MIT Sloan has released its 2013 application essays. It too has reduced by one the number of required essays and introduced a new question on setbacks. Also new this year is a multi-media option for the Supplemental Information. My tips are in blue below.
Please prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should describe your accomplishments, address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application, and conform to standard business correspondence. Your letter should be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions.
Like all cover letters, this is a marketing document. Make your case for admission using your accomplishments, specifically those where you had impact, showed leadership, and above-average progression and responsibility. How do the talents revealed in these examples demonstrate fit with the MIT Sloan program, its tight-knit community, and its innovative culture?
Please prepare a business resume that includes your employment history in reverse chronological order, with titles, dates, and whether you worked part-time or full-time. Your educational record should also be in reverse chronological order and should indicate dates of attendance and degree(s) earned. Other information appropriate to a business resume is welcomed and encouraged. The resume should not be more than one page in length (up to 50 lines).
Go beyond mere job description to highlight achievement. If your title is “consultant.” Saying that you “consulted on projects” is redundant and uninformative at best. Writing that you “Led a 6-member team working on a biotech outsourcing project to Singapore with a budget of $X; it came in on time and under budget.” conveys infinitely more.
We are interested in learning more about how you work, think, and act. For each essay, please provide a brief overview of the situation followed by a detailed description of your response. Please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.
In each of the essays, please describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did.
The devil is in the details, and Sloan wants them for each of these stories. Look for moments that stand out in your mind. You don’t have room for anything but those stand-outs.
Also, if Sloan is asking for events that occurred in the last three years, that’s what you should write about. “But!!!” No but’s. Stick to the last three years.
Essay 1: Please describe a time when you had to convince a person or a group of your idea. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
This question really reflects two ideas at the very heart of the Sloan MBA: leadership and innovation. Persuasion is one element in leadership and “your idea” should showcase your problem-solving and innovative thinking.
Focus on one event. Make room for analysis. Tell a story. You can use a professional or a non-professional experience for this essay. Work, sports, community service, or the arts can provide the context, but for most of you Essay 1 or Essay 2 should reflect your behavior on the job.
Essay 2: Please describe a time when you overcame a personal setback. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
This question is about resilience and your ability to bounce back after a mistake or a setback. Note that MIT is asking here for a "personal setback" They aren't interested in a team or company or group setback. This had to have been a reversal or defeat for you. Also realize that a setback is a temporary impediment to progress.
Again, focus on one event; I'm sure you don't want to go into more than one. Briefly relate the setback and spend most of your five hundred words on overcoming the experience. What did you do, feel and learn from the experience. Rather than say you learned you "can overcome anything," which sometimes is more than a little overused, focus on key strategies and tactics you used to overcome your setback.
For more on my thoughts on answering setback questions, please watch this video. I created it in response to last year's HBS question about setback, but the message is relevant here too. (Sorry. I am uncharacteristically somber and serious in this video.)
Supplemental Information (Optional)
The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us or your future classmates to know about you. This may be in written or multimedia format. Please do not use Flash Media Player, and include a URL where it can be accessed online. Written essays should be 300 words or fewer.
I discussed this question with someone in MIT Sloan's admissions office last week. First of all realize that you can choose an essay or multi-media presentation. The media option is there so you can express yourself in the way you find easiest and most revealing. MIT does not want a recycled essay from another school. The person I spoke to was explicit about that. If you choose the multi-media format, realize it should be something viewable in about a minute -- no 20-minute videos or 100-slide expositions or lengthy orations. Keep it short. It's also fine to link to something you have created for a club, event, or cause that's important to you.
What's behind the option? A deep and sincere desire to meet you as a human being. A genuine, animated, real live human being. So don't regurgitate your resume or spew stuff found in the required elements of your application. Have the confidence to share a special interest or deep commitment. I'm not suggesting Mommy Dearest or True Confessions; use judgment. I am suggestingthat you allow the reader to see a good side of you not revealed elsewhere in the application. Let them see what makes you smile, motivates you to jump out of bed with joy, and gives you a feeling of satisfaction when you turn out the light at the end of the day.