Three Tips for Writing Compelling MBA Essays
If you’re applying to business school in Round 2, you probably know that writing compelling MBA essays is the foundation of a successful application. In fact, in our experience, writing compelling MBA essays has become increasingly important to admissions success. There are a lot of candidates out there who are qualified on paper and can gather strong recommendation letters. But admissions committees want to know more about you than just the facts and will rely on your essays – what you choose to share and how you share it – to get to know you on a deeper level.
So, how do you make sure you are writing compelling MBA essays that catch the admissions committee’s attention? Here are our top three tips.
Tip #1 – Cut to the chase.
Conventional wisdom (or your high school English Lit teacher!) may tell you that the key to writing compelling MBA essays is a catchy opening and interesting prose. In our opinion, though, it’s actually much more straightforward (boring, even).
From a style and structure standpoint, simple and direct is best. Answer the essay question upfront, ideally in the first paragraph, and then use the remaining paragraphs to support that answer. Sometimes clients feel that they are ‘giving away the punch line’ by doing this – that’s ok! Admissions committees read a lot of essays and likely re-review them briefly as they discuss candidates. Make sure they know the main point you are trying to get across without having to dig.
The same goes for body paragraphs. Begin each one with a strong topic sentence that crystallizes the main point of that paragraph and then share the details. Not only is this helpful for reader comprehension, but it forces you to ensure that each of your paragraphs truly does serve a clear purpose in support of the thesis you shared up top.
Tip #2 – Show don’t tell.
Once you’ve developed the skeleton of your essay – the direct answer to the essay question and supporting topic sentences described above – you need to ‘prove’ to the admissions committee that what you’ve asserted is authentically true.
The best way to do this is by sharing brief examples or anecdotes that describe how you’ve acted in past situations, a concept known as ‘showing not telling’. Anyone can claim that they are driven by a desire to give back; not everyone can support this claim by sharing how they started a mentorship program at a low-income school that increased college matriculation statistics. The latter is much more believable and compelling.
This advice may feel harder to operationalize when discussing future plans, like your post-MBA career goals. In other words, how do you ‘prove’ that your goals are truly your goals and not just something you are putting down on paper because it sounds reasonable to an admissions committee? The key here is to leverage anecdotes (again, show don’t tell) to provide the rationale for why you are targeting the role, companies, industry, etc. that you are. Perhaps you plan to work in strategy for a biomedical company after having had a relative find relief from a chronic disease through a new biomedical therapy. That feels much more authentic than just saying you find the field interesting.
Tip #3 – Ask for feedback but not too much.
As admissions consultants, one piece of advice we always stress with clients is to start early and iterate often. Essays, in particular, become much more cohesive, logical, and convincing when the writer’s thinking is challenged, and they are forced to really hone their points.
That said, there can be too much of a good thing. In an attempt to gather as many viewpoints as possible, we find that some applicants socialize their essays too broadly. Sometimes they seek feedback from (well-meaning) people in their network who simply don’t have context for the qualities MBA programs value and advise accordingly. Other times they incorporate bits of feedback from a variety of people and their essays begin to feel jumbled and confusing.
In our experience, best practice is to select 2-3 people who are committed to your success and familiar with the MBA admissions process (current students, alums, your consultant, etc.). Especially as your essays become further developed, don’t be afraid to zero them in on a certain question (i.e., do you feel my rationale for wanting to work in tech is convincing?). You are the quarterback of your essays and should be leveraging the players on your team as necessary.
We hope those tips are help ensure you are writing compelling MBA essays! We are still accepting Round 2 clients so if you would like help with your essays (or any other part of your applications), we’d love to chat and see if we’re a good fit. You can request an initial consultation here.