How to Write a Great MBA Essay

How to Write Great MBA Essays

“I’m glad we trashed those initial MBA essays”, our client, Ben, told his consultant, Alan.

Ben is one of those smart, hard-working, rockstars whom private equity firms will one day pay huge amounts of money to run portfolio companies. At the same time, he is a thoughtful person you would trust with a big favor at the drop of a dime. His communication skills are solid. After all, his bosses ask him to put together and deliver presentations to C-level executives at leading companies. 

So why would he say, “I’m glad we trashed those initial MBA essays” the day after he submitted his application? You would think writing a personal statement for business school would be simple for him. 

But he is not alone. On average, 7 out of 10 of our clients gut the first drafts of their MBA essays. So, why is writing a ~500 word essay about yourself so hard for so many truly gifted people? 

Have a Clear, Focused Message

The problem isn’t their writing ability. It’s what they need to write. An MBA application essay is not the same as a college essay. A college essay needs to share that you are a smart young person with great potential. That’s pretty open-ended. An MBA essay, on the other hand, has to have a clear focused message: “This is where I am going and this is how my previous life paved the way for me to get there.

Some MBA applicants try to fudge the part on, “This is where I am going”. Admissions officers filter them out. Muddled students poorly use MBA resources and often have muddled careers. Clear students efficiently use their MBA program resources (classes, clubs, career support, and alumni network), then often graduate on a single trajectory where their dedication and talent can take them to noteworthy places.

Map Your Career Trajectory

A fair number of applicants know deep down where they want to go. Many need a push to own it. Once they do, it’s transformative. It’s like they molt their shell of smart generalist and take charge of their life’s direction. You can see the spark in their eyes.

Others have a general sense of what they want but haven’t formed it into words, nor aligned it with a career path. They research possibilities. We work together to get clear on their desires and dreams. Before they start writing, they mapped their career trajectory. We encourage you to do the same. If you don’t know what you want, work on it. If you still can’t get there, you may want to wait to apply.  

Sometimes writing changes their perspective on what they want; “No, deep down, I don’t believe this is true about myself.” Insert essay into trash bin. Start again with newfound clarity.

Connect The Dots Between Your Goals and Your Past

With a clear destination for their story, they need the substance of that story, selected from their life. That’s the second major challenge in writing MBA essays, “How do I get perspective on myself from inside the fish bowl?

A good place to start that introspection is to list out the significant personal and professional events in your life. When you’re burned out on introspection, take time to do something else. Talk with people who matter. Then go back to introspection. Repeat.

“How do these experiences connect to my long-term career goals?” More introspection and reflection. 

It is not the typical linear work process: data in, solve problems, work product out. It’s more like drawing a constellation – you connect the dots, but some dots are hard to see, and others you completely ignore. This takes a lot of work.

“Does Coach J’s incredible mentorship really matter? How does it connect with my goal to run a value-investing fund?” 

Oh! Now that I think about it, the frustration I felt freshman year helping that pop-up store capitalize on a short-term fashion trend was pivotal to my concept of business – even if I was responsible for nearly 40% of their overall sales.”

Usually, in early MBA essay drafts, applicants have not gone deep enough. As they peel the onion, they discover they have more thoughtful ways to talk about their life experiences. Delete. Write. Scratch out half. Write. Add different experience. Rework. Too long-winded. Rework. Presto.

Make The Case For The MBA

The final piece that is unique about MBA application essays is that you need to discuss your life experiences within the frame of an MBA. Your non-business experiences need to take a business flavor.

“Coach J’s unrelenting practices of sport fundamentals made me appreciate value-investing’s focus on business fundamentals.

My social psychology research can help companies break into new markets.”

Depending on the business school, the flavor will be different: superhero leadership, results-driven transformation, value-based impact, innovative breathroughs, among others.  

In the final version of your MBA essays, these pieces fit together into a single story arc. And squeeze into the word count.

Most people don’t get this right on the first draft. Or the second. Or the third. And we don’t expect them to. 

If you’re feeling stuck on your essays or could benefit from feedback on what you’ve written so far, schedule a call with a member of our team by clicking the button below. The truth is that all feedback isn’t created equal. But feedback from an expert who knows your audience and knows what it takes to get accepted is worth its weight in gold.

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