in Ecuador, …”

T - Task

While similar to the situation, task is just a little more specific scene-setting. It can also be very short. For example:

T - “I was assigned to help an elderly couple assess and grow their small artisan jewelry business that was struggling to keep its doors open.”

A - Action

This is the part where you really start to shine, and that’s why the situation and task parts should be as short as possible. Get to the good part as quickly as you can!

At this point, write about your actions. Other people may have been involved, and you should give credit where it’s due, but put maximum focus on explaining what you did to save the day. How did you solve the problem and come to a great decision? What people skills did you use? What did you do that proves both your aptitude in your industry but also your work ethic? Use active language: “I decided to,” “I proposed,” “I designed,” “I executed,” “I negotiated,” “I built,” etc.

In the end, this essay part will be quite a bit longer, perhaps one to three paragraphs, maybe more, depending on your story.

For your outline, just write out three to five bullets of things you did to take action, with strong verbs.

R - Result

This is as important as (or more important than!) explaining your actions. Result is when you tell the adcom exactly why what you did matters.

You can write about measurable results: productivity improvements in percentages, revenue changes in dollar amounts, etc. However, in your essay, the adcoms care less about how your actions helped your organization and those around you; mostly, they want to see how this experience changed you. How did you become a better businessperson, student, and person because of what happened?

In the end, this section should make up the largest and the meatiest part of the essay, roughly half (or more). The results are the most important part of your story! While you can mention objective results, try and focus on the subjective results that show how you changed as an individual.

Starting to Write

Writing the first couple paragraphs can be the toughest part of high-stakes essays. As you begin, set aside 30 – 60 minutes to get going without distractions. Keep your outline and brainstormed ideas nearby.

When you’re just getting started, remember: the most important thing is to get the content on the page. Don’t worry that what you’re writing is inadequate; it’s probably better than you think. Plus, it’s okay and even normal if you end up deleting much of what you write.

Keep your outline, the ending, and the big ideas in mind. Of course, don’t be married to anything. Especially in these early phases, you can absolutely change your mind. If you start writing and you decide you want to go a different direction completely, just go back to your brainstorming exercise and see what other options you could explore, and build a new outline accordingly.

Unless you really have the creative juices overflowing, don’t burn yourself out all at once. Write as much as you can within 30 to 60 minutes, then take at least a few minutes away. (Get up and walk around, away from screens.) Come back with a refreshed mind and fresh eyes, ready to see what else you should add.

Extra Essay Writing Tips & Tricks

From the earliest to the latest phases of writing your essays, here are some extra tips and tricks to help you out:

  • Give yourself lots of time: Don’t try to write your essay all in one day. The writing process will take weeks to go from brainstorming to polishing up. Writing your essays is a very self-reflective process and will require sufficient time to be deeply thoughtful.
  • Remove distractions: To make the most of your writing time, go somewhere away from distractions, silence your phone, and close or minimize irrelevant computer tabs.
  • Take advantage of your voice: If you struggle writing out big ideas, record yourself or use dictation as you talk through your ideas and tell your stories. Some people find this to be helpful. Once you have at least a rough draft written, read it out loud to yourself. This can be very effective in helping you hear what it might read like to somebody else, identify where your story needs work, and catch errors.
  • Frequently check your goals: Frequently throughout the writing process, check what you’ve written against the prompt, your outline, and the big idea you want to drive home to the reader. Make sure you stay on track and laser-focused on your goals.
  • Ask for help: Talk through your ideas with someone else, and ask them to read your essay. (See next section.)

These next tips came from Isabella J., an expert MBA Leland coach with a writing background:

1. Carefully read the essay prompt.

Every essay prompt has slight nuances that affect how you should structure your essay and choose which stories to highlight. Understanding what kind of question it is can help, but make sure to also pay attention to the details of the wording to understand where the committee is placing emphasis. Before beginning your essay, verify that you know precisely what the question is asking for.

2. Be succinct, less is more.

Complex sentences with fancy words do not necessarily translate into good story-telling skills. Also, with limited word counts, it’s important to go straight to the point. Don’t make the adcom think too hard about what you’re trying to say. Share the key highlights and delve deeper into the important details.

3. Showcase how you can add value.

When considering candidates, the adcom is looking for someone who will enhance classroom discussions, improve the experience of other students, and become a valued alum who will continue to contribute to the community. Use your essays to demonstrate how you will be part of this larger community and benefit it.

4. Avoid jargon and use simple, approachable language.

As a general rule, don’t assume that your readers are familiar with your job or the language that you use on a daily basis. You don’t want your accomplishments to be lost in out-of-industry translation so make sure that everything you have written down can be understood by someone who doesn’t know what you do. Nothing you have in your essay should take two or three reads in order to be understood.

5. 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 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 any essay writing help or other professional writing services, book a free intro call on my profile to get started.

School-Specific Essay Advice

Our coaches have attended the highest caliber of business programs, including all of the M7 schools and more. Here are their tips for nailing each school’s specific essays, with prompts and deadlines included.

Stanford GSB

Stanford requires two essays from its MBA applicants, the combined length of which cannot exceed 1,050 words. The goal of the essays is to see who the applicant is outside of their professional and academic achievements. Stanford emphasizes that there is no “right answer,” and that the best essays are those which accurately portray the applicant’s values, passions, aims, and dreams.

2023-2024 Application Deadlines

Round 1: September 12, 2023

  • Decisions Released: December 7, 2023

Round 2: January 4, 2024

  • Decisions Released: March 28, 2024

Round 3: April 9, 2024

  • Decisions Released: May 23, 2024

Deferred: Can apply in any round but Round 3 is the most common

Prompts

The prompts for the two essays are as follows:

What matters most to you and why?

With a recommended length of up to 650 words, GSB asks applicants to self-reflect and write from the heart. Consider what different people, life events, and experiences have shaped your perspectives.

Why Stanford?

This essay has a recommended length of up to 400 words. Applicants should describe their dreams and goals and what role GSB will play in helping fulfill them.

Expert Advice

1. Answer the Question

Though it may sound obvious, many applicants struggle with this point. As both prompts are quite open-ended, it is easy to go off on tangents and include irrelevant details. As you’re writing, continue to ground yourself by asking “What is the question? What am I trying to answer?” If the information does not directly relate, then reconsider its pertinence and necessity.

2. Differentiate

A mentor of mine once asked me, “What makes you go from one of a million applicants to one in a million applicants?” Almost everyone that applies to GSB will have a great resume, test scores, and GPA. However, no one has the same story. Your job with the essay is to differentiate yourself from the crowd; show how you are unique from the other 7,000 applicants. You are who you are for a reason and the essay is your chance to prove that to Stanford.

3. Have a Vision

Especially relevant to the second essay, having a vision and being able to communicate it to the admissions committee is key. It’s important to spend time self-reflecting on your past and your future aspirations. Why do you want an MBA? Why do you want to go to Stanford? How will your Stanford degree help you reach your professional and personal goals? Having these answers in the back of your mind will make your argument more powerful and help keep a thread of continuity throughout your responses.

I’ve worked with many applicants who feel that their personal story is not special, crazy, or inspiring enough to grant admission, but they are wrong. Everyone can write an essay and present a convincing reason why they deserve to go to GSB. Lean into the parts of your vision that are the most important to you. If you didn’t have a noteworthy childhood, then focus on your vision for the future, or what you’re doing now to make it happen.

4. Build and Flow

Both of your essays should have a structure that flows and builds to a point. They can be written well and have perfect grammar and syntax, but if they don’t build to a point, the reader will end up distracted and confused. The GSB admissions committee wants you to present a story. They do not want disjointed paragraphs that portray an inconsistent picture. Each part should lead to the next and tie into the overall theme. This will also help you pare irrelevant information to make sure you stay focused on the question at hand.

5. Give Yourself Enough Time

For many people, writing the essay is the most difficult part of the application. It can be hard to organize your thoughts and put them down on paper in a clear and succinct manner. For this reason, it’s important to start the essays early, at least three months before the application deadline. Write a draft and then put it down for a few days so that when you next pick it up, you have a fresh perspective. It’s also important to have a peer or mentor review it, ideally someone with experience writing. An alum/na of the school is an excellent choice as well. I recommend getting a solid draft together at least six weeks before the application deadline so that you have time for final reviews.

- Ben L., GSB MBA, ex-McKinsey, Essay Expert, Policy and Speechwriting

Stanford GSB Sample Essay

Type: Personal Statement

Traditional MBA – Stanford GSB

Prompt: What matters most and why? (650 words)

What matters most to me is a fuzzy, yellow tennis ball, because like a tennis ball, I have learned to always bounce back.

Like many kids in my town, I grew up playing sports. My childhood summers were spent running through sprinklers, horsing around with my siblings, XXXX and YYYY, and long, sweaty hours on the tennis court. Despite the oppressive ZZZZ heat, I remember loving those months.

Unlike most kids, the summer before my fifth grade year, our parents sent us to a tennis academy in AAAA. Driven and intense, my parents saw tennis not as a summer activity, but a means to an end. That summer, they made that end clear: we were expected to attend either Harvard or Stanford, and for me and my sister, we were expected to also play tennis at one of these schools.

This tennis academy was intense. Conditioning began at 6:00am, and practice ran from 8:00am to 6:00pm, with a half hour break for lunch. Worse, my siblings and I were separated based on our age. Tennis, previously a joy, became a grind. I was homesick, constantly sore, and the closeness I felt with my siblings disintegrated as we began to crack under the strain. My skills improved and I won more matches, but the pressure from my parents to build a college-ready record only tightened, like the strings of a racquet.

After a year of full-time training and boarding school in AAAA, I returned to ZZZZ. This time, though, I had a new coach. BBBB, a former tennis professional with a scruffy beard and bald head, was brutally demanding. I found myself in constant battles with him until, one evening, things came to a head. The humidity enervated me as we entered our fourth hour of practice. BBBB told me we could go home— as soon as I hit one hundred forehands in a row. Ninety minutes later, I still hadn’t succeeded. My feet felt cemented to the court, my eyes burned, and the skin was peeling from my palms. I wanted to quit, to slam my racquet into my bag, and to walk the fifteen miles home. But then, something happened. I realized I had a choice. I didn’t have to play tennis. Not for Troy, not for my parents, not for anybody. There on the court, I asked myself, “Do I want to play tennis? For myself?” And something deep within me answered, “Yes.”

I grit my teeth and kept going, eventually crushing those one hundred balls. I fell to the ground with relief as BBBB congratulated me. That night, I finally understood his coaching technique—BBBB cared about me and every time he pushed me, he was trying to get me to bounce back, to build my identity, make my own decisions, and stand by them in the face of pressure. That night, I chose tennis for myself because deep down, I still remembered those early summers with my siblings, and realized my true love for the sport. That night, I found a power, an agency unlike anything I had ever experienced. In the following months, I rapidly improved, stopped squabbling with BBBB, and began winning tournaments.

My true test, however, came my junior year of high school: the college decision. XXXX had left home for Stanford, YYYY for Harvard. Proud as I was of them, this only increased the pressure on me. Both were fantastic schools, but Stanford and Harvard’s competitive athletics meant I would not be able to play tennis at either one. Once again, I had a choice: pursue my parents’ dream schools, or make a choice for myself and choose my own path and play tennis at a school of my choosing.

For months, I struggled. Stanford and Harvard are two of the best schools in the world, for good reason. But when I remembered my training with BBBB and the power I felt bouncing back, I knew what I had to do. I decided to attend CCCC—to “fail” in meeting my parents’ expectations, but to succeed in setting my own.

Arriving at CCCC, I felt an enormous sense of agency, and I knew I had made the right call. It was my decision to be here. This was my school. In the classroom, I dove headfirst into my passion for science and sustainability, and on the tennis court, where I captained the team, I pushed my teammates hard, not to fracture them, but to establish a sense of camaraderie, like the one I felt all those summers ago with XXXX and YYYY, and to empower each of them with their own ability to bounce back.

Tennis has given me the power to choose my path. Because real resilience isn’t measured in games and sets, but in committing to your own choices and deciding to succeed for yourself when everyone around you is telling you to do something else. What matters to me most is a fuzzy, yellow tennis ball, because tennis has taught me to be resilient under pressure, follow my own trajectory, and always, always bounce back.

Harvard Business School

2023-2024 Application Deadlines

Round 1: September 6, 2023

  • Decisions Released: December 6, 2023

Round 2: January 3, 2024

  • Decisions Released: March 27, 2024

Deferred: April 25, 2024

Prompt

As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? (900 words)

On its website, Harvard advises applicants, “Don’t overthink, over craft, and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.”

Expert Advice

1. Tell a story

Your job with this essay is to paint the most accurate picture possible of who you are and why Harvard should accept you. The essay is the one part of the application that shows character and as such, it can make a big difference in your application. Capitalize on your individuality and demonstrate to HBS that you understand yourself, and are aligned with its missions and values. At the end of the day, you want your answer to the question, “Could this essay also describe someone else” to be “Absolutely not.”

2. Be concise

The HBS essay has only recently added a word limit. As you’re writing the essay, it’s very important to not ramble. As you’re writing, ask yourself, “Does this admissions committee need to know this?” If not, it’s probably safe to take out. Include relevant information and paint an accurate picture, but do so in a clear and concise way that doesn’t bore the adcom.

3. Don’t Just Answer “Why HBS?”

Unlike most of the other top business schools, HBS does not explicitly ask you to respond to the question, “Why HBS?” With that being said, many applicants feel like they need to use the only essay to answer this question. Most of the time, this is not the right approach. Your essay, at the end of the day, should be about you. The exception is if your reason for wanting to attend HBS makes your overall essay stronger. If that’s the case, then include it. However, the same adage from earlier applies: If your “Why HBS?” story could also apply to another applicant, don’t include it.

4. Build, Build, Build.

As you write your essay, make sure that there is some thread of continuity connecting the different pieces together. Introduce a theme or lesson, and touch on it every once in a while. Then, use the conclusion to tie everything together. This will not only make your essay more interesting, but it will also prevent it from coming off as disjointed. Also, sticking to a theme will help you ensure that everything you include is actually relevant.

HBS Sample Essay

Type: Personal Statement

Traditional MBA – Harvard Business School

Prompt: As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?

When I was 12 years old, my father was fired from his job. He had joined a new company four years prior with a promise from its founders that he would one day be made a full partner. They reneged on that promise, so he started exploring other options; when word got out, they fired him. I watched helplessly as he started multiple business ventures over the next six years, each one ultimately doomed by a seemingly endless string of injustices—an otherwise meticulous business partner consumed by a concealed drug habit, or an employee who secretly embezzled company funds. Family savings dwindled, and after my sophomore year of high school we were forced to foreclose on our home and move to a different state. Changing schools not only meant abandoning all of my friends and starting from scratch socially—a terrifying prospect for an introvert like me—but it also cost me a chance to qualify as my high school’s valedictorian, an unspoken personal goal I had silently worked toward for years.

My instinctive reaction was to be angry at the injustice of it all—angry at how unfair it was for my dad, and especially angry at how it was impacting me. But my parents never complained, and they never gave up. They helped me see that the seeming injustice of my circumstances did not excuse me from trying my best. Following their example, I decided that even if I felt it was unfair that I couldn’t be valedictorian, I could still finish high school with perfect grades—and I did.

I hated the powerlessness I felt while my family was experiencing setback after setback, none of which seemed deserved. But when I was able to overcome my circumstances and still excel, I felt a tremendous sense of liberation and accomplishment. I knew I wanted to help others facing injustice to experience that same empowerment.

I have always been keenly sensitive to the sting of injustice. To me, justice means both equality of opportunity and consistency of consequences. Everyone should have the same opportunities in life regardless of arbitrary circumstances. Outcomes should also align with the merit of our own actions rather than with chance. These convictions feel like an innate part of me—they are simply how I believe the world should be. Ever since that pivotal experience in my youth, I have felt deeply motivated to overcome injustice whenever I encounter it, and I have dedicated considerable effort to studying and fighting it.

In college, I worked for four years with a favorite professor researching business ethics. The topic appealed to me because it involved not just establishing clear rules for how moral people and businesses should act, but it also delved into shades of gray. What should you do when you make a promise, but unexpected events make you question whether you should keep it?

Together we published several academic books and articles, deepening my understanding of morality and how it is often challenged in the world of business. As a result, I felt better equipped to identify and address issues of injustice going forward.

Midway through college I took a two-year break from school to volunteer as a full-time missionary in XXXX. I wanted to share the joy I had found in religious life with others and to empower those less fortunate than I. My first assignment was in a remote mountain village where we spent 10 hours a day knocking on the doors of the town’s tiny lamina shacks—often as torrential rainfall soaked us to the bone—trying to find people to teach. As door after door closed on us, I began to despair. I wondered if I would ever have the chance to touch these people’s lives in the way I had hoped.

Then one Sunday, a local churchgoer brought her new husband, YYYY, with her to Sunday services. I noticed that YYYY’s head was covered with jagged scars. He was slow in understanding and responding to us—and not just because of the language barrier. YYYY had been hit by a car when he was a child, causing permanent damage. But he had a pure heart and was willing to listen to our message. We taught him the gospel and he accepted it, transforming his life and filling it with joy in the process. He worked tirelessly in the fields during the day making a meager living, but he came home with a smile on his face.

He began showering his wife with love and affection. And he was always making jokes and laughing: one time he surprised us at the door in his wife’s apron and gave us an enthusiastic curtsey.

Like many of his countrymen, YYYY was a victim of terrible injustice—he was born into poverty and had limited future opportunities. But through the gospel, he found hope and joy. I knew that my efforts had helped him feel empowered despite the unfairness of his circumstances, and I felt that my sacrifice had been worth it.

I have also had opportunities to confront and overcome unfairness in the workplace. When I chose to enter the field of management consulting after graduation, I knew my new job would present me with dilemmas. Consultants are famous for getting to solve big, strategic problems—which appealed to me— but also for ruthlessly cutting workforces and laying people off—which did not. As a consultant, I knew I would have to be extra vigilant to try to reduce the injustice around me instead of contributing to it.

I encountered just such a dilemma while serving one of my very first clients. My project involved me working directly with ZZZZ, the client business intelligence manager, who in our first meeting together was confrontational, belligerent, and completely uncooperative. I knew ZZZZ’s team would need to maintain our tech solution after we left, so I wasn’t willing to proceed without her participation. I made time to meet with ZZZZ one-on-one and discovered the source of her distrust: past AAAA teams had consistently developed solutions without her input and then thrown them to her team to manage before moving on. When glitches arose or the solution needed to be updated, she came under fire even though her team hadn’t been involved. I immediately saw how unfair this was to her team and assured her this time would be different.

I approached the partner on my project and proposed that we co-create the dashboards with ZZZZ, which would involve weeks of extra work and expense. The partner vehemently disagreed, suggesting instead that I bypass her and build our solution independently since we already had the support of her superiors. But I felt strongly that unless we treated ZZZZ fairly, it ultimately didn’t matter if we finished the project in six weeks instead of eight. According to our firm’s values, we were committed to “building client capabilities to sustain improvement,” and I knew that’s what ZZZZ and the client deserved. I eventually convinced him, and with ZZZZ’s full support we built a great product that both teams were enthusiastic about.

I am proud of these small but significant choices I have made to foster fairness, but I want to do more. I’ve always been a strong advocate of the power of business to promote justice; free-market capitalism has provided economic freedom and abundant opportunity to billions of people. However, I’ve become increasingly troubled by the ecological destruction and income inequality that have accompanied capitalistic striving. To me, these are issues of fairness. Corporations escape the true cost of the externalities they create, cheating future generations of the beautiful world we enjoy today. At the same time, the fruits of economic production are unfairly concentrated in the hands of the owners of capital, sending executive compensation soaring while working class wages stagnate. Just as I have always wanted to empower victims of injustice, I feel compelled to do something to level the playing field.

Four months ago, I decided to take a stand. I put my consulting career on hold and moved cities to join an education startup. Income inequality starts with inequality in education, and traditional higher education has become increasingly more expensive and less relevant over the last thirty years. At this startup, I’m on the front lines of disrupting higher education by developing affordable online pathways for students from all backgrounds to develop the skills they need to succeed in their career. I’m being paid far less, but it’s worth it for me to be able to help people in need.

The more I learn about these issues, though, the more I realize that lasting change will only come by transforming the deep-seeded incentives that perpetuate the unfair realities of today’s system. Potential solutions like internalization of costs, negative-interest monetary systems, and gift-based economies have the power to rightly shift incentives while preserving the potential of free enterprise, but achieving such a transformation will require innovative policies and coordinated effort across business, government, and society. I feel empowered to help bring that future about, and that’s why I want to attend Harvard Business School.

At Harvard, I will have the opportunity to strengthen my leadership, equip myself with the tools to amplify my impact, and learn from the perspectives of an incredibly diverse student, faculty, and alumni network. I believe Harvard is unique among business schools in its commitment to leading systemic change. I’ve confirmed that through dozens of conversations with alumni—my father, uncle, and others— who have described to me how many of the students at HBS share my convictions, as demonstrated by Dr. Serafeim’s packed class each term on reimagining capitalism. I felt that energy firsthand when I visited Harvard last Spring and attended classes at both HBS and the Kennedy School. I’ve chosen to apply to the business school because I believe the key to creating effective policy is understanding how it will be interpreted and implemented by those it affects. But I also plan to cross-register in HKS classes and collaborate with professors like Dr. Risse and Dr. Robichaud, as I did at BYU. With your consideration, I look forward to pursuing an MBA at Harvard as the next step in my journey to create a more just world.

University of Pennsylvania Wharton

2023-2024 Application Deadlines

Round 1: September 6, 2023

Round 2: January 4, 2024

Round 3: April 2, 2024

Deferred: April 24, 2024

Prompt

How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton. (500 words)

Wharton’s essays ask two complementary questions: how will Wharton help you, and how will you help it? For this first prompt, make sure you have a clear understanding of yourself and your goals. Dig deep and find characteristics that are unique to Wharton.

Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)

The class size at Wharton is small, and the school wants to make sure that every MBA candidate is bringing something to the table. With this prompt, prove to Wharton that you will be an asset to the program. What will you bring that’s different from everyone else applying, and how does it fit into what Wharton is looking for?

Wharton Sample Essay

Type: Why MBA/Why This School?

Traditional MBA – Wharton

Prompt: How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals?

My dream is to become Founder/CEO of a supply chain company that uses technology to innovate packaging and shipping logistics in a sustainable manner. The industry is ripe for disruption and given companies like Flexport's success using technology to improve operations, I am confident that there is room for a company of my own. Like Flexport, I would use technology to innovate the industry, but also use packaging to decrease weight, allowing distributors to transport more packages per trip, reducing trips and emissions per delivery. I would use renewable energy to fuel vehicles, allowing for clean transportation while maximizing travel efficiency. In the short term, working as a Logistics/Operations Director doing supply chain management at an e-commerce company like Amazon, I would learn how they operationalize two-day shipping and remain profitable, observe how they build customer-friendly websites, and develop a culture to motivate employees into operational excellence as I move toward becoming an effective CEO.

Growing up in XXXX, my parents pursued their passion for medicine and created their own medical practices as entrepreneurial surgeons and instilled in me the idea of creating my own business. After becoming infatuated with stories related to climate change in high school, I went to XXXX and enrolled in its YYYY program [and played NCAA ZZZZ]. There, I realized that to pursue my passion for renewable energy, I needed to learn about the macroeconomic implications of the energy industry and majored in economics and environmental science. Professionally, I've worked at XXXX in investment banking, YYYY, a solar energy company, and part-time at ZZZZ, my mother's entrepreneurial skincare firm where I manage finances, manufacturing and packaging partnerships. At XXXX, I was an analyst in the XXXX group where I learned financial analysis, modeling, and business valuation, and covered YYYY as a possible investment opportunity. I was drawn to YYYY’s innovative solar leasing model, its female CEO, and the opportunity to learn to manage operations in the nation's largest public residential solar company.

To become Founder/CEO of a sustainable supply chain company, I hope to attend Wharton because of its case method learning which give students exposure to diverse professional perspectives. I am excited to learn from Morris Cohen, who founded D3 Analytics, a company that applies concepts of machine learning and big data to a new paradigm for supply chain management. In Professor Cohen's Ops Strategy Practicum, I hope to learn evolving patterns of operations strategies adopted by firms for sourcing manufacturing, distributing products, and managing product designs. I would take Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation to learn finance of technological innovation with a focus on the valuation tools in the venture capital industry and equip me to raise capital when launching my business. I am interested in taking Entrepreneurial Marketing to learn new approaches to drive growth for my company by gaining customers and driving revenue while recruiting A-level employees to scale my logistics business.

Kellogg School of Management

2023-2024 Application Deadlines

Round 1: September 13, 2023

  • Decisions Released: December 13, 2023

Round 2: January 10, 2024

  • Decisions Released: March 27, 2024

Round 3: April 3, 2024

  • Decisions Released: May 8, 2024

Prompt

Kellogg Leaders are primed to tackle today’s pressing concerns everywhere, from the boardroom to their neighborhoods. Tell us about a time in your life where you’ve needed a combination of skills to solve a problem or overcome a challenge. Which skills did you use? What did you accomplish? (450 words)

In asking about leadership and challenges, Kellogg wants to see that you have a) made an impact, and b) grown as an individual. Make sure the experiences you talk about demonstrate both of these points.

At Kellogg, our values are based on research that concludes organizations comprised of leaders with varied backgrounds and perspectives outperform homogeneous ones. How do you believe your personal and professional experiences to date will help to enrich the Kellogg community? (450 words)

With this question, Kellogg is asking what your candidacy will bring to the program. They want to see who you are, outside of a resume and list of accomplishments. It may be helpful to work backward for this prompt. Start with a list of your major and minor life experiences, accomplishments, challenges, hobbies, etc, and see if there are any themes that weave them together.

Video Essay

In addition to the written essays, Kellogg requires a video essay to give you a chance to show your personality in real-time. The video will consist of three questions, each intended to help you showcase your unique characteristics. This aspect is technically optional, but it is a great place to show an aspect of your candidacy that can’t be found anywhere else in the application.

The three questions include the following:

Please introduce yourself to the admissions committee. —What do you want your future Kellogg classmates to know about you?

What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you? —Why are you getting an MBA and why do you want to go to Kellogg?

This question will be based on a challenge that you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from it. — Don’t use the same experience that you used in the first essay; instead, use this question to highlight another impactful story. Also, don’t skimp on explaining in detail what you learned from it. How did you grow? How did you change? How was your perspective altered?

For these questions, you will have 20 seconds to think about your answer and then one minute to give your response. The video essay is due 96 hours after the application deadline and a link to the submission will appear on the status page after the application and payment have been uploaded. In total, it should take around 20-25 minutes to complete.

Expert Advice

1. What part do you play on a team?

Kellogg loves the concept of teamwork. Part of what sets Kellogg apart from the rest of the top-tier MBA programs is the emphasis on working in groups. Even the Kellogg (not so serious but kinda serious) dance team is called Groupwerk. In the essays, you'll want to make it 100% clear where you fit in on a team. What has your team counted on you for? How have you been able to match your skill set with team needs? If you can demonstrate through your essay that you can quickly identify and address gaps on a team, you'll stand out.

2. Connect your past, present, and future

Kellogg is hyper-focused on finding leaders who are open to new perspectives, new relationships, and new experiences going forward. The "values" essay, however, asks you to talk about how you've been influenced in the past. Kellogg wants to know more about the impact you'll create while enrolled, but they'll also want to know about what has made you, you. Being able to craft a clear narrative around your values that focuses on past, present, and future you will paint a better picture of the uniqueness that you can bring to campus. Remember, though, to focus on quality over quantity.

3. Don't stress about the video

I spent hours agonizing over the video interview. What would I wear? Where would I record the videos? What will happen when I (inevitably) mess up my first take? On the day of the interview, nothing came out the way I had imagined or rehearsed. The questions caught me off guard, and I definitely rushed a few answers. I didn't even finish my sentences for a couple of the questions before the time limit expired. And yet, I was admitted. Kellogg wants you to be yourself. They will, for the most part, appreciate the imperfections. You can't go into the interview totally unprepared, but don't freak out if you stutter, hesitate, or get cut off by the timer. Take a deep breath and don't get in your head. Approach the interview like a stimulating conversation with a friend and you'll crush it.

- Dallin H., Kellogg MBA, Big Tech, Startups/VC

Kellogg Sample Essay

Type: Personal Statement

Traditional MBA – Kellogg

Prompt: Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip and inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face and what did you learn?

In 2017, XXXX’s parent company, ZZZZ, acquired YYYY and merged the two companies to become ZZZZ (later ZZZZ). At the time, I oversaw video for XXXX.com, and roughly 35 percent of XXXX.com’s overall revenue was driven by video monetization. Leadership looked to our team to help translate our successes onto YYYY.com, which was not monetizing its video placements despite a staggering number of views.

I noticed that the videos on YYYY’s homepage were too small to be discernible as videos and thus were unlikely to attract viewers, and in turn, advertisers. I suggested increasing the size of the video player to boost engagement to YYYY’s technical leadership within the first month of

our teams merging, but they initially brushed off the idea. Tensions were high since layoffs were expected, and there was magnifying glass on headcount redundancies. It took four months of persistent convincing to even get the new product on the roadmap.

YYYY and XXXX might seem like similar companies that could seamlessly integrate, but headquarters on different coasts along with very different organizational designs and cultures made collaboration tough to navigate. I was very comfortable in pitching and ushering new products at XXXX, and I initially made the mistake of assuming YYYY would have similar processes in place. In reality, XXXX’s culture championed cross-functional collaboration to a greater degree, while YYYY had a much more vigorous vetting and user testing process. To mitigate these challenges, I first created a biweekly video product touch-base between key engineering, product and content stakeholders, which maintained momentum for a dedicated Slack channel with nearly 30 key participants to provide project updates and a forum for feedback. At the same time, XXXX’s video reporting infrastructure was more robust than YYYY’s. Prior to launch, I worked with business intelligence to identify the metrics needed for proper measurement. One week into testing the new product, the Analytics Lead revealed staggering results and even suggested the reporting tools may be erroneous. The figures were found to be accurate; the team had just never seen such significant and immediate uplift. The numbers continued to grow and we were able to pass off the newly found viewable video supply to happy sales teams. A quick glance at the YYYY homepage shows that the optimization is still live today.

I was initially frustrated by the red tape and extensive user testing that YYYY implemented, but I came to appreciate how their measured procedures led to more efficiencies down the line. At the same time, I still appreciated the need to balance process with agility -- a hallmark of XXXX. Lastly, I saw how involving all stakeholders helped foster a team spirit and feelings of mutual respect that set the stage for more collaborative projects as our teams continued to integrate.

University of Chicago Booth

2023-2024 Application Deadlines

Round 1: September 21, 2023

  • Decisions Released: November 30, 2023

Round 2: January 4, 2024

  • Decisions Released: March 21, 2024

Round 3: April 4, 2024

  • Decisions Released: May 23, 2024

Deferred: April 4, 2024

  • Decisions Released: June 13, 2024

Prompt

How will a Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (Minimum 250 words, no maximum)

This prompt is one of the “Why MBA/Why this School?” question types. The important things to remember are to demonstrate self-awareness and clearly articulated goals as well as an understanding of Booth and its values and characteristics. Your answer to this question should be completely unique to Booth.

An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are… (Minimum 250 words, no maximum)

Similar to Wharton’s prompt, this question is the adcom’s attempt to see what makes you interesting and unique. They want to know what you will bring to the table and how your background and experience will contribute to the Booth community. What makes you, you?

Expert Advice

1. Speak to your global experience.

Booth cares about its candidates having global experiences. The school is built on the foundation of bringing a global perspective to its diverse student base. What's more, there are two additional campuses in London and Hong Kong. So when considering which stories to highlight in your essays, I recommend weaving a global thread throughout. This will show the admissions team what you'll add to the school as a student as well as how you'll succeed in the world post-graduation.

2. Paint a picture of a Boothie.

Essays are like self-portraits, and the stories you tell are what will determine whether you look like the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo. Chicago Booth has a reputation for economic genius and Nobel Laureates. So show the admissions team how you fit into this culture by demonstrating a well-rounded blend of leadership and analytical ability. It's easier to highlight one over the other, but those who can show a balanced mix will find success.

3. Reference Booth’s mission, professors, or classes.

The more you can show your excitement about Booth to be genuine and authentic, the more successful you'll be. I'm not recommending the “fake it 'til you make it” approach, but essays that can reference Booth's mission statement, specific hot classes or professors will have a very distinct feel about them. These aspects of your essay will separate you one level above the majority of applicants who project a more superficial interest.

Ryan W., Booth Part-Time MBA, Salesforce APM

Booth Sample Essay

Type: Why MBA/Why This School

Deferred MBA – Booth

Prompt: How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals?

I want to start a geothermal company that will help lead the energy transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy—by targeting existing oil wells as sites for geothermal plants. Oil fields are close to electric grids and have high nearby subsurface temperatures, making them ideal sites for geothermal plants. By building geothermal infrastructure nearby, my company will produce cleaner, cheaper energy, making it more profitable for operators to switch from oil to geothermal. As oil companies decommission their wells, I’ll negotiate for their land rights, so I can use their existing wells for new geothermal vents. I want my company to prove the case for economically viable, carbon neutral energy production.

After getting an MBA I want to start a geothermal company which will help me lead the energy transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. I plan to target developed oil fields in Texas, where, in many places, producing wells are flowing enough hot fluid to generate clean energy. Using this geothermal heat, the carbon footprint of oil and gas extraction will decrease as fewer fossil fuels are utilized to power surrounding infrastructure. As the wells approach their economic life, I will negotiate the lease from various operators, saving them millions in plug and abandonment costs, and retrofit the wells for direct geothermal energy production via closed loop binary fluid systems, bringing emissions to zero. To accomplish this goal, I need to shore up my knowledge of energy economics and entrepreneurial finance, develop a strong sense of leadership, and build a network of like-minded individuals that will help me lead the transition and I believe I can get those things at Chicago Booth.

My immediate career goal is to develop my first co-production site in Shelby County, Texas at the Blanton well site, which produces abnormally heated fluid from the flanks of an active salt dome. Before investing in capital expenditures, developing a strong sense of energy economics and broader markets is necessary to verify financial feasibility. University of Chicago, through the Graduate-Student-At-Large: Business program, is already allowing me to accomplish this goal with my enrollment in “Microeconomics” with Professor Andrew Mcclellan. His instruction helped me understand the impact taxes and subsidies have on market equilibrium, an important aspect of renewable energy as green energy tax incentives continue to change on a yearly basis. As my company continues to grow, having a strong finance and accounting foundation is imperative to building and sustaining a healthy company. Electives such as “Accounting for Entrepreneurship: From Start-Up through IPO” will provide the skills I need to be successful by following the life-cycle of a business that originates as a start-up, and covers topics such as building an initial accounting infrastructure. I understand that execution of the business is as important as developing the idea and proof of concept, and Booth is the best place for me to develop financial fluency.

Leading the energy transition will require a strong sense of leadership. Not only will I need to lead those I get to work with over my career, but to lead the energy transition, and reverse the impact fossil fuels have had thus far, I must have the emotional intelligence to inspire others to join me in my journey. The “Interpersonal Dynamics” course at Booth will allow me to develop my communication skills and better understand the emotions and perceptions of my colleagues. These skills, synthesized with leadership development acquired in “Leadership Practicum” will prepare me to act as a relational leader, who understands the needs of others. As a relational leader I hope to foster an environment which promotes happiness, and maximizes efficiency, not only to make our efforts in changing the world more successful, but to excite other people to join our cause.

To find the greatest chance of success in leading the energy transition, I will need a network of like-minded individuals who can provide a diversity of thought. Chicago Booth provides the opportunity to develop that network through different community experiences. The Energy Club’s “Energy Forward” conference, which designates time to topics in oil and gas and renewable energy will allow me to hear from industry leaders, build meaningful relationships with peers and contribute my sector experience to the public forum as I learn from those around me. Opportunities through the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group such as “SeedCon” will help me connect with successful entrepreneurs and early-stage investors whose ideas and funding might change the course of my venture’s trajectory. Even in the GSALB program I have had the opportunity to connect with other students in various sectors, including the energy industry. I hope to continue to strengthen those connections and continue building new ones with matriculation into the full-time program.

Columbia Business School

2023-2024 Application Deadlines

Early Decision: September 23, 2023

Merit Fellowship: January 5, 2024

Regular Decision: April 3, 2024

Jan. 2024 Entry Regular Decision: September 13, 2023

Deferred: Mid-April (not yet released for the new cycle)

Prompt

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)

For this question, be succinct and answer the prompt directly. You don’t have much space to answer and want to make every letter count. Show that you understand how a CBS MBA will affect your career trajectory.

(NEW!) The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a co-curricular program designed to provide students with the skills and strategies needed to develop as inclusive leaders. Through various resources and programming, the goal is for students to explore and reflect during their educational journey on the following five inclusive leadership skills: Mitigating Bias and Prejudice; Managing Intercultural Dialogue; Addressing Systemic Inequity; Understanding Identity and Perspective Taking; and Creating an Inclusive Environment.

Describe a time or situation when you had the need to utilize one of more of these five skills, and tell us the actions you took and the outcome. (250 words)

Kellogg is looking for applicants to demonstrate their understanding of and experience with inclusive leadership skills through a specific example. Although the question involves PPIL, you don’t necessarily have to know a ton about the program or even want to join it to answer the question effectively. The prompt asks you to describe a time or situation when you had to use one or more of the five inclusive leadership skills in action. Showcase how you have applied these skills in a real-life scenario and the outcomes of you actions.

We believe Columbia Business School is a special place. CBS proudly fosters a collaborative learning environment through curricular experiences like our clusters and learning teams, co-curricular initiatives like the Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership, which aims to equip students with the skills and strategies necessary to lead in an inclusive and ethical manner, and career mentorship opportunities like our Executives-in-Residence program.

Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you academically, culturally, and professionally? (300 words)

In asking this question, CBS wants to know why you think Columbia could be uniquely positioned to help you in your career. Do not start writing this essay until you have a clear idea of what makes Columbia different.

Expert Advice

1. Essay #1

CBS dedicates a significant portion of the application to understanding your goals. A few pointers: 1) Your short-term goal should be attainable….something you can realistically achieve based on your past experience. 2) Think big when it comes to long-term goals. In asking for your “dream job” rather than your “long-term goal,” CBS invites you to share your passions. 3) Use the ample word count to weave a narrative that connects your past to your future and offers examples of impact, leadership, and interests.

2. Essay #3

Columbia’s fit essay is a crucial part of the application. CBS is notorious for managing yield. They are more likely to accept you if they think you will accept them. The best way to show that you are invested in CBS is to show that you understand its value proposition. This means doing your research; going beyond the surface; and finding a personal, unique take on their offerings. Sure, Columbia’s NYC location is a huge plus for anyone in finance. But how will you specifically leverage the location to advance your goals? The same could be said about the family business program, the retail offerings, or the value investing program. Here’s my recommendation: ask yourself whether ten other candidates could write the same thing. If so, it’s not unique enough.

- Pamela J., CBS MBA, Pro Admissions Coach

For tips on Essay #2 (PPIL), please read: NEW MBA Essay Prompt for Columbia Business School (2023-2024)

Columbia Sample Essay

Type: Personal Statement

Traditional MBA – CBS

Prompt: Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you.

I know every single line to the eighty-eight-minute, 1988 movie, Mulan, by heart – and not just because I played Mulan in my middle school’s production – but because of how she herself inspires me with her resilience. Mulan always forges ahead to do what she believes in, despite any restrictions that come her way. Living in a society that thought women should be seen and not heard, Mulan did not allow gender inequalities and social pressures to keep her from doing what she believed in – fighting for her family.

Her resilience taught me to persevere in the midst of challenges I have faced, be it in the workplace, or my own home. The Emperor in the movie said: “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” Remembering this quote and Mulan’s strength has seen me through some tough moments: when I spent every free moment outside of work going home to handle the arrangements and support my mother when my father passed, to when I joined the recruiting team on top of demanding client work to increase the diversity of the candidate pipeline, to when I continued to persuade the leadership at my firm to establish the DEI function despite pushback and many no’s to make sure others had a voice.

Mulan inspired my core value to persevere in tough situations throughout my life. I would not be enjoying the benefits from successes I have achieved without having channeled my own inner “Mulan.”

MIT Sloan

2023-2024 Application Deadlines

Round 1: September 27, 2023

  • Decisions Released: December 12, 2023

Round 2: January 17, 2024

  • Decisions Released: April 5, 2024

Round 3: April 8, 2024

  • Decisions Released: May 16, 2024

Deferred Round 1: TBA for 2023-2024 cycle

Deferred Round 2: TBA for 2023-2024 cycle

Prompt

Cover Letter:

MIT Sloan seeks students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas. We demand integrity and respect passion.

Taking the above into consideration, please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence, include one or more professional examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria above, and be addressed to the Admissions Committee (300 words or fewer, excluding address and salutation).

The word count for this cover letter is very limited so again, for this prompt, make sure that all the information you’re including is directly relevant and necessary. Pay close attention to the wording of the prompt; Sloan points out that it wants applicants who will take advantage of the academic and non-academic opportunities at Sloan and benefit the other students. They want people who will be innovators and problem-solve the world’s biggest problems with creative solutions. How can you show this in your cover letter?

Video Statement:

Introduce yourself to your future classmates. Here’s your chance to put a face with a name, let your personality shine through, be conversational, be yourself. We can’t wait to meet you!

The video portion is a chance for you to show off your personality in a way that’s difficult to do in a written response. Prepare for it as you would an interview. Have a plan for what you will talk about and practice multiple times. You want to come off as confident and a good presenter. Don’t talk about your professional accomplishments or anything else that can be found in another part of your application; instead, focus on your interests, passions, and who you are as an individual. It is short, so definitely think about how you can best use the time you have.

Optional Short Answer Question:

How has the world you come from shaped who you are today? For example, your family, culture, community, all help to shape aspects of your identity, please use this opportunity if you would like to share more about your background. (250 words)

Expert Advice

1. Focus on your past success

Unlike other schools with open-ended essay prompts, Sloan “believes that your past is the best predictor of future success.” They aren’t looking for you to pontificate on future goals or passions. They are looking for you to demonstrate that you’ve accomplished great things in the past (with the assumption that you’ll continue to do so!). Use your cover letter and video statement to elaborate on successes, achievements, and impacts. Treat the video statement as an essay.

The video statement can seem scary at first. Really, it’s just another essay that you speak into a camera! Treat it just as you would any other essay: type out a rough draft, get feedback, and iterate. Aim for ~175 words, which should be just enough for a 1-minute video.

2. Focus on the Sloan values

It’s good if Sloan admissions say, “Wow, this person is impressive.” It’s GREAT if Sloan admissions say “Wow, this person is the perfect fit for Sloan!” How do you get them to say the latter? You make sure that everything in your cover letter and video statement ties back to the values that Sloan finds important.

3. Have fun with the video statement!

MIT Sloan received over 7,000 applications in 2021. Want to stand out from the crowd? While staying within their recommended guidelines, record your video in a unique location or use a prop. The admissions staff who reviews your video will thank you!

- Tanner J., Sloan MBA, VC and Tech Strategy, Engineering

Sloan Sample Cover Letter

XXXX XXXX

Address

Phone Number | Email Address

April 1, 2019

MIT Sloan School of Management Global Programs

1 Main Street E90-9th Floor

Cambridge, MA 02142

To The Assistant Deans of Admissions, Rod Garcia and Dawna Levenson:

Thank you for the opportunity to apply to the MIT Sloan School of Management’s MBA Early Admission Program. My name is XXXX XXXX and I recently graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. I had the opportunity to study the intersection of business and technology while also learning how to break down and analyze problems.

Outside of my formal education, I had the opportunity of launching a tech startup company called YYYY. YYYY is a company that ZZZZ. I was heavily involved in designing the product experience, managing a team of interns, and leading the go-to-market strategy. This experience taught me so much about persistence and commitment to a team I believed in.

In addition to my experience as an entrepreneur, I also had the opportunity to work as a product management intern at Microsoft. During this internship, I collaborated with the UX designer and software engineers to create a new experience for Microsoft customers. I personally conducted dozens of prototype usability tests with enterprise customers, summarized findings, and led the product strategy for a team of six.

My startup opportunity coupled with my internship experiences at Cisco and Microsoft solidified my passion for technology. I’ve realized that my deepest aspiration is to build technology that helps others capture their full potential. I am confident that MIT Sloan is the best place to pursue an MBA because of their focus on leadership development, innovation and inventing the future. I have no doubt that the classes, resources, and people found at MIT Sloan will lay a solid foundation for me to realize my aspiration to build technology that will help others capture their full potential.

Best regards, XXXX XXXX

Collecting Feedback and Polishing

One of the best—and worst—things about essay writing is that you are never done. Even if you catch every single spelling and grammar error, there is always more you can do to tweak the story, change up your formatting, perfect every sentence, or improve each word choice. The trick is finding as many opportunities to improve as you can.

Do all you can to read, reread, and reread your essay again to see where you can make it better. Give yourself enough time to take breaks between revisions so you can review it with fresh eyes. Alternate reading it in your mind and out loud. Imagine reading the essay from the adcom’s perspective. Does everything make sense? Is it moving? Being able to come back to your own essay and see it with fresh eyes is a difficult skill to master.

This is where collecting external feedback comes in. We highly recommend asking for help reviewing your essay. You will have read your story so many times that you may miss things, and it is always necessary to make sure others reading your essay understand what you’re trying to illustrate.

Most people know to ask for help with proofreading, or catching spelling and grammar errors. While this certainly is important, it is even more important that you ask for feedback on how well your essay answers the prompt, how moving it is to read, and how well it works as a cohesive story.

Try to get outside your comfort zone and let people from various areas of your life read your essay. Ask for feedback from close family, good friends, people from school, and/or work colleagues. A mentor or coach is also a great person to ask. At Leland, we’ve got lots of coaches who specialize in MBA essays, many of whom are expert writers and attended top business schools. See them all here.

Thank everyone who gives you feedback, even if it seems negative. Don’t be afraid to make changes based on their suggestions. You might even want to start over with a new idea. However, feel free to take feedback with a grain of salt. If you get negative feedback about something that really matters to you, and you think it is important to your essay, then keep it. Remember, this is your essay for your future.

You may find it helpful to talk through ideas with people during all stages of your writing process, so don’t put off asking for feedback because you’re not sure your essay is done yet.

We also encourage you to talk with other successful candidates and read through their essays.

Common Essay Pitfalls

We’ve seen dozens of essays, between our own and our clients’, and even the best applicants often make similar mistakes. Before, and as you begin writing your own essays, check this list of common pitfalls and make sure you don’t fall for them:

  • Try to cover too much- The adcom is much more likely to remember how they felt while reading your story than all the facts, anecdotes, or stories you share. Going deep on a few stories may be much more powerful than covering everything.
  • Talk too much about accomplishments - These essays are meant to help the adcoms get to know you on a more personal level, so if all you do is talk about how amazing you are, they will be turned off. Make sure to be humble, and if you talk about an accomplishment, check with others to make sure it doesn’t come across as boastful
  • Force a theme when it doesn’t fit your story- Applicants often choose a theme and try to push it so hard even when it just doesn’t seem to fit. If you find yourself having to repeatedly explain why stories fit your theme, then consider picking another theme and/or new stories.
  • Regurgitate your resume- Walking through your resume in your essay is incredibly dull for the reader and not the intention of the essay portion. Reiterating your professional experience will come across as incredibly boring, and it won’t add any value to your application. You can talk about the things on your resume, but rather than go through everything, pick one or a few experiences that really matter to you to write about in-depth.
  • Cover stories that are discussed in other parts of the application -In other words, don’t regurgitate another part of your application! Each piece of the application should bring something unique and essential to the table. Let other parts of the application do their jobs and focus your essay on what really matters.
  • Write stories that are too professional- It’s fine to talk about how your life lessons have affected you professionally, but that shouldn’t be your entire story. Nothing makes someone feel more robotic than not talking about anything except work.
  • Try to guess what the adcom wants to hear - Be authentic. Be authentic. Be authentic. Adcoms know when you are BS’ing them. Don’t copy someone else’s story or guess what leadership traits you think the adcom wants to see. There is something amazing and special about each of us; you just need to find it. The adcom will like that unique part of you! (And if they don’t, you don’t want to be there anyway).
  • Not going deep enough -Many of the questions (e.g., “What matters most?”) ask you to dig deep, and it’s not an easy task. When getting ready to answer those tough prompts, be prepared to think about it, talk about it, and write about it for several weeks before even being able to articulate what it might be for you. That’s okay, just make sure you don’t cut that time short.
  • Recycling too much- It may be possible to recycle some content and big ideas between your applications to different schools, but if you do that, each essay must read as though you wrote each one for each school individually. Count on doing much more original writing than copying and pasting.

Bottom Line

Spend a lot of time brainstorming, writing, and revising your application essay(s). Do not procrastinate or underestimate them; it is extremely important you take the time necessary for them to all come together. Be personal and open with the admissions team so they can really get to know you personally. At the end of the day, authenticity is the most important thing you can convey through your essays.

Where Can I Start?

Hiring an admissions coach can make all the difference between putting together an average application vs. a competitive application. We have a network of 150+ coaches on our platform and are here to help you find one to meet your budget, background, and goals. Below are some of our top recs, but you can find all of them here. We have someone for everyone.

For more free resources, guides, and coach-written articles, visit our MBA Library. We are constantly updating it with the most current information to help you as you research and apply for business school.

Here are a few specific articles that can help get you started on your applications:

A Comprehensive MBA Application Timeline–With Chart

How to Craft the Ultimate MBA Resume–With Examples

How to Get the Perfect MBA Recommendation Letter–With Examples

Final Note

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.

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