We always tell business school candidates, “You cannot turn a bad idea into a good essay.” We insist on taking our clients through a lengthy brainstorming process (beginning with a thorough questionnaire) to discover the stories that make each of them distinct. As you uncover your stories, consider them from as many different angles as possible. Doing so will not only help ensure that you understand the various “weapons in your arsenal,” but it will also provide you with maximum flexibility (considering that MBA admissions committees ask questions that vary dramatically from school to school).
For example, an experience coaching a baseball team at an underfunded high school may have multiple dimensions, such as the following:
• creatively motivating an underachieving team and changing attitudes, despite losses
• initiating and leading fundraising efforts so that each player could afford proper equipment
• mentoring a struggling player and seeing an improvement in his/her on-field performance
• helping a player deal with a family issue off the field
• recruiting other coaches and then working with a team to improve the team’s on-field performance
These are just a few of the stories that could be gleaned through brainstorming, proving that considering stories from various angles is beneficial and will help you discover multiple unique approaches to your admissions essays.
Many MBA candidates—whether they are working as bankers or lawyers, in internal corporate finance or corporate strategy—feel they must tell a “deal story” in their application essays. Although discussing a deal can be a good idea, showing your distinct impact on the deal is what is vital. Remember that you are the central character of your essays, not the deal. A straightforward anecdote outlining how you dutifully completed your work and steadily supported others as a deal became a reality is not likely to be compelling to an admissions reader. Further, the important thing is that the admissions committee experience your personality, not your spreadsheets.
Ask yourself the following questions to ensure that the story you are sharing in your essay is truly about you:
• What did you do that was beyond expectations for your role? Did you grow into additional responsibilities at a crucial time?
• Did any particular interactions take place in which you used your personality to change the dynamic, thereby ensuring the deal’s progress or success?
• Did you need to take a principled stand at any moment or speak out on behalf of a needful party?
• Did you help others overcome any corporate or international cultural barriers?
These questions are meant to get you started, but the point remains: do not simply offer any deal, but instead provide insight into your deal.
For even more brainstorming tips, download the mbaMission Brainstorming Guide.
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