MBA Essay Writing Tips – Part II

By - Jun 24, 09:09 AM Comments [0]

Most MBA programs have already published their updated essay questions for Fall 2015. Writing the MBA application essays is usually the hardest part of the MBA admission process. In the next few weeks we’ll bring here a few MBA essay tips and guidelines to help you successfully negotiate the essay writing process.
After the general essay tips we brought you last week, today we'll go deeper and bring you advanced MBA essay tips:

1. Promote the Admission Drivers

  • Admission Drivers are the traits that admission committees look for in a candidate. For Example:

- Leader/Manager - Led/managed/recruited people.
- Team Player/Relationship Builder - Worked well with others, built relationships under difficult circumstances.
- Smart - GPA/academic distinctions, GMAT, recommender reviews.
- Initiates - Initiated successful projects / changes.
- International/Cultural - International orientation/experience, cultural sensitivity.
- Presentation Skills - Public speaking (large audience is strongest - state the number of people), presenting to senior people, presenting to team.
- Persuasion Skills - Persuaded people (senior people in particular).

  • If a sentence doesn’t promote an Admission Driver:

- Is it required in order to answer the question?
- If not, remove or replace it!

  • The king of Admission Drivers:

- Leadership

  • Where is our best chance to promote leadership?

- The Episode essay

2. Focus on the Question

  • Answer all segments of the question.
  • Example: Describe one of your greatest achievements and why you view it as such
  • Remove sentences that go beyond the scope of the question.


3. Focus on Facts

  • Avoid subjective terms

- Objective = it's either right or not.
- Subjective = it's a matter of opinion.

  • Examples:

- “We completed the project 6 days ahead of schedule“ - objective
- “We completed the project quickly" - subjective
- “Singcom is a large company" - subjective
- “Singcom is Singapore's second largest company“ - objective
- “The project succeeded“ - subjective
- "I felt that the project succeeded" – objective (this is what I felt) but not "hard facts".
- “In the company’s 2002 annual conference, the CEO cited the project as one of the company’s 5 main successes of the year” - objective, hard facts – this is the most effective of the above three.

… and Let the Reader Conclude

  • Avoid "spoon-feeding" the reader with conclusions.
  • Let the reader reach the conclusions.
  • For example:

- “Following my success in the project, I was promoted to Vice President” – This is spoon feeding.
- “Four weeks after the project ended, the CEO announced my promotion to Vice President” - This is good! Let the reader conclude the project was successful.

4. Go Deep

  • Go deep into the details
  • Be as specific as possible

- “I have learned how to delegate responsibilities” - shallow
- “I have learned that effective delegation of responsibilities requires clear definition of sub-goals” - deep
- “Singcom is one of Singapore’s largest companies” - shallow
- “Singcom is Singapore’s third-largest company” – deep

5. Make it interesting to read

  • Make the essay unique / bold / funny / suspenseful.

Some ways to achieve this:
– Suspense, drama
– Short paragraphs, short sentences, section titles
– By writing it as a script for a great movie
– By writing it as a chapter in a book
– By using unique, bold and funny ideas, stuff they never saw before. For example:
Essay Question: "What would you do if you had 1 hour with our dean"?
Answer: "I would lock the room from the inside. Until the security people break in, I will have at least two hours to convince him why Kellogg is my #1 choice"

6. Avoid Introductions and Summaries

  • What do we mean by “introduction”?
    – “here’s what I will tell you about”
  • What do we mean by “summary”?
    – “here’s what I told you about”
  • Why?
    – Space is limited
    – Patience is limited

7. Less is More

  • Why?
    – Because they skim
  • Keep the paragraphs at 3-5 lines.
  • Keep the sentences “real short”.
  • Avoid "AND".

– What two things can you do to avoid “and”?
– “I presented the background and my analysis”
* Break sentences into two: "I presented my background. I explained my analysis."
* Cut one "wing": "I presented my analysis" – this is best!

8. Use Orphan Sentences for the Key Points

  • Why?

– Because they skim


On April 3 I was appointed Vice Commander of the Submarine.


9. Keep it Authentic

  • Why?

– It helps chances

How do we keep the essay authentic?

  • The essays shouldn't present the candidate as a perfect person.
  • If possible, some of the essays should be moving, sincere, introspective, emotional. Less so for Harvard.

10. Modesty Wins

How to be modest?

  • Admit mistakes
  • Criticize yourself
  • Be sincere
  • Focus on the facts

11. Episode essays: tell it as a chapter in a book.

  • Episode essays are stories (like: "My greatest achievement").
  • Episode essay questions often begin with: "tell us about a time when…".
  • Effective episode essays are told like chapters in a book. They often use quotes.

12. Use Optional Space!


  • Chance to promote candidacy further
  • Shows commitment to the school


That's it. Next week we'll focus on specific essay tips by school.


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