This set of essay questions culls those applicants who are agile thinkers; who discern, or even better create connections among disparate elements; and who have the desire and ability to transform ideas into effective action and lead change within a context of flux and uncertainty. The essays are your main means to show that you possess, as the website states, “strong leadership performance, global perspective, functional expertise, and innovation.” While the statement of purpose challenges you to succinctly create your portrait as an applicant, the three essay questions, each in its own way, probe how you create value while responding to challenge, opportunities, and ambiguity. The last two questions especially show that the MIT EMBA adcom views adeptness in handling ongoing difficulty of multiple varieties as an essential element of your candidacy.
In an overall plan for the essays, the statement of purpose works as a context, a positioner, an opening pitch. You will describe experiences in each of the three essays, so strategically try to select experiences that are somewhat different, to give a comprehensive view. Also, usually it’s advisable to discuss fairly recent experiences, to allow the adcom to see you working at a high level and showing what you’ll bring to the table.
Statement of purpose
Indicate your qualifications and why you are pursuing the MIT Executive MBA. Tell us about your distinctive characteristics/experiences and how you will contribute to the learning community at MIT Sloan. Specifically identify your current professional and career objectives. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
This is your portrait – your candidacy at a glance. Like any good portrait, painted or written, it should convey a vivid, immediate sense of you as a person and as a candidate. It should go beyond just the facts to present a point of view and a message. In structuring the essay, if you decide on the message first, it will guide you in selecting and elaborating the content details.
Beware of a potential pitfall: in discussing qualifications, do not repeat your resume in prose format. Also, don’t present all your qualifications. Select carefully which qualifications to discuss, focusing on those that (a) are really distinctive and relevant to the MBA and/or (b) support your goals directly or indirectly and also (c) reflect the message you opt to use. Don’t present it in did-this-did-that fashion; have a short, meaningful point to make about each qualification, such as the insight it lends or its influence on you.
For why you are pursuing the MBA, presumably the reason relates to your professional goals and objectives. However, do not focus only what you want to do, but also on what you want to accomplish for the organization and/or its customers/market.
Essay Question 1. The educational mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to "develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world." Please discuss how you will contribute toward advancing this mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
In answering this question, don’t neglect to clarify what “principled, innovative leader” and “improving the world” mean to you. These points represent your point of view, your “vision” in a sense – they should be short, but without them this essay lacks focus. (A similar essay question appeared last year, and in answering it people often assumed that everyone shares the same understanding on these points – hardly the case – resulting in bland presentations). The bulk of the essay will focus on action – your examples of past work and activities that make the case for how you have been and will continue to be a principled, innovative leader who improves the world. They key to making this a gripping, memorable essay is strong experiences and examples combined with your reflection on them in light of the essay’s theme. End by discussing how you will build on the experiences presented to be such a leader in the future – give a specific example or two of how this might manifest.
Essay Question 2. Please describe a time in the past five years when you had a significant organizational goal, but not enough time to achieve it. What were the main challenges and how did you approach them? (500 words or less, limited to one page)
The gist of this essay is decision making: if you lack the needed time to achieve a given goal, you have to decide – whether to change the goal and how, whether to push for more time and how, etc. Thus, this question captures both your thought process and your actions – how you framed the challenge in your mind, and then what steps you took. A straightforward storytelling approach is best. Start by describing the situation specifically (including the when, where, who, and why of the significant organizational goal). Then describe your perception of the situation, and your thought process of how you will address it. Next, describe what you did, weaving in your thoughts as the situation progresses, e.g., if one planned step didn’t work, how you adapted. This approach will naturally incorporate the main challenges and how you approached them.
Essay Question 3. Please describe a time when a peer disagreed with you. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
Another story; I suggest a straightforward narrative with your reflections, insights, and concerns woven into the story. Try to make this essay do double-duty – i.e., use a story that not only answers the question but that also portrays a beneficial aspect of your candidacy, say, a disagreement with a teammate on an important global project, or where you are disagreeing with a peer on an innovative new practice you are championing. Again, start with the details of the setting, and walk through the story, describing what happened, and adding details of interactions, your concerns, etc. at appropriate points. This may or may not have a “happy ending” – you don’t all have to be singing Kumbaya at the end. Sometimes a tough decision is needed to end a partnership, for example. But how you do it is the key. This question necessarily focuses closely on communication, interpersonal interactions, and leadership, but it also involves issues such as your resolve and ability to handle dissonance, make decisions, and balance competing interests, among others.
Deadlines: The application opens November 16. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis and admissions decisions are usually made within 4-6 weeks of submission;.
If you would like help with MIT Sloan’s executive MBA essays, please consider Accepted.com’s MIT Sloan Executive MBA packages or our other MBA admissions consulting and MBA essay editing services.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The EMBA Edge, and author of the free special report, "Ace the EMBA."
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This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.