Business School Essays

MBA Application Resource Roundup

For prospective business school students, we’ve created a short list of resources, including Apply Point blogs and information from external organizations, that will help guide you through the application process.

Apply Point Blog Posts

·       Deciding where to apply

o   MBA School Selection: Important Considerations When Building Your School List

o   MBA School Selection: What are the Alumni Saying?

o   Want a Career Abroad? Consider a European MBA.

·       Application

o   MBA Application Submission: Is There an Optimal Deadline?

o   The GMAT V. The GRE: Which Test is Best for You?

o   MBA Application Essays: Prompts Designed to Get Beyond Applicants’ Professional Experiences to Gauge Creativity and Assess Values

o   IQ is Important, but Don’t Forget About EQ

o    Using Recommendations to Strategically Enhance Your MBA Application

·       Interview preparation and tips

o   Top Ten Tips for the MBA Behavioral Interview

o   The Wharton Interview: Excel in the Team Based Discussion

o   MBA Interviews: When the Interview Requires More than an Interview

·       Use Social Media to Enhance Your Graduate School Application  

·       Unemployed and Considering Graduate School? Ensure This Time is Meaningful and Productive

·       Unconventional Applicants to MBA Programs Must Consider Abilities in Innovation, Leadership, and Teamwork

Online resources and social networks for prospective and current MBA students

·       Poets and Quants

·       Beat the GMAT

Organizations and Resources

·       The MBA Tour is an independent and high-quality information source regarding MBA admissions. Events emphasize personal interaction between prospective MBA students, business school admissions representatives, alumni, and other like-minded education enthusiasts.

·       The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management is a continually growing and evolving alliance of some of the world’s leading graduate business schools and business organizations, supported by the strength of an extended network of students and alumni.

·       The National Black MBA Association is the premier business organization serving black professionals.  

·       Prospanica, formerly the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA), emphasizes educational and professional development programs to improve the Hispanic community as a whole.

·       The Forte Foundation is a non-profit consortium of leading companies and top business schools working together to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women.

IQ is Important, but Don’t Forget About EQ

This summer, NYU Stern updated its MBA application to include an EQ Endorsement. Separate from the professional recommendations, Stern is asking applicants to have a friend or colleague submit a clear and compelling example of the applicant’s emotional intelligence. While NYU is at the forefront of formalizing the request for a demonstration of emotional intelligence, admissions committees have long been interested in self-awareness, maturity, leadership, and other skills highly correlated with EQ.  Demonstrating that you have the academic prowess to succeed in an MBA program is no longer enough; it is also critical to display emotional intelligence throughout your application.

There are several current models and definitions of Emotional Intelligence. One commonly used definition is from Mayer, Salovey and Caruso’s 2008 article in American Psychologist. “Emotional Intelligence includes the ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to use this information as a guide to thinking and behavior. That is, individuals high in emotional intelligence pay attention to, use, understand, and manage emotions, and these skills serve adaptive functions that potentially benefit themselves and others.”

Essentially, those with a high EQ can work successfully with others by understanding how emotions play a role in the workplace through employees’ thinking, decision-making, and conduct. This understanding helps those with EQ to have positive interactions with others, but it is much more than just building camaraderie with coworkers. Emotional intelligence is also the driving force behind persuasion and leadership, and those who are adept can facilitate difficult situations and conversations effectively and improve the motivation and performance of colleagues using these skills.

Mayer and Salovey created a developmental model of emotional intelligence, with four key components (each with four sub-components):

-        The ability to perceive emotions in oneself and others accurately.

-        The ability to use emotions to facilitate thinking.

-        The ability to understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions.

-        The ability to manage emotions so as to attain specific goals. 

Read more about the model here: http://www.theeiinstitute.com/what-is-emotional-intelligence/4-mayer-and-salovey-model-of-emotional-intelligence.html

While some people have higher EQ levels innately, it is also a skill that can be enhanced through increasing self-awareness and practice. As such, in your business school applications, you can showcase your emotional intelligence strengths, but also show self-awareness by referencing those areas that you are actively working to develop.

Take the time to weave examples of your emotional intelligence throughout your essays as well as in your recommendations. EQ-related skills are often included on the recommenders’ skills assessments so make sure that your recommenders are aware of your abilities in this arena by providing them with stories and anecdotes that they can consider when filling out the skills assessment and completing the open-ended question(s).

Some prompts to help you start thinking through specific examples that will illustrate your emotional intelligence include: 

-        Describe difficult co-worker or team dynamics and how your emotional awareness allowed you to repair these relationships and/or environments.

-        Reference times where perceiving and responding to the emotions of others helped you to drive a conversation or project forward in a different, but ultimately more effective manner.

-        Think through examples of relating to others, particularly others who are different from you, to increase teamwork or buy-in to an idea or project.

-        Think further about those times you’ve disagreed with colleagues in a rational and beneficial way, which ultimately helped you determine the best path forward.

-        Consider a time when you assisted a coworkers’ development by giving them difficult feedback or having a tough conversation.

With many corporations and recruiters showing an interest in emotional intelligence, thinking through how you can continue to develop and showcase your EQ will be a beneficial investment of time, not just for the MBA application period, but for all of your professional endeavors going forward.

 

Top Ten Things To Consider When Applying To An EMBA Program Part II: The Interview, Work Experience, and Essays

Executive MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are trying to find leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete. They are striving to build a class comprised of students with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

So, what does this mean for your application?  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.

Interview

 The interview is arguably one of the most important parts of the business school application.  Not only must you look an admissions officer in the eye to discuss the contents of the paper application you’ve been refining for months, but you must also convince them of your strong communication abilities and the value you will bring into the classroom. 

--Prepare:

·      Go through commonly asked interview questions and practice your responses.  Taking it a step further by setting up mock interviews with admissions consultants or colleagues is also helpful.  A mock interview can stimulate the real thing because you will be forced to think on your feet and respond under pressure.

·      Most likely, one of the first questions is going to be open-ended.  Develop a three-minute elevator pitch that describes your background, strengths and professional story that doesn’t ‘read’ your resume.  

--Handle Weaknesses and Failures Effectively:

·      When discussing weaknesses, be honest and focus on skills instead of personality traits.  This is crucial as personality traits are usually considered permanent, while skills can be refined and improved.  

·      Questions regarding failure can be unpleasant, but they are inevitable.  The key is to emphasize what you learned from the failure and how you have become a more insightful leader because of these lessons.

--Be Precise:

·      Be specific about why business school is the perfect intersection of where you have been and where you want to go.  It is absolutely vital to be precise, not only when responding to questions regarding your short and long-term career goals, but also when responding to questions regarding the specific program to which you are applying.  Do extensive research by talking to students and members of the faculty.  Visit the school, sit-in on classes and, on interview day, come with questions that show your high level of interest in the program.

·      When asked questions about specific instances when you made an impact, it is important to give context by explaining the situation.  Then, you will be able to discuss the actions you took, which led to the end result.  Think of these responses as a three-step process – Situation, Action, Result.  

Work Experience and Scope of Professional Responsibilities

The quality and quantity of an applicant’s work experience is key when determining top management potential, so a polished resume is an absolute must.  Incoming EMBA students have an average of 13 years of post-baccalaureate work experience, with an average of 8 in a management role.

--Construct a powerful, yet precise resume:

·      Provide hard numbers that exhibit the results you’ve achieved and the impact you’ve made.  Don’t rely on a job description to communicate the value you’ve created, especially in the areas of leadership, innovation and teamwork.

·      Show your progression in responsibility and ensure your career goals are achievable in light of your background.  Emphasize the experiences that are in-line with your career goals and de-emphasize those that are not.

·      Business schools want diversity in work experience.  Don’t get discouraged if you are in the non-profit or creative sectors.  Just be sure to exhibit, from past experiences, your leadership skills and business potential.

Essays:

Another application staple, the essays, are often cited by admissions directors to be the most important part of the application.  They play a critical role in painting a picture of your potential by telling your personal and professional story and setting the stage for the other application components.  A well-written essay examines the value you can bring in terms of leadership, innovation and teamwork, your fit with a particular program, and how you stand out overall.

--Show, don’t tell:

One of the most important things to remember, when composing your essays, is the importance of specifics when painting a compelling picture for the reader.  Show the reader your leadership and innovation potential by describing, in depth, a situation, where they can see for themselves.  Your description should be thorough enough that you won’t have to state the obvious.  

--Don’t be afraid to discuss failure: 

Failure and weaknesses make for compelling applicants because it communicates sincerity and shows the admissions committee how you learn from your mistakes.  It is also a good idea to connect your development opportunities with the schools strengths.  How can the program you are applying to help you refine these particular areas of weakness?             

The application process may seem daunting, but the rigorous admissions standards applied will lead to an unparalleled EMBA experience, a classroom where each seat is taken by a talented leader who is more than merely a test score and a transcript.

The Admissions Essay Part II: Equal Parts Memoir and Strategic Communication

For many applicants, the essays are the most daunting part of the admissions process.  The task of writing is arduous enough, but then there is the reality that application essays must be part memoir – pieces that express your individuality and unique experiences, and part strategic communication – pieces that also impart your knowledge and fit with the institution, along with your leadership and innovation potential.   In Part II, I am going to address the importance of research, the jargon you must do away with, and the conclusion.

Remember, the first thing to remember is simple.  You are the writer and the admissions director is the reader.  What keeps you reading through newspapers, magazines and books?  Important to consider, the qualities that maintain your interest will be some of the same ones that engage your admissions director and help you make that memorable connection you are striving for.

Research:

Conduct extensive research about the institution to which you are applying, so you are able to make the connections admissions directors are looking for.  Think about why the school in question is a strong choice, given where you are coming from and where you want to go.  You must get specific, but don’t over explain what the reader already knows or can figure out.  Admissions directors know a lot about their institution, so they don’t need a long list of classes or clubs you’ve regurgitated from their website.  They want to know why you are interested in specific activities and how you will be proactive in their community.  Talk to the school’s professors and career services professionals.  Visit the school and have lunch with current students.  In order to sound authentic, you must gain first-hand experiences investigating the program you claim to be so passionate about.

Get Rid of Jargon:

You want to sound like a confident leader, so don’t write like you’re not.  Good writing is concise and clear so it is best to avoid sentences cluttered with pompous jargon words like incentivize, alignment and criticality.  Readers identify with people, rather than concepts, especially if they are esoteric principles common only in the lives of chemical engineers or air force pilots.  Admissions directors don’t want to read about the measures being facilitated at the ground control station if there no human element or universal message that will move your candidacy forward.  If you are trying to explain a complex process, relate it to something we can all understand and remember, as Zinsser says, “A simple style does not reflect a simple mind.” 

The Strategic Communication:

As you begin to create your narrative, you will face the reality that an admissions essay is, indeed, a strategic communication, a piece that must communicate your leadership and innovation potential in a carefully crafted way.  The best place to start is a blank document with empty bullet points.  Think about your most meaningful experiences working in and managing teams, investigating and presenting innovative ideas that improved department efficiency or challenging the group consensus.  There are no word limits in brainstorming, so let your thoughts go.  Over time, you will be able to narrow your list to specific examples that demonstrate the high quality of your professional experience, poignant anecdotes that will serve your narrative well.  

The Conclusion:

Just as the lead’s objective is to push the reader into the paragraphs that follow, your conclusion should bring the reader back to a memorable moment in your opening sentences and, simultaneously, take them somewhere else.  A thought-provoking close will be remembered long after your file is off their desk.  As a former admissions director, I would read hundreds and hundreds of essays in any given year and, still to this day, I will never forget the gripping honesty in a conclusion written by a former officer in the military, regarding his account of a tragedy that took the lives of nearly half the men in his platoon.  Unafraid to admit his lack of heroism, his closing remarks about the harsh reality of war, left me stunned.  I realized then I could relate to and remember those applicants who were compelling and human, rather than those who tried to construct a perfect façade.

I’ve often heard my clients refer to the business school admissions process as ‘grueling’ or ‘maddening’.  The mere thought of essay writing brings them back to the college composition class they dreaded or their article in the school newspaper mocked by their peers.  In a system where test scores and transcripts can only take you so far, some of the most powerful tools you possess are words.  Use them well.

The Admissions Essay Part I: Equal Parts Memoir and Strategic Communication

AppEach word of the essay question seems to add significant weight to the paper it’s printed on.  As you stare at the question, you feel sluggish and frustrated. How can you possibly tell a story that will appeal to highly selective MBA admissions committees?  Where will you start?  How will you weave in the qualities deemed acceptable for future students?

For many applicants, the essays are the most daunting part of the admissions process.  The task of writing is arduous enough, but then there is the reality that application essays must be part memoir – pieces that express your individuality and unique experiences, and part strategic communication – pieces that also impart your knowledge and fit with the institution, along with your leadership and innovation potential.  

You’ve heard admissions advice, attended information sessions and combed through Internet searches about admissions essays. So, I’m not going to waste your time with repetition or complexities.  The first thing to remember is simple.  You are the writer and the admissions director is the reader.  What keeps you reading through newspapers, magazines and books?  Important to consider, the qualities that maintain your interest will be some of the same ones that engage your admissions director and help you make that memorable connection you are striving for.

The Lead:

You must capture the reader and force them to keep reading.  You can do this with an unusual idea, an interesting fact, a question or anything else that will appropriately reel them in and push them into the subsequent paragraphs.   Some don’ts worth considering: Don’t repeat part of the essay question in the first sentence of your essay – ‘I am interested in Columbia Business School because’…  Don’t lead with the buzzing of your alarm clock to transition into an essay examining a significant personal experience.  This stale, yet common introduction only signals the work of an inexperienced writer.  Don’t lead with a specific anecdote from childhood.  There are a few exceptions, but keep in mind that admissions committees want you to focus on your experiences post-baccalaureate, so any mention of childhood could be deemed inappropriate.     

The Narrative:

Admissions essays should take a narrative approach, a style conducive to applicants thinking and writing about themselves.  You want to tell a story and construct a meaningful memoir laden with specific details that show instead of just tell the reader about your experiences.  It is best to think narrow.  Don’t summarize your life since college.  Think about one or two impactful projects or events that allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about your innovation and leadership potential.  One of my recent clients responded to Wharton’s first essay question, regarding career objective, by focusing on a recent management experience that inspired her goals post MBA.  Through her minute-by-minute recount of the situation, the reader could see her potential and understand her fit, not only with the future role she is targeting, but also with the student work groups at Wharton.   Just as William Zissner describes memoirs in his book, On Writing Well, essays are meant to be a window into life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition.  

The Message:

Too often, applicants surrender the qualities that make them unique to focus solely on the strategic communication aspect of the essay.  They end up writing what they think an admissions committee member will want to hear, which empties the essay of the very element that makes it memorable, the humanity behind the words.  A laundry list of the results you’ve achieved or the leadership accolades you take pride in won’t provide enough depth.  Leave those for the resume.  For the essay, use the space to show the why and the how of your journey.  Zinsser says, “What holds me is the enthusiasm of the writer for his field.  How was he drawn to it?  How did it change his life?  It is not necessary to want to spend a year alone at Walden Pond to become involved with a writer who did.”  The essays are the reader’s first opportunity to get to know you, so be yourself when you write and don’t forget that part of what makes you compelling are your weaknesses.  The struggle and lessons learned can be some of the most interesting parts of a story, so you don’t have to leave them out. 

I’ve often heard my clients refer to the business school admissions process as ‘grueling’ or ‘maddening’.  The mere thought of essay writing brings them back to the college composition class they dreaded or their article in the school newspaper mocked by their peers.  In a system where test scores and transcripts can only take you so far, some of the most powerful tools you possess are words.  Use them well.