1. The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
MIT has clearly made some sweeping changes to their slate of essay requirements. Most notably, cutting out their famous cover letter essay. They’ve whittled it down to two main essays. MIT has been vocal about their belief that past achievements is the best predictor for future success (we couldn’t agree more
). And here in their first essay, they’re setting the table for you.
Let’s look closely here. This is not a goals essay. Yes, they are asking you about what you will do “in the future” toward advancing their mission, but, they want the evidence to come from prior experiences. Now, before we get all twisted up, let’s simplify it and cut to the heart of it.Where in your past should we look to be wowed?
What are the moments (either or both inside and outside of work) where we catch a glimpse of something SPECIAL about you? Run-of-the-mill isn’t gonna excite anyone, folks—especially not the ultra-elite like MIT. So, it’s gotta be stuff that’s frickin AWESOME. They’ve done you a favor (hopefully) by limiting your choices to something that has occurred in the past three years. If you’ve read our stuff, attended our webinars, met our guys, you’ll have heard us allude to “assembling your greatest hits.” Well, this is a perfect example of when you’ll wanna be familiar with only the COOLEST things in your personal repertoire, and figure out how to answer this question from there, rather than let this question be the driver of you.
Once you’ve selected the stuff that makes your special sauce shine the MOST (aim for two examples, maaaaybe three, but that may be stretching it), now you’ll wanna engineer this sucker to wow MIT. Don’t come out and state plainly that aspect X of your achievement shows how principled and innovative you are. Show it. How?Here’s a “thought exercise” to help you tease out possibilities.
Consider ways in which someone ELSE in your shoes may have approached the SAME task in a way that was UN-principled, or LESS principled. And in the same vein, not-so-innovative or LESS innovative. Surely you can imagine this, otherwise your example may not be the best one.Let’s look at it another way.
Go back to the starting point of the task/example. Imagine someone looking in on this from a distance. Imagine this person PREDICTING how one would solve this problem/approach it. Hopefully, they’d say something like “well, in this scenario, I would expect for you to do X, Y and Z in order to achieve this thing.” But then something much cooler happens. You do what you did, and it SURPRISES THAT PERSON. How? Because you did something that was remarkably “innovative.” And remarkably “principled.” And it makes that guy say “Hunh, I’m impressed by the way you handled this in such an innovative and principled way.” What did you do that would have surprised that guy?
If you look at it using either or both of these hypothetical ways, you may be able to isolate the “thing” that made your example (and therefore you) special.Here’s how it might look:
Establish the problem, situation, status quo, etc. Establish the goals. Establish the challenges.
Rather than robotically walk us through the stuff you DID, here (for MIT), be sure to incorporate some insight into decisions you made that went above and beyond “what the other guy would have done.” Show us how you could have done X but chose to do Y. Or, that normally the approach here would have been A but YOU chose to do something innovative by doing B.
Rinse and repeat with a second example.
As a final “tag” to this essay, take a few sentences to articulate why this stuff matters to you, and how this instinct (of being principled/innovative/etc.) underscores everything you do, and is a big reason you’ve been successful in the past, and why it’s gonna make you successful in the future. Let us taste it. Connect all this past greatness to something in the future that creates in itch in us to want to share in your success.2. Describe a time when you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
In order to know “beyond,” first we need to know “the zone.” This is your “status quo,” and we need to understand this before we can relish in this cool moment when you extended yourself BEYOND it. Unless you do this, we won’t have a reason to appreciate all the good stuff.
Consider a guy whose achievement is that he built some shelves.
Well, if the guy’s a carpenter, and has been building shelves for thirty years, and the shelves he “built” were actually in an IKEA Billy shelf… um, building some shelves isn’t so interesting.
But if the guy is a war veteran, who lost an arm in combat, now building shelves is a whole lot more interesting, wouldn’t you say?
Context, folks—it’s so crucial, do NOT overlook this.
So, let’s look at the elements:
1. Establish the situation.
2. Establish your own limits (you can play with order here, either could be an interesting way to start this essay).
3. Discuss the DILEMMA (if any) or the PROSPECT of doing something that WOULD stretch your comfort zone. If it happened so quickly that you didn’t even realize you were doing it, it’s less compelling. Jumping in front of a train to save a child, for example, while an amaaaazing story…it may be SUCH a basic instinct that it doesn’t quite qualify.
4. Then discuss the DISCOMFORT (for example) or QUALITY of actually experiencing this out-of-comfort moment… did you doubt yourself mid-way? Did it feel wrong? Right? Bad fit? Good fit?
Bring us into it.
5. Finally, why should we care about this story? What did it tell you about yourself? And what should it tell us about you and your future?Optional Essay: The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format. NOTE: “Please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.”
They may have a different spin on it (limiting your options to the last three years), but the approach to the Optional Essay is aaaalways the same.
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