Using Anecdotes to Write Memorable MBA Essays

By - Jun 25, 16:36 PM Comments [0]

Why does it matter if you write memorable MBA essays? Because the average top tier business school can read up to 40,000 essays in any given application season. THAT’S ALMOST 400 POUNDS OF ESSAYS. That’s as much as a TIGER. They read a TIGER’S worth of ESSAYS.

So what makes you think they’ll remember yours? Well, because you’re reading this article, that’s why! Because what we’re going to talk about is the antidote to generic, boring, dull MBA application essays that wind up in the “ding” pile. We’re talking about ANECDOTES! A great MBA application essay is filled with anecdotes that bring your actions and results to life. They’re a wonderful opportunity to convey your experiences, passions, and impacts in an engaging, unique, and insightful way. But, every year, we see some pretty common mistakes:

  • Folks repeat information found elsewhere in an application instead of using the essay to convey the depth of their character, qualifications, and what “makes them tick”
  • Applicants think their background as an immigrant / minority / XYZ professional makes them automatically unique and qualified from amongst thousands of applicants
  • Real substance is replaced with buzzwords (check out our blog post on just that), generalized statements (we have an article on that, too), and superficial compliments that add absolutely no insights into the applicant


Any applicant that has any hope of getting accepted has to tell a great story in their essay. You might be a consultant or banker or IT professional but you’re unlike every other applicant out there. You are unique. The essays are the only place in your application where you have complete control over what is highlighted and how. The key to any great story starts with anecdotes. These anecdotes are interesting, moving, passionate, and/or amusing short stories that engage your reader. Their real importance is that they help explain the why behind your actions and decisions. Adcoms are extremely interested in the struggles and defining moments that have shaped you and your dreams. But they also help break up the monotony that comes with reading thousands of applications. And if you can do that, well that’s just swell!

Whether you’re answering an essay on goals or describing your most challenging experience, anecdotes have a role to play. Instead of  just stating you want to become a partner at McKinsey down the road, why not share the experiences that made you want to do that? Maybe there was an experience where you knew consulting was for you? Maybe a project that set you down this path? Or instead of just telling the admissions committee about a challenging experience, why not paint a picture with your imagination brush (lame, yes, we know, sorry). Suck them into the story. Make them experience the situation and struggle. Take them along with you as you wrestled with your decision or solution. Instill a sense of relief as you share the happy ending. Anecdotes are the perfect way to “show” and not just “tell”!

Oh and don’t forget to use concrete examples in your anecdotes! You need to bring your stories to life with specifics, vivid images, and details to convey to illustrate your points. Anecdotes don’t need to be long, complex narratives. They can be simple but, when used strategically, can have a profound impact. Often, you don’t even sacrifice word count doing it!

Okay let’s put it together in an example. You’re a volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club. You enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun. An essay prompt comes along where talking about it fits perfectly. So what do you write?

Option 1 | How to put your reader to sleep…zzz…. (50 words)

“I have been deeply involved with the Boys and Girls Club as a volunteer and mentor to a group of 10 kids. This opportunity has given me the opportunity to share my experiences and advice in an effort to have a positive influence at a critical time in their lives.”

Option 2 | Build in a detailed anecdote that helps the reader connect! (69 words)

“Growing up in a household with 4 siblings and both parents working around the clock, I received inconsistent attention at best. Luckily my older sister, Sarah, was there to provide the support and advice I needed. Her selflessly taking on the responsibility inspired me to volunteer at my local Boys and Girls Club where I have become what Sarah was for me to a group of 10 amazing children.”

Doesn’t the second example just jump off the page and help you connect? Can’t you picture 4 screaming children running around and 2 exhausted parents trying to hold everything together? In that setting, Sarah sounds like an amazing influence and the reader can understand why you chose the Boys & Girls Club over other equally worthy initiatives. They get a glimpse into what makes you tick and that’s what we’re going for here!

So as you start looking at essays and thinking about what you’ll write about, remember the HOW is just as important, if not more so, than the WHAT. Include anecdotes wherever you can and bring the adcom along for the journey!

When you have your essay drafted, remember – an experienced 2nd perspective can go a long way! At Critical Square, our Essay Editing services provide candid and tangible feedback – absolutely no fluff here. It’ll be rigorous but trust us, you’ll thank us in the end! Learn more [here].

Want to chat about your profile, the path ahead, or anything else business school related? Sign up for a free consultation [here]!

Good luck!

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