Writer’s Block? Ideas for Starting Your Essays on the Right Path

Many of the business schools have started releasing their 2017 – 2018 applications, including the much anticipated essay questions. For many, this is the fun part; and for just as many, this is the part they dread. Boiling down your accomplishments, passions, and goals to 500 – 750 words is no easy task. But step one is having something to write about in the first place. As such, below are a few tips to get you started as you think through the best topics for your upcoming MBA essay masterpieces!

  1. Don’t be generic (aka. boring). If you were considering writing a beautiful essay about how you are awesome at building financial models and can’t wait to do that as a consultant after gaining stronger management skills in b-school…then forget about it. If that is in fact your storyline, that’s ok. However, it needs to be way, way, way more interesting and specific. And if that’s your storyline just because you don’t know what else to say, then it’s well worth your time to do some soul-searching and research to determine what it is that you are REALLY good at and want to do in the future. A good story and vision can outweigh weaker aspects of your application. And if you’re gunning for the top MBA programs, then you need an inspiring story or pitch just to be competitive.
  2. Don’t forget the “why”. Whether you are focused on starting your own company or you’re the person who truly wants to go into consulting after you graduate, it’s extremely important to explain WHY that career path matters to you and makes sense for you. Explain how you came to want to work in a particular industry and what your ideas are for transforming or enhancing that industry. Importantly, explain why it matters to you or is important to you.
  3. Leadership stories. If you are ever at a loss for what to write about, list out the leadership examples from your life that you are most proud of (both professionally and personally). Your leadership potential is important to highlight throughout your application, so these stories are likely a great starting point for determining essay content. Leadership stories that also include great examples of how well you work with many different types of people are even better!
  4. Creativity. Don’t go overboard, and be sure to know your audience (not all schools are open to this); but a little creativity can help set you apart. One of the best essays I saw for Stanford last year (from someone who was admitted!) took a very creative approach to answering the goals question and treated it like a reflection from the future (eg. 10 years from now looking back). She pulled it off really well and clearly the admissions directors took notice!
  5. Uniqueness. Oftentimes I see applicants who want to tell the admissions directors what they think they want to hear (eg. describing some generic “perfect” MBA candidate). Though you do need to position yourself in a way that appeals to what admissions is looking for, you need to remember that one thing they are looking for is your ability to add value and contribute something unique to the class. They are always asking “who you will be” in the class. MBA programs are searching for leaders who are dynamic, interesting, well-rounded, and can add something. Who you are, where you came from, your hobbies, and your personality are all very important aspects to convey.

Hopefully this gets you off to a great start! If you haven’t already, it’s important to ensure that you map out your plan for the next few months so that you have plenty of time to iterate on these essays. Most of our clients complete 10-20+ drafts of each essay before submitting, so be methodical in your approach and give yourself the time you need to feel great about your applications!

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