Oxford University (Saïd Business School) Essay Analysis, 2018–2019
After taking a new approach with its application essay questions last year and moving away from its previously rather traditional focus, the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford has elected to maintain its newer prompts for this season. The program probes into applicants’ perception of the world with its first essay question, which asks candidates about a surprising trend and how it might be altered. And its second required essay gives applicants an essentially open invitation to share whatever additional information they believe the admissions committee should have in evaluating them, though they have only 300 words in which to do so. Our more detailed analysis of Oxford Saïd’s essay prompts follows, as well as some commentary on the school’s career goals questions.
Essay #1: Consider a statistic or trend that shocks you. Why it is important to you and how could it be changed for the better? (Maximum 500 words)
Few could argue that the news and social media outlets today are void of eye-opening and often surprising events, ideas, information, practices, and fashions. We are sure that at least a few things have struck a chord with you and caught your eye in recent months. The school’s use of the word “shock” here and its subsequent request for possible ways of “chang[ing] things for the better” imply to us that the admissions committee expects to hear about something you view as a negative within this context, something in need of improvement. On the Welcome page of its website, Saïd says, “We aim to provide the world’s future business leaders with the skills, knowledge and personal qualities needed to meet the world-scale challenges of the 21st century,” a statement with which this essay question clearly resonates. The school wants candidates it can equip with the tools necessary to make the world a better place, and this is your opportunity to frame yourself as such.
That said, if the issue that resounds with you most strongly is actually a positive one, with some careful finessing, you should be able to still use it as your topic for this essay. For example, perhaps you are pleasantly surprised to know that childhood obesity rates have fallen. In this case, you would need to approach the “how could it be changed for the better” portion of Saïd’s prompt by explaining how this trend could be encouraged and continued, perhaps by incorporating new initiatives in elementary schools or rethinking marketing tie-ins between products perceived as unhealthy and movies aimed at young audiences. As long as your choices and ideas are authentic to you and speak to the concept of improving the world as a whole, you will likely be on a successful track.
A successful essay response will of course address all three components of this prompt—the shocking statistic/trend, why it matters to you, and your thoughts on how to rectify the situation—but the 500-word limit does not provide a massive amount of space in which to accomplish this, so you need to be clear and concise. One of your goals here is to show the school your values and passion, what motivates you and why. The nature of topic you choose will do this in part, but you must also respond directly to the portion of the query that asks why your chosen issue is significant to you personally.
You will likely not be able to present a guaranteed solution to the issue you have chosen in your essay, and especially not within a few hundred words. However, you must demonstrate that you are a problem solver at heart. You want the admissions committee to understand that when you encounter something amiss, you do not just see it but instinctively try to figure out some way of addressing it. Show that you have the spirit of a doer. Tying your ability to execute your projected solution to a skill you would learn or an experience you would have in the Saïd MBA program—if truly appropriate and not forced—could make your response even more compelling.
Essay #2: Is there anything not covered in the application form which you would like the Admissions Committee to know about you? (Maximum 250 words)
If you are not paying close attention as you read through Oxford Saïd’s application information (though of course, you are, right?), you might accidentally dismiss this question as a standard optional essay prompt. This is certainly almost verbatim what we have seen from other schools as an add-on essay invitation, but in this case, an essay is required, so this is not a mistake you want to make. Perhaps Saïd is hoping to check candidates’ attention to detail with this query?
If you have a problem or issue in your candidacy, this would be the right place to address it, given that the school does not offer a typical, separate optional essay opportunity with which to do so. However, this is an essay that allapplicants must submit, so if your profile is free of questionable components, you must still provide some key additional information here for the school to use in deciding whether to include you in its next incoming class. You will therefore need to determine what is most important for the admissions committee to know to evaluate you thoroughly and fairly, whether that is the story behind a seemingly unfavorable or deleterious part of your application or whether it is one about a significant learning experience or impressive accomplishment (or something else altogether). As always, take time to consider everything the admissions committee will already be able to learn about you from the other parts of your application, from your statistics and resume to your recommenders’ contributions. The goal here is to round out that information in a positive way that pushes your candidacy forward in the direction of acceptance.
Even though this piece is not optional, we still recommend downloading a free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide. It might help you in determining whether you need to write this essay on a problem area/issue or not (or perhaps which one, if your candidacy somehow includes multiple questionable elements), and if so, the advice and many examples within will direct you in how to do so most effectively.
If you are applying under the 1+1 scheme you also need to submit the following essay:
Explain why you see this as particularly beneficial for you and how it fits with your careers and personal development aims (Maximum 250 words)
For this essay, Saïd provides a very straightforward prompt. Oxford has created an innovative two-year program through which you can earn two master’s degrees simultaneously. But the school has a simple request first—explain why you want/need that non-MBA master’s degree. If you hope to participate in this program, you will need to help the school understand exactly why and how it will affect your career. With a mere 250 words in which to detail precisely how this particular program will contribute to your management education and where you will apply that learning, you have no room to be vague. You must clearly demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between the dual-degree program and the achievement of your goals. Your underlying message needs to be readily comprehensible: “I will complete X degree, which will benefit me by manifesting in Y part of my career.”
Re-applicants will need to complete the essays mentioned above and another essay on the topic: What improvements have you made in your candidacy since you last applied to the Oxford MBA? (Maximum 250 words)
Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or accepted some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Saïd wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Saïd MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.
In addition to its essay questions, Saïd asks candidates to respond to five career goals questions. Although you are not expected to craft full essay-length responses to these queries and should in fact focus on clearly and concisely providing the information the school seeks, we thought we would offer some insight into what we believe the school is hoping to extract via these questions.
-Describe below your immediate plan after graduating from the MBA:
This prompt is rather straightforward, and we imagine you do in fact have a goal in mind for your post-graduate career, particularly given that Saïd’s program is just one year long, meaning you will have less time to explore and pursue multiple options than you would in a two-year program. Just be direct and succinct in detailing your intentions. If your choice seems like a clear or even obvious one based on your past, you should not need to provide much explanation or context for it, because your resume will provide sufficient backstory. If you are planning to change careers while at Saïd, however, be sure to include some basic explanation as to why you have selected this post-MBA goal and why it is a feasible and fitting one for you.
-How does your preferred sector in your preferred location recruit MBA talent and what do they look for in a candidate? Describe the research you have done so far.
As we just noted, Saïd’s MBA program is only one year long, and that year will be packed with academic pursuits and social opportunities, in addition to your job search responsibilities. The school wants to know that you have already dedicated significant time to making sure the path you have chosen is one you are ready and properly equipped to pursue (or at least that you will be equipped for by the end of your MBA experience). Moreover, showing that you have thoroughly considered and researched your options will reassure the admissions committee that you are a thoughtful, resourceful, and reasoned individual who takes serious things seriously—in short, that you are a determined candidate who is ready for the rigors of a top MBA program and the professional challenges that follow.
-Reflecting on your answer above, how do you meet these requirements?
The goal of this prompt is to uncover the skills, characteristics, and experience you already possess that make you a good fit for the professional plans you have made. We will assume that if you have truly done the proper research on the industry and region you have selected, then you have subsequently discovered the qualities in yourself that make you confident your chosen path is right for you. Simply outline these qualities for the admissions committee so that it can likewise be assured that you can achieve your stated goals.
-What do you plan to do between now and starting your MBA to prepare and maximise your chances of success?
As with its question about the research you have already done into your intended path, the school wants to know that you will be an active partner in your professional pursuits. Saïd is not interested in accepting individuals who feel that attending class is the full extent of their responsibility while at business school and that the career department will simply make the “job part” happen for them. You need to demonstrate that you are someone who goes after what they want and are willing to put in the work required to achieve it. Brainstorm about options you have to learn more about the job, industry, and/or company you are targeting or to prepare yourself for it—such as job shadowing, night classes, or reading specific websites or books—and detail these possibilities for your admissions reader.
-Should you not be successful in securing your first choice of role, what is your alternative?
Yet again, Saïd is asking for evidence that you are a motivated and resourceful person who is ready and willing to do everything necessary to move toward your goals. Demonstrating that you have thoroughly considered and identified an appropriate Plan B will let the school know that you are serious about your aspirations and are therefore a candidate in which it can have confidence. Your best option here is to outline an option that is equally fitting and attainable for you as your original plan, which will show that you are consistent in your interests and will still be well positioned to pursue and achieve your professional ambition.