Like the admissions process for many other graduate school programs, applying for an MBA program has become more competitive, requiring candidates to be more creative when trying to distinguish themselves from the rest. But what do you do when everyone’s résumé, GMAT scores, and grades are similar? Moreover, what do you do when your stats aren’t as great as those of the other candidates? Your best bet is to write a strong personal statement and receive solid recommendations. In this article, we’ll explore the former. That is, if you need help with writing your MBA essay, stay put and read through our guide! With the following tips, you’ll learn how to write a strong personal statement that will make MBA admissions officers (“adcom”) say, “yes, we want this candidate!”
Now, you might think that this is a difficult task, but in truth, the most common personal statement question prompt isn’t a trick. It’s so simple, in fact, that one of the biggest mistakes applicants make is overthinking the question, which ultimately leads to them to failing to answer the question altogether!
But never fear—we’re here to break down the classic MBA admissions question prompt for you.
The question prompt
Most MBA schools ask some variation of the following four questions on their applications:
- What have you done/experienced?
- What do you want to do (short term/ long term) and why?
- How will our school help you get there?
- Why now?
Before we discuss what these four parts mean, let’s back up a little bit to emphasize what they don’t mean. We can’t stress it enough, but no one wants you to rehash your résumé.
If you don’t understand why not, take a second to think about it. [Hint: The schools asked for your résumé in another part of your application so they could avoid reading some long prose-form list of accomplishments. Don't make them think that you can't follow basic directions.]
Now that we’re on the same page about not rehashing your résumé, let’s get back to what should belong in your personal statement. Any MBA admissions essay should cover the four basic questions we list above. Of course, depending on how your target school’s questions may be worded, you may spend more time on some of the four aspects mentioned above more than others. But, generally, if you don’t answer all four questions, you’re going to fall short of painting a good picture of who you are.
Let’s take a closer look at the four parts to your personal statement.
What have you done?
Here’s the big trap. Unless the question specifically asks about your past work history (and fewer schools do so now than before), you should not spend more than 75-125 words talking about your past work experiences. Why? Because the schools have that information elsewhere (résumé, interview, recommendations, etc.), and the only reason you’d mention your work history in this personal statement is to provide some context to support question #2 (your goals).
But even if your school asks you to discuss your professional experiences, you don’t want to spend more than half your essay going on and on about things adcoms can find elsewhere in your application.
So how are you supposed to mention what you’ve done? Here’s a little secret: the best way to weave your past into the discussion is through storytelling. Make sure that you incorporate your career experiences as a means of supporting the other 3 questions we listed above. That is, instead of saying, “I worked as an investment analyst at a large bank for the past five years and pushed papers while juggling other tasks…blah blah,” integrate that information as background information to discuss, for instance, your long-term goals, like in the examples shown below under the subheading “What do you want to do (short term/ long term) and why?”
What do you want to do (short term/ long term) and why?
The two major pitfalls to avoid when responding to this part of the MBA admissions essay question prompt are (1) writing too generically and (2) failing to show a logical connection between your prior work and your future goals. Now, it’s true that some people want to switch career paths and that an MBA is part of that process. However, even then, you need to show a nexus between your past skills and future dreams.
So, what do they mean by short-term and long-term goals and how do you explain them in your essay? Adcoms want to see what you are passionate about. They want to know what excites you so much that you want to spend a few more years studying to acquire skills that can help you to achieve your dreams. To do so, identify a specific role you want to fill when you graduate. Then back up and tell a story of how you became interested in wanting this particular job. In other words, don’t only say “I want to be a manager because…” or “I worked in finance and like it, so I want to be a banker.” Boring! These types of statements are a sign of laziness. You haven’t done your research and thought carefully about that one job you’d really like to have.
With that said, you don’t have to be too specific when you might not actually know what job you could get. But you do want to specify a niche that correlates to skills you’ve honed over the past. And if you aren’t quite sure what next step you want to take, you may want to wait to apply or at least spell out in your essay, a few options you’ve contemplated.
Let’s look at the following example of storytelling. It not only shows passion but also how the person thinks and further expands the information that would have already been provided on a résumé. In fact, these vignettes better show the type of candidate the person is and the potential that person has to use the skills learned through an MBA program in order to truly succeed.
Not one week into my job as an assistant operations manager at my family’s vertical farming venture, I informed my boss (my father) that his business needed to be completely revamped. To make our business scalable, I realized certain aspects of production needed streamlining. Moreover, I suggested that we reconsider our target audience and marketing efforts. I did not want our business to be a yuppie fad that merely fades away within a few years. Rather, I believed that our enterprise could flourish into a sustainable business that could reach corporate clients in profound ways. Over the next six months, I worked closely with engineers to design new production methods that cut our production time by half and costs by 20%. After this victory, I tackled the larger issue of reshaping our client base by…
When my father asked what additional steps we should take to better position ourselves to target our new potential client base, I realized how much I needed a stronger grounding in business management to more satisfactorily respond to my father’s questions. Armed with an MBA from [School], known for its strong entrepreneurship and family business management, I am confident that I will utilize the skills learned to fully launch our vertical farming venture into the B2B world, not only locally, but also nationally and eventually globally.
Now, the trick to explaining your long-term goal is to remember that there must be a connection between your short-term goal and your long-term one. You can’t say that you want to be a brand manager for the next couple of years and then switch to asset management, for example. You can, however, show a natural evolution in interests from one field to another. In the example above, it’s logical to think that the expansion of a business would start locally then progress nationally and internationally, in that order. Another example would be someone who wants to pursue a career as an HR manager at a socially responsible enterprise and then later create a consulting agency that advises corporations on ways to spur local area development through hiring practices and other activities.
How will our school help you get there?
Admittedly, this part of your essay requires far less soul-searching than the prior two aspects. What adcoms want to know, essentially, is the answer to “why our school and not another.” You have to show them that this school is the only school for you. Common sense would dictate, then, that you shouldn’t use generic phrases like “your school.” Don’t give adcoms the impression that you copy-pasted your essay from another school’s application.
Instead, identify two-to-three specific courses you would want to take at the school and explain what you would gain from those experiences. Also, choose one or two extracurricular activities offered by the school and explain how those would enrich your learning experience and bring you closer to achieving your goals. Finally, research the school’s strengths and mission statement and discuss how those principles align with what you are seeking from a school.
Including each of these elements will show how you would fit into the school and also clearly explain why you have chosen that particular institution.
If the school specifically asks you why you want to pursue an MBA now, make sure that you answer the question. This can be shown through natural progression if you use a storytelling technique that culminates in your reaching a point where you can no longer advance without formalized training. Similarly, if you are seeking a career change, the decision to leave your current profession would be a natural break during which you could pursue formal education to transition to another field.
Your MBA application essay in a nutshell
While you write your essay, remember what the adcoms are ultimately seeking. They want people that are go-getters with strong decision-making skills who can offer something to their school and who can, in turn, benefit from what their school has to offer. Show them what you are passionate about. Show them how you logically concluded that you needed their specific resources to achieve your short- and long-term goals. In a nutshell, paint a picture in which if either you or the school were cut from the scene, the picture would be so incomplete that the adcoms must accept your candidacy!
We wish you the best of luck during the application process, and if you need an extra pair of eyes to review your draft to eliminate those nasty grammar mistakes and logical flaws that would make adcoms stop reading your paper, please check out our proofreading and editing services for graduate school and MBA programs.