With the new MBA essay questions coming out, you may be starting to sketch out your answers. Of course first and foremost answer the given questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. But how can your essays work for you to the max, especially when the questions don’t seem to provide opportunities to portray experiences, skills, qualities, or insights that you deem important to your profile?
You make the essays do “double duty.” In other words, while answering the question, you also are incorporating points that will strengthen your application even if they aren’t specifically requested.
You might think, if the program doesn’t ask for something, doesn’t it mean that factor isn’t important to the program? Not necessarily. For example, a school may not have a specific essay asking about teamwork, but almost any MBA program would value outstanding skill in this area. Ditto creative problem-solving, ditto cross-cultural communication, ditto meaningful breadth of experience – e.g., you’ve worked in both matrix and hierarchical organizations and you’ve developed some pretty interesting insights from the contrasting experiences.
So how do you wrestle your essays into double duty? Let’s use Columbia’s essays as an example.
Essay 1: What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals? (Recommended 750 word limit)
Essay 2: Please tell us about yourself and your personal interests. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (Recommended 500 word limit)
Optional essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide to the Admissions Committee? (Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history.)
First, review Linda Abraham’s basic tips for answering these questions. After you develop your main answers, think about what’s left out that’s important to your profile. Let’s say you recently helped to integrate a newly acquired Malaysian enterprise into your company’s German subsidiary. Your facilitating role evolved into an informal leadership role due to your cross-cultural communication skills and proactive, creative problem solving. It’s a differentiating experience, you learned a lot, and your self-perception as a leader grew. Where can you weave this in? You want to keep essay 2 for non-work experiences. And this experience isn’t directly related to your goals IT management. In the optional you need to discuss an F in Beginning Farsi.
There are two options for your Malaysian-German integration:
- Use the goals essay. Even though this experience may not directly relate to your goal, mine it for relevant content, such as skills and perspective gained that would apply in your future roles. Of course, you won’t describe the experience at length (because the question doesn’t ask about your background), but the brief sketch would still stand out. And if you do it artfully, it will show you’re resourceful.
- Use the optional essay. You can have more than one point here. So first discuss your F (point 1). Then add a point 2, stating directly that this pivotal experience was formative, deepened your business perspective, and is an essential component of your profile. Then describe the experience and add the insights, growth, and perspective gained from it – the latter are what you will contribute to the MBA learning environment.
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By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Success, The Consultants’ Guide to MBA Admission, The EMBA Edge, and author of several articles and the free, email mini-course, "Ace the EMBA." Also author of the NEW online mini-course, Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Choosing the One for You.