How to Write a Powerful MBA Essay—With Examples

The MBA essay is critical to your business school application. Read our guide to writing the perfect MBA essay, with successful admit examples.

Posted June 14, 2024

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What is the mba essay.

The MBA admissions essay.

Those words alone are enough to make most MBA candidates run screaming. Writing in general is hard enough. Writing about why you want an MBA? Your short-term goals and career aspirations? What matters to you most, and why? Forget it.

Of course, you still have to write these essays.

The MBA essay is perhaps the most important part of the business school application. Every other part of the application — your GPA, your test scores, your letters of recommendation — is quantified, cut and dried, or out of your control. The essay is your chance to show up as a fully realized MBA candidate, with hopes, dreams, and vulnerabilities. Admissions committees are not simply assessing your candidacy as a future leader — they're looking to admit human beings. That's where the MBA applicant essays come in.

That being the case, rather than being intimidated by it, treat the MBA essay writing process like the opportunity that it is — the chance for you to highlight your unique, iridescent self; the only moment in the MBA admissions process (prior to the interview) when you can speak directly to admissions officers; the time when you'll show them who you really are. It's not easy to write something that will do that, of course, but with the tips and tricks in this guide, and some help from one of Leland's vetted, world-class admissions coaches, we know you can do it. Give the essay the time, attention, and respect it deserves, and you'll be on your way to an offer of admission at your dream school.

Without further ado, let's dive in!

how to format mba essay

Ultimate MBA Essay Guide

See the MBA essay prompts, top tips from experts, and real examples from admits with this comprehensive guide.

How Long Will My MBA Essay Take?

First things first: let's talk about timing.

The MBA application is a behemoth; between exams, resumes, gathering your official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and the applications themselves, there's a lot to juggle. That being the case, we suggest you give yourself ample time to draft, write, and revise your essays. The last thing you want is to be rushed to the finish line.

So, give yourself at least three months to write your MBA admission essays. That should allow you enough time to draft, write, and edit. For more information on timing your entire business school application, click here for  A Comprehensive MBA Application Timeline--With Chart .

Now, on to the critical question:

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What Makes a Great MBA Essay?

At the highest level, the answer is the one that is truest to you. The whole point of an MBA application essay is to shine through as an authentic, vibrant human being, so the best essays are the ones that cut through the clutter, and allow you to do that.

Which begs the question — how do you cut through the clutter and shine through as a vibrant human being? Here are four critical tips to follow as you begin thinking about your essays.

1. Answer the Question

This one sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many applicants launch into their story, get carried away, and forget to answer the question. Follow the prompt, and answer the question the admissions committee has asked you. Those prompts can actually be very useful when writing MBA essays — it's a great deal harder to write when you have no guidance or guardrails. With these essays, you have a very specific question you need to answer. So answer it!

2. Be Specific

Another mistake some MBA applicants make is to stay at a high level in their essays, keeping their writing abstract and therefore inaccessible to the admissions committee. If at any point, an admissions officer could replace your name with the name of another applicant, then your essay isn't getting deep enough. It's not enough, for instance, to say that you suffered adversity in high school, or that you really, really want a Wharton MBA. You need to explain, in detail, the adversity you faced, and give concrete and unique reasons why you think Wharton is the right program for you. The best essays offer hyper-specific examples and anecdotes, with details and anecdotes that no other candidate could bring to the table. To get those anecdotes, we recommend using the STAR template, as explained below:

  • Situation : What was the situation you were facing? Where were you? How old were you? If you were in a professional role during this anecdote, what was the role, and how long had you been in it? If you were volunteering, at what organization? How long had you been volunteering there? Why did you start? Offer all the relevant information that the admissions readers will need to understand your story.
  • Task : What was the task at hand? What went wrong? In your professional role, what was the challenge you faced? In that volunteering experience, what were the hurdles you had to overcome? You can't have a good story without conflict or tension, so after you set up the anecdote, explain what that conflict or tension was (and remember, be specific!).
  • Action : What was the action you took to resolve the problem? What did you have to do to fix that issue at work? How did you clear that hurdle in your volunteer experience? Again, be specific about how you came through on the other side of that conflict/tension — and while you're doing it, highlight your leadership capabilities as much as possible! Remember that top MBA programs are looking for future leaders who can assess a situation and decisively take action. (We'll say a bit more about this below, in the Personal Statement section.
  • Result : What was the result of your action? If you were facing a growth problem at work, were you able to increase sales? If so, by what percentage? If you were advocating for diversity and inclusion at your local charity, what new programs did you implement to help with that effort, and what was the enrollment like in those new programs? Detail what happened in your anecdote with as much specificity as possible — and quantify, quantify, quantify!

If you want to learn more about how to master the STAR Method, read our article How to Nail “Tell Me About a Time…” Interview Questions .

3. Get Vulnerable

Most MBA admissions essay prompts are written with the goal of getting to know as much about you as possible in the shortest number of words. To do that, you're going to have to share real things from your life — to get personal, intimate, and vulnerable. Do not shy away from this. If you're starting to get emotional during the reflection, drafting, and writing process, good — that means you're on the right track. Keep going.

Pro tip: If it’s making you cry, it will make them cry.

Another good rule of thumb is to put something real and true on the table. Admissions officers have to read thousands of applications from thoroughly qualified individuals, some of whom might come from similar roles to yours, with letters of recommendation from equally impressive supervisors. In order to cut through that noise, you'll have to share something honest.

If you're doing it right, this can feel risky. At some point, you’ll likely think to yourself: “Can I say that?” The answer is: “Yes.” Of course, there is a line, you don’t want to be crass or offensive but always err on the side of being open and authentic.

The very worst thing you can do is be overly cautious and write something you think will please the admissions committee. These poor people have to read thousands of essays. If yours is just like everyone else’s, they’ll fall asleep. Don’t let that happen. Wake them up by putting yourself —your true, bright, vibrant, quirky self—on the page.

4. Don't Exaggerate

Finally, do not exaggerate, over-inflate, or lie. This goes without saying, but admissions committees are looking for honest candidates. The surest way to get rejected is to lie about something. (Business schools do a background check on you before you're properly admitted, so they will find out.) Don't be the person who over-inflates on their essays and then has their offer letter rescinded.

The Types of MBA Essays

All right — since we've covered high-level approaches to the MBA essays, it's time to dig into the various types.

There are three general categories of MBA essays you'll see across the board.

1. Personal Statement

These questions ask you to offer up something sincere about yourself. They'll often touch on such things as your values and your character. In these, you'll want to be as authentic as possible, while also highlighting attributes like leadership, intellectual vitality, and teamwork that business schools are looking for.

Here are a few examples of previous personal statement essays:

  • As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? (HBS)
  • What matters most to you, and why? (Stanford GSB)

2. Why an MBA/Why This School

In these, schools first want to hear about how an MBA will fit into your career, both short and long term. Top MBA programs are looking for candidates who will: first of all, be gainfully employed upon graduating, second of all, have an illustrious career that will make their institution look good and encourage future generations of applicants to apply, and third, be consistent and generous donors. That being the case, they want to know about your career trajectory, and how an MBA will fit into it.

Pro tip: Here, you want to be ambitious and inspiring in laying out your future career, but not naïve. Walk the line between shooting for the stars and sounding dreamlike and uninformed.

In this set of questions, you'll also encounter questions geared at figuring out why you would want to attend a specific school. MBA programs want to know that you're serious about attending their school — yield, or the percentage of admitted candidates who accept their offers of admission, is an important metric for them — but they also want to envision how you'll contribute to their admitted class. What will you uniquely bring to the table, the things that you'll do that the other candidates wouldn’t be able to offer?

We've heard former deans of business schools say that, in choosing a class, they're curating a world-class dinner party, and that each person invited to the dinner party has to bring something different. What will you bring to the dinner party?

Another Pro tip: To demonstrate that you've done your research, and to help the admissions committee envision you in their program, indicate which classes you might take when earning your MBA and why, which professors you might hope to study with, and in which clubs you might participate.

Here are a few examples of "why MBA / why this school" essays we've seen before:

  • How is a Columbia MBA going to help you? (Columbia)
  • What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (Wharton)
  • Why Stanford? Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. (Stanford GSB)

3. Behavioral/Other

Finally, most other essays will be behavioral in the sense that they’ll ask you about experiences, traits, strengths, weaknesses, and achievements. There's a wide variety of topics here, but all the guidelines from above apply, with the final note to always prioritize authenticity (as mentioned in the Personal Statement section) and leadership ability (remember, business schools are choosing future leaders).

Here are a few examples of behavioral/other essays from the past:

  • Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (Yale SOM)
  • Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you. (Columbia)
  • Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? (Stanford GSB)

Top MBA Program Essay Prompts (Updated 2022)

To help you get started, we've compiled the required prompts from a few top MBA programs below:

1. Harvard Business School (HBS)

As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? (900 words)

For more information, visit A Guide to the HBS Essay .

2. Stanford Graduate School of Business

What matters to you most, and why? (650 words)

Why Stanford? (400 words)

Read What Matters Most When Writing the GSB Essays.

How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton. (500 words)

Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)

For Wharton-specific advice, visit A Guide to the Wharton Essays .

4. Columbia Business School

Essay 1: Through your resume and recommendation, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next three to five years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

Essay 2: The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on five essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequity, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)

Essay 3: We believe Columbia Business School is a special place with a collaborative learning environment in which students feel a sense of belonging, agency, and partnership--academically, culturally, and professionally. How would you co-create your optimal MBA experience at CBS? Please be specific. (250 words)

If you’re looking for more tips on the CBS essays, read our Guide to the Columbia Business School Essays .

5. Chicago Booth

How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (250-word minimum)

An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of your career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are… (250-word minimum)

*Pro tip: Some essay questions such as these will say “no maximum.” While it’s certainly a good thing that you’re allowed to write more, keep in mind to never write too much. Our rule of thumb for things like this is to never go over 200 words past the “minimum” count.

Read more at A Guide to the Booth Essays .

6. Northwestern Kellogg

Intentionality is a key aspect of what makes our graduates successful Kellogg leaders. Help us understand your journey by articulating your motivations for pursuing an MBA, the specific goals you aim to achieve, and why you believe now is the right moment. Moreover, share why you feel Kellogg is best suited to serve as a catalyst for your career aspirations and what you will contribute to our community of lifelong learners during your time here. (450 words)

Kellogg leaders are primed to tackle challenges everywhere, from the boardroom to their neighborhoods. Describe a specific professional experience where you had to make a difficult decision. Reflecting on this experience, identify the values that guided your decision-making process and how it impacted your leadership style. (450 words)

For more on Kellogg’s essays, read How to Nail Your Kellogg MBA Application Essays .

7. MIT Sloan

MIT Sloan seeks students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas. We demand integrity, respect, and passion.

Taking the above into consideration, please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should conform to standard business correspondence, include one or more professional examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria above, and be addressed to the Admissions Committee (300 words or fewer, excluding address and salutation)

Applicants are also required to upload a 1 minute (60 seconds) video as part of their application. In your video, you should introduce yourself to your future classmates, tell us about your past experiences, and touch on why MIT Sloan is the best place for you to pursue your degree.

For top-notch advice on the MIT Sloan essays, read our articles Expert Guide to the MIT Sloan Short Answer Question and MIT Sloan Video Statement: Overview, Advice, & Common Mistakes .

How to Start Writing Your MBA Essay

So you've read about the types of essays, and seen some of the prompts from top MBA programs. Now it's time to actually start diving into the essay.

The very first thing to do, before putting pen to paper, is to look inward .

Why do you want an MBA? What role will this degree play in your professional growth? How do you imagine it will shape your life? What do you want out of your career? What is the most important thing in the world to you?

Yes, these are life’s deep-end questions, but you’ll need to tackle them in these essays, so before you start all of your writing, take the time to think through them. Go for a run, swim some laps, bake a cake—however you get into the flow — and start a dialogue with yourself. Put down your work, turn your phone off, and give your mind permission to go to the places it usually avoids. That’s a good place to start. That’s where the answers are.

Pro tip: The first sentence is the hardest one to write. When you're starting out, it can be intimidating and anxiety-producing. The trick is to simply put anything down — and don't look back. Keep putting one sentence after the other. You can edit later: let whatever comes to you out onto the page. If you’re struggling with self-critique, dim your computer screen until you can’t even see the words you’re typing. Then keep going.

Additional Tips & Tricks

Once you've started your essay, it's a matter of persistence: keep writing, then keep drafting and editing until you have something you're really proud of.

To help you write a successful MBA essay, here are a few more tips and tricks:

Take Breaks

When you hit the wall — and you will hit the wall — stop and take a breather. This is your brain telling you it needs to do something else. Walk your dog. Take a lap around your room. Eat some cheese. Your body needs sleep every night to function; your mind is the same way. That next leap of inspiration will come exactly at the moment when you’re least expecting it.

Read it Out Loud

When you finally have a draft, print it and read it out loud to yourself. Your ear will catch things your eyes miss. Reading out loud is the best way to pick up on spelling errors, clunky transitions, and paragraphs that still need ironing out. It’s also a good way to envision how the admissions committee will experience your essay.

Don’t be precious with your essay. Send it to anyone willing to read it. Solicit as much feedback as you can. If you don’t like what people have to say, you don’t have to incorporate it, but you need an impartial third party to give notes on what they’re seeing, thinking, and feeling. (You’re too close to things to do it for yourself.) This is where a Leland coach comes very much in handy!

Complete Everything Early

This is more of a timing consideration, but you do not want to trip at the finish line because your internet went down the night before the deadline, or your credit card was denied when paying your application fee (it's happened before). Don't let that be you!

Here is another article to get you started, written by an expert essay coach: 7 MBA Essay Tips to Make You Stand Out in 2022 .

Example MBA Essays

Finally, here are two essays to help inspire you. The first, a personal statement essay, was submitted by an admit to Berkeley Haas' Executive MBA program; the second, a career goals / why MBA essay, was submitted by an admit to Chicago Booth's deferred MBA program.

Haas Admit:

A person’s identity is shaped by many different aspects, including family, culture, personal interests, and surrounding environments. Please share a facet of your identity or story that is essential to who you are. (300 words) My upbringing in India, filled with countless myths and legends, had a profound influence on me. The most formative tale was about a sage who prays for years to the goddess of knowledge, but in vain. In the end, the goddess didn’t appear for the sage because he was turning his prayer beads the wrong way! As a child, this story upset me: the sage worked so hard and had the right intentions. As an adult, though, I’ve come to realize that the goddess of knowledge was right: you can’t succeed unless you do things the right way.

Seven years ago, two friends and I started a company, XXXX: a digital health platform that would allow patients to store medical records online and consult doctors remotely. We had early success—we brought on 2,000 patients at XXXX, a gynecology clinic in XXXX—but ultimately we didn’t have the resources to properly scale, and had to shut the company down. Among the many lessons I learned, the most valuable was that ideas and hard work are common; businesses succeed or fail based on execution—on doing things the right way. Two years ago, I relearned this lesson in the most painful way possible: when my marriage ended. My wife and I loved each other, but we weren’t there for each other when it mattered most. Our feelings weren’t enough—we had to back them up with the right actions.

It’s disheartening when you have good intentions but still fall short. When this happens, though, you have to keep trying—because eventually you will do things the right way. I carry the story of the sage with me always, not as a harsh lesson, but as a motivating goal: one that keeps me striving towards doing things the right way.

Booth Admit:

How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (250 word minimum)

I want to start a geothermal company that will help lead the energy transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy—by targeting existing oil wells as sites for geothermal plants. Oil fields are close to electric grids and have high nearby subsurface temperatures, making them ideal sites for geothermal plants. By building geothermal infrastructure nearby, my company will produce cleaner, cheaper energy, making it more profitable for operators to switch from oil to geothermal. As oil companies decommission their wells, I’ll negotiate for their land rights, so I can use their existing wells for new geothermal vents. I want my company to prove the case for economically viable, carbon-neutral energy production.

After getting an MBA, I want to start a geothermal company which will help me lead the energy transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. I plan to target developed oil fields in Texas, where, in many places, producing wells are flowing enough hot fluid to generate clean energy. Using this geothermal heat, the carbon footprint of oil and gas extraction will decrease as fewer fossil fuels are utilized to power surrounding infrastructure. As the wells approach their economic life, I will negotiate the lease from various operators, saving them millions in plug and abandonment costs, and retrofit the wells for direct geothermal energy production via closed-loop binary fluid systems, bringing emissions to zero. To accomplish this goal, I need to shore up my knowledge of energy economics and entrepreneurial finance, develop a strong sense of leadership, and build a network of like-minded individuals that will help me lead the transition and I believe I can get those things at Chicago Booth.

My immediate career goal is to develop my first co-production site in Shelby County, Texas at the Blanton well site, which produces abnormally heated fluid from the flanks of an active salt dome. Before investing in capital expenditures, developing a strong sense of energy economics and broader markets is necessary to verify financial feasibility. The University of Chicago, through the Graduate-Student-At-Large: Business program, is already allowing me to accomplish this goal with my enrollment in “Microeconomics” with Professor Andrew McClellan. His instruction helped me understand the impact taxes and subsidies have on market equilibrium, an important aspect of renewable energy as green energy tax incentives continue to change on a yearly basis. As my company continues to grow, having a strong finance and accounting foundation is imperative to building and sustaining a healthy company. Electives such as “Accounting for Entrepreneurship: From Start-Up through IPO” will provide the skills I need to be successful by following the life-cycle of a business that originates as a start-up and covers topics such as building an initial accounting infrastructure. I understand that the execution of the business is as important as developing the idea and proof of concept, and Booth is the best place for me to develop financial fluency.

Leading the energy transition will require a strong sense of leadership. Not only will I need to lead those I get to work with over my career, but to lead the energy transition, and reverse the impact fossil fuels have had thus far, I must have the emotional intelligence to inspire others to join me in my journey. The “Interpersonal Dynamics” course at Booth will allow me to develop my communication skills and better understand the emotions and perceptions of my colleagues. These skills, synthesized with leadership development acquired in “Leadership Practicum” will prepare me to act as a relational leader, who understands the needs of others. As a relational leader, I hope to foster an environment which promotes happiness and maximizes efficiency, not only to make our efforts in changing the world more successful, but to excite other people to join our cause.

To find the greatest chance of success in leading the energy transition, I will need a network of like-minded individuals who can provide a diversity of thought. Chicago Booth provides the opportunity to develop that network through different community experiences. The Energy Club’s “Energy Forward” conference, which designates time to topics in oil and gas and renewable energy will allow me to hear from industry leaders, build meaningful relationships with peers, and contribute my sector experience to the public forum as I learn from those around me. Opportunities through the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group such as “SeedCon” will help me connect with successful entrepreneurs and early-stage investors whose ideas and funding might change the course of my venture’s trajectory. Even in the GSALB program, I have had the opportunity to connect with other students in various sectors, including the energy industry. I hope to continue to strengthen those connections and continue building new ones with matriculation into the full time program.

Connect with an Expert for all your MBA Essay Questions

We know that a lot goes into the process of MBA essay writing. Research, planning, and execution all are major stages that take a lot of time. If you’re looking to fast-track your essay writing process while still blowing away the admission committee, try looking at some of our all-star MBA admissions consultants . We have a wide array of experts ready to give you as much help with MBA essays as you need, just check out some of our top-rated coaches below!

FAQs for Writing Your MBA Essay

What is the most important aspect of an MBA essay that admissions committees are looking for?

  • The most crucial aspect of an MBA essay is authenticity. Admissions committees want to see the real you, so be honest and genuine in your responses. Highlight your unique experiences, values, and aspirations to stand out.

How long should my MBA essay be?

  • The length of your MBA essay will depend on the specific prompts and guidelines provided by each school. Generally, essays range from 500 to 1,000 words. Always adhere to the word limit specified in the prompt. In the event that there’s no limit, we recommend floating within 200-300 words of whatever posted word count there is.

Can I use the same essay for multiple MBA applications?

  • You can use similar content, but it’s essential to edit each essay to be about the specific school and prompt. Schools are looking for personalized responses that demonstrate your understanding of their program and how it aligns with your goals.

How do I figure out what to write about?

  • Select experiences that showcase your leadership, problem-solving skills, and personal growth. Focus on stories that highlight your unique qualities and align with the values and culture of the MBA program you're applying to.

What should I avoid doing in my essay?

  • Avoid clichés, generic statements, and exaggerations. Be specific and detailed in your responses. Also, steer clear of overly technical jargon that might be hard for the admissions committee to understand unless it’s directly relevant to your story.

Who can I ask for feedback on my essay?

  • Seeking feedback from trusted friends, family, or mentors can be very helpful. In addition, consider working with one of our admissions coaches who can provide professional insights and help refine your essay to make it more compelling.

What should I do if I don’t have a traditional business background?

  • If you don’t have a traditional business background, focus on transferable skills and experiences that highlight your leadership, analytical abilities, and teamwork. Demonstrate how your unique perspective will contribute to the MBA program and your future career.

How do I handle multiple essay prompts for the same school?

  • Approach each prompt separately and ensure that each essay provides new insights about you. Avoid repeating the same information across essays. Instead, use each essay to highlight different aspects of your experiences, skills, and aspirations.

Here are several other articles that you may find helpful as you put together your MBA application:

  • The Most Frequently Asked Questions on MBA Applications
  • How to Answer the "Why an MBA?" Essay Question
  • My Top Piece of Advice for MBA Applicants
  • How I Nailed My MBA Interview and Gained Admission to Top 10 Business Schools
  • 4 Expert Tips on Paying for Business School

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20 Must-Read MBA Essay Tips

Business essay tips

Business school admissions committees care about more than (just) your  GMAT scores and GPA —they want to know who you are and why you belong in their program . Your MBA essays are your best chance to sell the person behind the résumé. They should tie all the pieces of your business school application together and create a comprehensive picture of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.  Here's a roundup of our best MBA essay tips to keep in mind as you begin to write.

How to Write an Unforgettable B-School Essay

1. communicate that you are a proactive, can-do sort of person..

Business schools want leaders, not applicants content with following the herd.

2. Put yourself on ego-alert.

Stress what makes you unique, not what makes you number one.

3. Communicate specific reasons why you're great fit for each school.

Simply stating "I am the ideal candidate for your program" won't convince the admission committee to push you into the admit pile.

Read More: Find Your Business School

4. Bring passion to your writing.

Admissions officers want to know what excites you. And if you'll bring a similar enthusiasm to the classroom.

5. Break the mold.

Challenge perceptions with unexpected essays that say, "There's more to me than you think."

6. If you've taken an unorthodox path to business school, play it up.

Admissions officers appreciate risk-takers.

7. Talk about your gender, ethnicity, minority status or foreign background....

But only if it has affected your outlook or experiences.

8. Fill your essays with plenty of real-life examples.

Specific anecdotes and vivid details make a much greater impact than general claims and broad summaries.

9. Demonstrate a sense of humor or vulnerability.

You're a real person, and it's okay to show it!

BONUS: Don't Make These MBA Essay Mistakes

1. write about your high school glory days. .

Admissions committees don't care if you were editor of the yearbook or captain of the varsity team. They expect their candidates to have moved onto more current, professional achievements.

2. Submit essays that don't answer the questions.

An off-topic essay, or one that merely restates your résumé, will frustrate and bore the admissions committee. More importantly, it won't lead to any new insight about you.

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3. Fill essays with industry jargon.

Construct your essays with only enough detail about your job to frame your story and make your point.

4. Reveal half-baked reasons for wanting the MBA.

Admissions officers favor applicants who have well-defined goals. However unsure you are about your future, it's critical that you demonstrate that you have a plan.

5. Exceed the recommended word limits.

This suggests you don't know how to follow directions, operate within constraints or organize your thoughts.

6. Submit an application full of typos and grammatical errors.

A sloppy application suggests a sloppy attitude.

7. Send one school an essay intended for another—or forget to change the school name when using the same essay for several applications.

Admissions committees are (understandably) insulted when they see another school's name or forms.

8. Make excuses.

If your undergraduate experience was one long party, be honest. Discuss how you've matured, both personally and professionally.

9. Be impersonal in the personal statement.

Many applicants avoid the personal like the plague. Instead of talking about how putting themselves through school lowered their GPA, they talk about the rising cost of tuition in America. Admissions officers want to know about YOU.

Read More: How to Ace Your MBA Interview

10. Make too many generalizations.

An essay full of generalizations is a giveaway that you don't have anything to say.

11. Write in a vacuum.

Make sure that each of your essays reinforce and build on the others to present a consistent and compelling representation of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.

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20 Essential Tips on How to Write A Killer MBA Essay

Types of mba essays.

There are a few different types of MBA essay questions you will answer as part of your MBA application. The type of essay can be determined through the keywords used in the essay question. Each type of essay will have its own length requirements, depending on the business school.

This type of essay asks you to detail your personal and professional goals and how attending business school will help you achieve them. An essay question that asks about your aspirations or what you hope to gain from an MBA program is classified as a goal essay.

For example, Wharton is one of many schools that ask for a goal essay from applicants using the question: “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?” Columbia , NYU Stern , Darden , Dartmouth Tuck , and McCombs are some of the many other schools that ask about your goals.


A self-reflection essay is an opportunity for you to showcase the values and characteristics that make up your personal identity. It also requires you to discuss how you handled a failure at some point in your life or how you would approach an ethical dilemma.

Yale School of Management is one business school that uses self-reflection questions in its MBA essays . They want to know what the biggest commitment you have ever made is, including why you chose it and how you went about making it. 

Answering this question will require you to do some deep reflection in order to answer it thoroughly. 


The objective of this type of essay is to show an admissions committee how you will add value and contribute to their MBA program. 

Booth School of Business poses this question: “An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are.” 

Booth clearly wants you to elaborate on who you are, what you value, and how you live those values in your everyday life.

Some business schools want to know about the impact you will have on their program and pose a question that asks you to describe a time when you demonstrated leadership. This will involve discussing why you took on the leadership role in your chosen situation and your leadership impact.

Darden School of Business poses essay questions designed to gauge your leadership capabilities and the impact you’ll have on the program. As Dean of Admissions Dawna Clarke states, they are interested in “cultivating high impact leaders.” 

It’s no surprise that one of their essay questions from a recent application cycle was, “Darden strives to identify and cultivate responsible leaders who follow their purpose. Please provide an example of a situation in which you have made a meaningful impact.”

Instead of writing a traditional essay, some business schools ask you to submit a video essay. The types of questions asked for a video essay can range from a short introduction to longer, multi-component questions.

Kellogg is one business school that uses video essays . They will ask you three questions. First up is an introduction, and the second is about your career goals and how Kellogg will help get you there. 

The third question varies annually and is generally more randomized, so you and all the other applicants won’t necessarily respond to the same question. 

‍Top 20 Tips on How to Write a Great Business School Essay

Successfully writing business school essays is tricky. Many factors go into constructing a successful one. However, the top tips we’ve provided below outline how to write an MBA application essay that stands out from the crowd. 

1. Brainstorm

Focus on each essay question individually. Start with the essay that feels easiest or most natural to you. Your writing will improve as you go. Choose topics that highlight your strengths, experiences, and achievements to make the strongest impact.

2. Make an Outline

Before you start writing, outline the main points you want to cover in a logical order. Consider how much space each section of your essay should take up.

3. Create a Draft

Once you have a good outline, start your first draft. It's okay if it's not perfect yet. First drafts are usually longer but focus on getting your main points down and ensuring they connect well.

4. Pay Attention to Your Essay Structure

Blair Mannix , Wharton's Admissions Director, says successful essays have three parts: the setup (who you are and what you've learned), the pivot point (what you want to learn and how it will help your career), and the future (how the MBA program will help you achieve your goals). 

For essays on contributing to the MBA community, be personal, tell a story, and connect your experiences to the community.

5. Consider the Tone You Use While Writing Your Essay

Be genuine in your essay. Admissions committees can tell if you're insincere or just writing what you think they want to hear. Laurel Grodman from Yale School of Management says your essay should reflect your voice and highlight something meaningful in your life. 

Write about what truly matters to you. Incorporate your personality, such as your creativity or humor, to help the committee get to know you better.

6. The Best MBA Essays Are School-Specific 

When writing a business school essay, focus on why you want to attend that school. Show you've done your research by mentioning the curriculum, extracurricular activities, and research centers you're interested in. This makes your essay more compelling by explaining what you'll gain from the program and how it will help you succeed.

7. Pick an Event or Situation That Matters to You

When you select your topic to write about in your MBA essay, you need to make sure it is something that had a significant impact on your life and resonates with you personally. This will help ensure your authenticity shows through.

8. Explain Why You’re a Right Fit For the School

Just mentioning that you're the ideal candidate isn't enough. This won't persuade the admissions committee to accept you. Instead, you should provide specific examples and evidence showing why you're a great fit. Discuss your achievements, experiences, and skills that align with the program's goals. 

9. Include Passion Into Your Writing

Admissions officers want to know what excites you and if you'll bring that same enthusiasm to the classroom. Share your passions and interests, and explain how they drive you. Show how your excitement for learning and goals will make you an active and engaged student.

10. Highlight Your Diversity 

Business schools value having students from diverse backgrounds. When writing your application, share experiences demonstrating how your unique perspective can enrich the school's community. Explain how your background, interests, or experiences can contribute to a vibrant and inclusive learning environment.

11. Address Inconsistencies

If you have gaps in employment or a low GPA, be upfront about them. Explain how you've grown or learned from these experiences, emphasizing your positive steps to overcome challenges. This demonstrates resilience and maturity to the admissions committee, showing them you can handle obstacles effectively.

The Importance of Storytelling in MBA Essays

Business school admissions officers want to see how you approach traits like leadership and commitment in your MBA application essay. Yet, if you describe an experience and don’t reflect upon it, you will not highlight your mindset, dedication, and motivation. 

The best writers outline the traits that business schools want to see by telling personal stories and anecdotes. But how can you do that? It’s simple — show how your experiences impacted you. Don’t just tell us about it. 

Indeed, to use the idea of commitment as an example, Yale’s admissions committee “cares less about the commitment you choose and more about the behaviors surrounding the commitment.” They want to “come away learning something new about you as a person that helps us understand your values and motivations.”

Illustrating how your experiences affect your values and motivations is difficult; this process requires a lot of introspection and self-reflection. The trick is to use plenty of real-life examples and explain how they embody your values. 

One way to successfully do this is to use the STAR technique . The STAR technique is split into four distinct steps: 

  • Situation - Describe the situation and when it took place.
  • Task - Explain the task and what was the goal.
  • Action - Provide details about the action you took to attain this.
  • Result - Conclude with the result of your action.

Using the four steps outlined above, you can create concise, compelling answers to your essay prompts. Let’s use one of the Berkeley Haas essay prompts as an example for an MBA essay outline:

What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why? (300 words maximum) . 

We can split this prompt into two sections: 

  • Describe an activity, hobby, or anything that makes you “feel alive” when you do it. 
  • Explain why you find so much enjoyment in this one thing. 

Storytelling is key here, and the STAR technique can help you break down exactly what you want to say. Remember, it is important to reflect upon your experiences and, in this case, show why you enjoy something. 

If you manage to do this in your essays and show how you achieved results along the way, you will submit a strong MBA application essay. 

Plagiarizing Your MBA Essay 

Plagiarism is a big deal. 

Even if a student doesn’t intend to plagiarize someone’s work, colleges can and will detect it. If colleges detect plagiarism, they will likely reject the application outright; UCLA’s Anderson School of Management rejected 52 MBA hopefuls for application plagiarism. 

Applicants can easily and accidentally plagiarize someone else’s work by following MBA essay examples too closely. Essay examples are useful, as they can inspire you and give you an idea of how you can reflect upon your experiences. However, someone has written that example about their own experience in their own words, and you can’t copy it. 

If you are worried about plagiarism, the simple fix is to be original. After all, admissions committees want to hear about your experiences, motivations, and opinions. 

Authenticity is also an extremely important part of writing well; you will come across as more genuine writing about your genuine thoughts and experiences. If you want to check your work, you can use reliable and low-cost plagiarism checker tools like PrePostSEO and Copyscape .  

MBA Essay Examples

US News wrote an article on what makes for a successful MBA essay. They provided the following MBA entrance essay sample essays written by applicants recently admitted into highly reputable business schools.

This sample was written for Fox School of Business at Temple University .

sample essay

This essay was well-received by the admissions committee because it was written clearly and concisely, free of grammatical errors, and told a story. The candidate showed their personality and explained why a Fox MBA would help them achieve their career goals. 

This particular candidate was honest in their essay about their weaknesses and professional growth, which is generally well-received by admissions committees. The candidate detailed the initiative they had taken in learning about the MBA program at Fox and why they decided to apply.

This next successful essay sample was written for the Yale School of Management.

sample essay

Similar to the previous example, this essay told a compelling story through a clear narrative. This particular essay began with an anecdote that demonstrated the candidate’s work ethic, initiative, leadership, and resourcefulness.

This show-don’t-tell essay displayed what was important to the applicant and offered the admission committee insight into their personality and values. It also provided as much detail as was possible, given the 500-word limit.

Don’t Rely Too Much on MBA Essay Examples 

While MBA essay examples are valuable tools to see what got applicants into business school, they all have one problem: They are not yours. Other peoples’ essay examples don’t focus on your achievements, values, motivations, or experiences. 

In their essays, originality and authenticity are two critical themes that business schools look for because your life is unique. Remember, MBA essay writing is all about getting to know you , and your essays should truly reflect who you are as a person. 

MBA essay examples are useful. They can provide you inspiration, an idea of what can work, and outline how to discuss your own experiences. However, you need to draw a line in the sand and write your own essay at some point. 

People are admitted to particular schools for a wide variety of reasons. While their essays are one of those reasons, what works for one person might not work for you. Try not to overthink it — write about your experiences, background, and, most importantly, opinion. 

Mistakes to Avoid While Writing Your MBA Essay

In addition to following the steps for writing a great MBA essay outlined above, there are also some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid while writing your essay. These mistakes are listed below, along with solutions to fix them.

1. Submitting an Overly Complex Essay

Admissions committees want to know you as a person, not just your industry jargon. Avoid complicated essays that frustrate readers. Instead, use your own words and write as if you're talking professionally to a coworker. This makes your essay clearer and more personal, helping you connect better with the reader.

2. Not Reading the Essay Question Closely or Misunderstanding the Question

To answer MBA essay questions correctly, understand the question fully. Misreading it can result in an off-target essay and a rejected application.

To fix this, find the keywords in the question to understand what the admissions committee wants to know. Words like "contribute," "gain," and "lead" indicate what to focus on. If confused, seek clarification.

3. Restating Your Resume or Letters of Recommendation

Admissions committees want your MBA essay to tell a unique story, not repeat your resume or recommendations. Choose a topic that isn’t covered elsewhere in your business school resume and letters of recommendation . If needed, focus on a specific project, detailing the challenges, solutions, outcomes, and lessons learned. 

4. Starting Your MBA Essay Close to the Deadline 

Starting close to the deadline means you'll rush and make mistakes. To avoid this, start planning your essay as soon as the questions are available. Create an outline for each essay and start early to give yourself enough time to write and revise without stress.

5. Giving Half-Baked Reasons for Attending Business School  

Business school admissions committees use your essays to gauge your interest in their program. If you're vague about your career plans and reasons for choosing their school , take time to outline them clearly. Show clear, well-defined goals and explain why you want to attend their program. 

6. Going Over the Word Limit

Going over the word limit shows you can't follow directions, work within limits, or organize your thoughts. These skills are crucial for understanding requirements, staying focused, solving problems creatively, and communicating clearly.

7. Not Reviewing Your Essay For Grammar Mistakes

A sloppy application suggests a careless attitude, raising concerns about your attention to detail and seriousness. A well-organized application shows diligence and respect for the admissions committee's time.

8. Being too General

An essay full of generalizations suggests you lack specific insights or personal depth. Admissions committees value unique perspectives and concrete examples that show your thoughtful engagement with the topic.

9. Talking About High School

Admissions committees prioritize recent, relevant professional achievements over high school roles like newspapaer editor or varsity team captain. Focus on highlighting recent experiences that showcase your readiness for their program.

1. How Long Should My MBA Application Essay Be?

The length of your MBA essay will depend on the specific school; some schools allow up to 500 words, while others want a very short and to-the-point response of 150 words. 

The length set out by the MBA program you’re applying to is an important consideration, and it is not a good idea to go over the word limit. Admissions committees want to see that you can follow instructions and are capable of writing succinctly. It will not reflect well on you to go over the allowed word count.

2. Is the MBA Essay Less Important Than My GPA and GMAT Score?

No, your MBA essay is at least equally as important as your GPA and GMAT score . While your GPA and GMAT scores are good indicators of your academic abilities, the MBA essay is the admission committee’s first opportunity to get to know you personally. 

This is also the first impression you will make on the committee, so it’s imperative that you write a strong and compelling essay. Most business schools use a holistic approach to assessing applications, and your response to the essay question can determine whether you are a good fit for their program.

3. Is There an MBA Essay Guide for Reapplicants?

Many schools will require or suggest that reapplicants submit an additional essay. 

This will vary by school, and it is important to check with each school’s website for the exact details of what’s expected of reapplicants. If it’s optional, it is a good idea to submit one because it allows you to explain how you’ve grown personally and professionally since your previous application. 

4. Can I Use the Same Business School Essay if I’m Reapplying?

It’s unlikely you’ll be successful using the same essay since your response could have been the reason you were rejected the first time around. 

It’s best to consult with an MBA admissions expert or mentor to find out where you went wrong and what you can do to make your reapplication essay strong and stand out in the best way possible.

5. How Do I Edit My MBA Essay Draft to Make It Better?

First of all, make sure there are no errors with your spelling, grammar, and syntax. Business schools want students with superb communication skills, and having basic errors in your MBA essay does not demonstrate that you have strong communication skills. 

Then, you should go through the common mistakes outlined above and make sure those are not present in your essay; if they are, fix them. Seeking a second opinion from a friend, mentor, colleague, or MBA essay editing expert will also help locate errors or improvement areas.

6. How Can I Ensure My Business School Essay Stands Out?

Whether you are faced with the Wharton MBA essays , Harvard Business School essay , or Booth MBA essays , to name a few, there are a few things you can do to make your essay stand out. 

The event or experience you choose to write about should be something you are able to write about in a compelling narrative. It should also be something you can write about with passion, which will allow the admission committee to see your genuine and authentic voice. 

Your strengths should be woven in with the story you’re telling. These things will make your essay stand out to the admission committee and help them remember you.

Unlock Your Future with the Perfect Business School Essay

Knowing how to write a great MBA essay can be a challenging component of the business school application process. 

But, if you know where to start, make an outline for each essay, and get expert assistance, the process becomes significantly more manageable. Following these steps will help you write a killer MBA essay.

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7 tips for writing a winning mba application essay.

how to format mba essay

Nervous about your MBA admissions essay? You’re not alone! Many applicants wonder how to put their best foot forward in a business school entrance essay.

In this article, I’ll tell you what admissions committees look for in application essays and offer MBA essay tips on how to make yours stand out. We’ll also take a look at the different kinds of business school essays and a few examples of MBA essay prompts.

Why Do Business Schools Ask for Essays? What Do They Look For?

Business schools ask for essays for several reasons, all of which help admissions committees determine whether you have the skills and traits to succeed in an MBA program.

First, MBA admissions committees want to see how you write. Communication skills—including concision, clarity, style, and fluency in English—will be essential to your success in business school. One way of discerning your level of writing ability is to require an original writing sample. In an MBA essay, you have to get your point across straightforwardly, elegantly, and concisely; being able to do this is a key element of succeeding in business school and the world of business in general.

Also, MBA admissions committees want to get a sense of who you are on a more personal level. MBA application essays tell admissions officials about you not only through what you say, but in how you say it. Are you self-aware, for example, and can you reflect on past challenges or mistakes in a thoughtful way? Do you demonstrate insight into who you are and your goals? How you answer questions about yourself, your career, and your journey can help MBA admissions officials discern your level of critical thinking and personal insight.

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You can have countless accomplishments, but to succeed in business school, you’ll also need to fit in with the campus climate, work well with your peers, and contribute to campus diversity in a meaningful way. The MBA essay is a place for you to talk about the background or experiences you have that are unique to you and that you believe could differentiate you from your colleagues and/or provide a fresh perspective to campus.

Finally, essays are a way for you to showcase the qualities that most MBA programs say they are looking for in applicants, such as leadership skills, community involvement, problem-solving skills, communication skills, clear goals, and a strong sense of ethics. Some of these traits might not be readily apparent from a resume alone, and an MBA essay can be a place for you to elaborate on how you’ve cultivated them in yourself.

The MBA essay is a great place for you to showcase your communication skills and dedication to community service.

MBA Entrance Essay Sample Prompts

Most MBA entrance essays ask you about one of several things. Many of them are variations on similar questions: the open-ended question, the leadership question, the personal growth question, questions on short- and long-term academic and career goals, and the diversity question. For each one, I’ll give an example of a real MBA essay prompt from 2016 or 2017.

#1: Open-Ended

The open-ended MBA application essay question is just that: open. It allows you to tell your own story, giving you quite a bit of freedom but also little to no guidance. For that reason, many applicants find it to be the most challenging MBA essay prompt.

Harvard Business School has only one essay for its MBA application, and it’s the quintessential open-ended MBA essay question. This is the prompt for 2017-2018 applicants.

As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?

Note that, as in other open-ended MBA admission essay prompts, this question asks you to decide what you’ll write about. Successful Harvard applicants and HBS admissions counselors have advised applicants to use the prompt as a chance to demonstrate their past use of an especially desired trait, such as problem-solving skills. For example, many successful applicants use the prompt to describe a scenario in which they faced and overcame a challenge, especially as a leader or alongside a team.

Notably, Harvard also doesn’t list a word limit, so you can decide the appropriate length for your essay. However, most admissions counselors will advise you to keep it concise and straightforward.

#2: Leadership

Another common MBA essay prompt asks you to demonstrate your experience and skills as a leader. Leadership qualities are listed by nearly all MBA admissions counselors as fundamental to a career in business and, thus, to a successful business school application.

Let’s look at a sample leadership MBA essay prompt from Kellogg.

Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience. Describe a recent and meaningful time you were a leader. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

In a response to this kind of prompt, you should be as specific as possible. Name the company you were working for or specifically describe the project you were heading. Who was on your team? What were your objectives? Did you meet them? How could you have done so more effectively?

While you shouldn’t be overly self-deprecating, don’t be afraid to address the challenges you met and how you overcame them (or would overcome them now, with more experience and knowledge). Remember that one important aspect of leadership is accountability, so if there were problems, don’t solely blame your team for them. Instead, reflect on how you successfully worked with your team to solve the problems, and/or on how you could have done so more effectively or efficiently.

#3: Personal Growth

The personal growth MBA admission essay prompt will ask you how you’ve changed in the past and how you want to grow in the future. Here’s one example from the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.

Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (450 words)

Don’t be afraid to get a bit personal with these kinds of prompts . They’re meant to gauge something about your personality and who you are, rather than only what you’ve done.

Many successful MBA admission essays that respond to these kinds of questions follow a past/present/future format. Ask yourself what traits you’ve gathered over the years that have benefited you personally and professionally, how you’ve improved, and what you’ve learned. What experiences have shaped you? Be as specific as possible.

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Then, take stock of yourself now: your career, your education, and where you see yourself in the future. What do you need in order to get there?

Finally, most essay MBA prompts in this vein (like Kellogg’s) will ask you how they can help you move towards that personal or professional goal. Be as specific as you can, focusing on the particular strengths of the prospective MBA program and how they match up with what you want to improve about yourself as a person, colleague, and leader.

You can use the MBA essay to showcase how you've grown personally and achieved your goals.

#4: Your Plan

Some MBA application essay prompts will ask you about your career goals and how attendance at a particular business school will help you to achieve them. Let’s look at one from the USC Marshall School of Business.

Essay #1 (Required) – What is your specific, immediate short-term career goal upon completion of your MBA? Please include an intended position, function, and industry in your response. (word limit: 100)

As you can see, questions like these often request brief responses. So get straight to the point, and give details. Name a specific job you’d like to hold, what you’d like to do there, and even particular companies if you can.

Questions like this one will require some research. Research alumni from your prospective business school who’ve ended up in positions comparable to ones you’d like to hold in the future, particular companies and positions that match up with your personal and professional goals, and specific coursework or industry experiences offered by your prospective business school that would help you get there.

#5: Diversity, Culture, and Community

Finally, some MBA essay prompts will ask you how your unique background and experiences would contribute to the overall diversity and collegial atmosphere of a school’s campus climate and community. Here’s one example from USC.

Essay #2 (Required) – At Marshall, we take pride in the fact that our students work collaboratively, both inside and outside the classroom, to create a culture, a community, and an environment that truly defines what we call the Trojan Family. Please describe the contributions you expect to make to your classmates during your time at USC. How will they benefit from your presence in the program? (word limit: 500)

You can respond to questions like this, depending on the wording of the original prompt, by discussing your cultural background, identity, and/or personal experiences that have given you particular insight into a given community or that have lent you a unique perspective that could be valuable to your colleagues as you collaborate.

You can also discuss past community service projects or issues you’re passionate about and how you plan to carry those experiences and passions into your work at your prospective MBA program.

What makes you unique? Showcase it in your MBA essay.

7 MBA Essay Tips

Writing MBA essays takes a particular skill set. Let’s go over the top seven MBA essay tips for making your application essay shine.

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#1: Write Early and Often

Even though MBA entrance essays are brief, they take a lot of polishing. Writing MBA essays takes time.

Don’t expect to write yours at the last minute or knock out a quality essay in a day. Most students need several drafts to make sure they’re getting their points across as elegantly and clearly as possible.

Start your essay well before the application deadline, when you don’t yet feel any pressure. For several weeks, don’t try to write at all. Instead, before crafting your essay for MBA admission, take notes on your past, present, and future. What have you learned? What unique experiences have you had? What have been the most meaningful projects you’ve undertaken? Ask friends, family, and mentors to tell you what they value most about you or what they see as your greatest personal and professional assets.

Only once you’ve gathered this material should you begin your first draft of your MBA application essay. Start with an outline for each one that includes the story you want to tell and the main points you want to get across.

Once you have a clear outline, you can start drafting. Taking the writing process seriously from start to finish will give you a much better product in the end than trying to write something hastily right before the deadline.

#2: Show, Don’t Tell

MBA admissions committees want to be able to tell that you have the qualities that are necessary to succeed in business school, such as leadership skills and integrity.

Your MBA admissions essay can be a great place to showcase those qualities. However, remember to show, not tell. Saying “I have strong leadership skills” doesn’t tell an admissions committee much. Through an anecdote about, say, meeting a difficult deadline or overcoming an obstacle, a reader should be able to tell that you have the qualities of a strong leader without your having to say so explicitly.

#3: Research Your Goals

When describing your future goals, be as specific as possible. Business schools know that your goals may change in the future, but stating specific goals now will show that you’ve done your research and have an idea of what you want and how an MBA program can help you get there.

Before writing your essay for MBA admission, research the ins and outs of the industry you want to enter, the position you’d like to have, companies you might like to work for, and coursework and internships or fieldwork that could aid you on your way to those goals.

#4: Keep It Concise

Never, ever go over a stated word count limit when you’re writing your essay for MBA admission. It might be tempting, but business schools want to see that you can get your point across concisely and straightforwardly.This rule goes for MBA essay prompts that don’t have specific word counts, too: sometimes, less is more.

One of the biggest mistakes applicants make in writing an essay for MBA admission is to use too much flowery language to come across as more professional. If you do this, it can be distracting and cause the admissions committee to miss the main points you’re making.

Bottom line, trim anything extraneous from your essay —that is, anything that doesn’t actively support the main point(s) you’re trying to get across.

When it comes to an MBA essay, sometimes less is more.

#5: Show Self-Awareness

It might feel tempting to use the MBA admission essay as a space to list all of your accomplishments (and since your resume is already part of your application, this is unnecessary), but MBA admissions committees would rather see that you have insight into both your strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, and in your essay for MBA admission, you shouldn’t try to come across as if you’ve never made a mistake or faced a challenge that you’ve had to learn from.

Also, in business school and the business world at large, bouncing back from failures, being flexible, and problem solving are all essential skills. All of them require a thick skin and awareness of what you could do better.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t showcase your achievements, but if you’re asked about personal growth or an obstacle you’ve overcome, be clear about what you could have done more effectively in the past (at a job or in your education, for example) and the steps you’ve taken or will take to sidestep that mistake in the future.

#6: Share Your Personal Journey

Many applicants would prefer to focus only on their professional backgrounds and goals in their MBA essays, but you shouldn’t be afraid to get personal in your essay. You don’t need to tell your whole life story, but especially in response to questions that ask about your growth over time, you should showcase your personality and give the admissions committee an idea of your personal background and experiences.

#7: Ask for Edits

It might seem obvious, but many applicants don’t do it: proofread your work! When writing MBA essays, revision is key. Turning in an MBA essay with typos and other errors will come off as thoughtless and unprofessional.

You should also get a second (and, perhaps, a third and fourth) pair of eyes on your essay to make sure it’s coming across as you want it to. Going through several rounds of drafts is a necessary part of the writing process to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward in your MBA entrance essay.

Revise your MBA essay until it comes across exactly how you want.

What’s Next?

Worried about how your GMAT score matches up to other applicants’? Find out more in our list of average GMAT scores by school.

Concerned about your chances of getting into an MBA program? Our guide to business school acceptance rates will help.

Ready to apply to business school? Check out our top eight tips for applying to MBA programs here.

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how to format mba essay

Author: Laura Dorwart

Laura Dorwart is a Ph.D. student at UC San Diego. She has taught and tutored hundreds of students in standardized testing, literature, and writing. View all posts by Laura Dorwart

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Mba essay guide 2024 | how to write a winning application essay.

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Register to download the free BusinessBecause MBA Essay Guide 2024 | How To Write A Winning Application Essay

How do you write an MBA essay that lands you a place at business school? Find out in the BusinessBecause MBA Essay Guide 2024

Tue Oct 17 2023

In the BusinessBecause MBA Essay Guide 2024: How To Write A Winning Application Essay , find out why the MBA essay is important and what to include in your writing. Also, we’ve included MBA essay questions from top business schools such as Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, Harvard Business School, and Stanford Graduate School of Business—providing insight into the different types of essay questions that you might face.

We also share tried-and-tested MBA sample answers from admits of MBA admissions consultancies, including application essays for Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. 

Key facts about the MBA essay: 2-4 essay-type questions  are usually asked on MBA applications   10-20 is the average number of essay drafts MBA applicants write on average before submitting their applications to top MBA programs   6 images are required as part of NYU Stern’s ‘Pick Six’ visual essay component

Top MBA essay writing tips:   - Research the values and USPs of your target business school - Always bring your essay back to your goals - Identify and communicate your personal brand

Download the MBA Essay Guide 2024 for more tips and useful information from experts such as Lindsay Lloyd, executive director of MBA admissions at NYU Stern School of Business and J.R. McGrath, executive director of masters admissions at Tepper School of Business.

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how to format mba essay

how to format mba essay

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Top Five Tips for Writing Compelling MBA Admissions Essays

Erin Wand

Erin Wand - Personal MBA Coach

Erin Wand is an Featured Contributor and the Vice President of Marketing and Operations for Personal MBA Coach , a boutique MBA admissions consulting and tutoring firm.

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For many of the business school applicants I work with, the MBA admissions essay is the part of the application they dread the most.

Does that sound like you? It doesn’t have to be! If you’re unsure about how to start on your MBA admissions essays, don’t worry. This is your opportunity to move beyond your GMAT exam scores , GPA, or resume and reveal something deeper about yourself to the admissions committee. Read along for my best MBA admission essay tips.

Crafting winning MBA admissions essays

The question is: how to you write MBA admissions essays for top-tier programs that stand out from the stack and effectively tell your story? Here are five tips for compelling essays that will stick in the minds of the admissions committee and help you get into your top choice business school program.

1. Stay focused and answer the question asked

It’s surprising how often candidates write beautiful essays but do not answer the question. While I certainly endorse thinking outside of the box and considering the “why” behind an essay prompt, first and foremost you must answer the question.

Business school applicants like you are often highly accomplished, and it can be tempting to try to include as many of the details of your accomplishments as possible into your essays. It’s crucial that you avoid this urge and focus on the specific question at hand.

2. Less can be more: be succinct

A trend I’m seeing at many leading full-time MBA programs is shorter essay word limits. Michigan Ross , Stanford GSB , UCLA Anderson , and Duke Fuqua are just a few of the programs that have reduced their essay word counts in recent admissions cycles. This trend underscores a key piece of advice: be succinct!

Remember, your essays and short answers are just one part of your application. In addition to the details you’ll provide on the application form itself, you’ll also submit an MBA resume ( check out my resume tips here! ). This allows admissions committee members ample opportunity to read about everything you have accomplished, all the roles you have held, and the awards you have won. There is no need to fit every detail into your essays.

Instead of squeezing in as much as you can, focus on sharing a few key highlights, peppering in some interesting details, and convey your authentic voice through your writing. This is your chance to explain your choices, show your accomplishments, and share your passions. The fewer things you try to cover in your essays, the more you will be able to achieve this objective.

3. Be authentic, not what you think schools want to hear

I can’t emphasize this enough: do not write what you think admissions committee members want to read! The qualities and experiences that make you unique are your greatest selling points. Each essay should paint a clear picture of who you are, what motivates you, and what you’re passionate about.

Related to this, don’t feel compelled to show how you fit the mold that seemingly makes up the “ideal” candidate. If you have no desire to run a non-profit, that’s okay! If you’re not motivated to save the planet, don’t pretend you are! The admissions committee will see right through this, and you could end up doing more harm than good. Instead, focus your energy on simply being authentic.

4. Keep your language approachable and focus on the “so what?”

The terms you regularly use at the office may be foreign to others, including admissions committee members. When in doubt, do not assume the reader is familiar with everything about your job. Admissions directors come from all backgrounds and fields and are not assigned to candidates with similar backgrounds. They do not know the ins and outs of your industry and do not need to. In fact, details and accomplishments that are significant only to someone in your industry are less compelling than understandable results and transferable skills.

Everyone from your grandmother to a professor of microfinance should be able to understand your essays. So even if your accomplishment would be extremely impressive to another engineer or investment banker, if the reader doesn’t understand the “so what,” you’re wasting your words.

5. Limit the amount of flowery prose

Remember: You’ re not submitting your essays for a Pulitzer Prize. All you’re trying to do is tell your story. While of course you want your essays to be well-written and free of grammatical mistakes and typos, you also want them to be relatable and easy to follow. They should also convey why you are someone others would want to study with, learn from, and eventually be inspired by. That type of person is human and down to earth. Your essays should show this. 

Erin Wand is an Featured Contributor and the Vice President of Marketing and Operations for Personal MBA Coach , a boutique MBA admissions consulting and tutoring firm.

Founded by a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan graduate who sits on the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants Board of Directors, Personal MBA Coach has been guiding clients for 14 years and is consistently ranked #1 or #2, currently holding the #1 ranking in the US on Poets&Quants.

We help clients with all aspects of the MBA application process including early planning, GMAT/GRE/EA tutoring, application strategy, school selection, essay editing and mock interviews. Our team includes a former M7 admissions director and former M7 admissions interviewers.

Last year, our clients earned more than $6M in scholarships!

How to write powerful MBA essays that actually work

How to write MBA essays

Candidates often wonder what it takes to write strong MBA essays that work. It can be a scary and confusing process. Let’s try to figure out a step-by-step process to write a great MBA essay.

For many of us, writing an essay brings back memories of a hot, stuffy classroom on a sleepy summer afternoon, a strict English teacher keeping watch with hawk-like eyes, a mostly blank sheet of paper with the words “My Best Friend” written on top.

And in the middle of it all, you looking desperately at your friend seated next to you, hoping for some inspiration to strike. Or at the very least, for the school bell to strike, lest the English teacher see your as-yet blank sheet of paper and strike first.

In other words, you think of essays as boring. Perhaps even traumatizing, depending on how strict your English teacher was, and how inspiring your best friend was.

We’re here to tell you that that’s not what an essay should be.

An essay should be educating, entertaining, inspiring, thrilling, humorous, and heartbreaking.

Basically, anything but boring.

So if you’re writing boring essays, or if you think essays are boring, you’re doing them wrong.

What is the purpose of writing an MBA essay?

Everybody has seen The Wolf of Wall Street . Remember that famous scene where Leonardo di Caprio pulls out a pen from his coat pocket and tries to sell it to a spellbound, captivated audience hanging on to every word of his?

That’s how an essay should be.

Instead of the pen, you’re trying to sell your story. Your audience is the MBA admissions committee of your dream B-school, and at stake is your MBA dream.

But first, a word of caution – channelling your inner wolf of Wall Street does not mean that you throw form and formality to the wind. This is a B-school, and you’re still expected to wear a suit and tie.

An essay could be like a piece of classical music with multiple layers that merge seeamlessly. Or it could be like hip-hop with a catchy vibe and an impactful message.

But if you can demonstrate that you possess an aesthetic palette eclectic enough to accommodate both Beethoven and Busta Rhymes, that is impressive.

If however, you’re more of a Bollywood and Bhangra person with no appreciation or flair for classical music or hip-hop, you can still write a rocking MBA essay.

The point being, there’s no formula to create successful MBA essays. But you can still improve your odds of creating an essay that you’re proud of, if you follow these simple tips.

Here are 6 steps to writing an impressive MBA essay.

  • Start early
  • Understand the MBA essay prompts
  • Demonstrate your fit with the MBA program
  • Stick to the word count
  • Add a little X factor to it
  • Get someone to look over your essay

Let’s delve into each of them to understand the finer nuances.

How to write powerful MBA essays

1. start early.

Writing takes time. A slow cooked dish brings out the flavors of the food being cooked by allowing the spices to percolate, the aromas to emerge, and the textures to develop.

It’s the same with writing.

You need to let the thoughts in your head marinate on low simmer for days for them to develop into well-formed sentences that will delight your reader. Even if you think you’ve got it all sorted out in your head, putting it on paper is a different challenge altogether.

You’ll need a few days of contemplation to come up with points you want to put in. Jot these down as they strike you. Next, brainstorm with friends, foes, family – anyone willing to provide feedback, and whose judgement you trust.

Next, organize your ideas in a structured framework. What this means, in plain English, is that you need to be able to weave your ideas into a story your readers would love.

No, you don’t need a degree in creative writing to be able to do that.

It’s actually pretty simple. Every story has 3 parts – a beginning, a middle, and an end. In theater and film-making jargon, this is called the 3-act structure.

Act 1 is the set-up.

This is where we get to meet the protagonist (you!), and what is called the “inciting incident”, which is something that incites our protagonist into action. ( the need to do an MBA/ get into your dream B-school)

At this point, the stage is set for an exciting journey. The reader is now expecting an adventure of Tolkien-esque proportions. ( we’re kidding, this is an MBA application, not the Lord of the Rings)

Act 2 is the conflict

This is where our protagonist runs into challenges and obstacles. Their attempt to overcome these is the beating heart of the story. It’s the action that the reader started reading the story for, in the first place.

In your MBA essay, this is where you explain why you want to do an MBA, and why specifically from the B-school you are applying to, and how this will help you in achieving your career goals.

Act 3 is the resolution

This is the happy ending of the story. This is where you tie all the lose ends together, and the reader realizes that the protagonist has been transformed by the quest.

Remember that the journey from act 1 to act 3 is not any series of random actions strung together – it needs to be transformative. At the end of the story both the protagonist and the reader of the story get a sense of a change that has happened.

In the case of MBA essay, what this means is that your essay should convey a clear sense of how the MBA (and only this particular MBA from this particular school) will help you overcome the challenges you foresee in your career, and will thus be transformative.

Also keep in mind, that while it is important for your essay to be engaging, this does not mean by any stretch of imagination, that you invent incidents merely to spice things up. Always state facts and facts only.

Remember, facts are stranger than fiction, and the simplest stories are the most beautiful The novelist John Updike once said that the purpose of art is to give the mundane its beautiful due.

Any story can be made beautiful and exciting with the 3-step act. The journey of the caterpillar from egg to butterfly is a classic 3-step act.

There is no need to go chasing fantastic beasts and inventing imaginary islands; all the magic ingredients you need to write that rockstar MBA essay are already within you in the form of your own unique and wonderful life journey. Let the world hear it.

In the interest of time, some applicants may be tempted to use ChatGPT to write their MBA essays. Find out what should and shouldn’t be done if you are planning to use it, here .

2. Understand the MBA essay prompts

Most things in life come with user manuals. It’s the same with B-school essays.

Your school will usually provide instructions of what kind of essays they want, and what they are looking for in an essay. Make sure you follow these instructions to a T.

For instance, some B-schools might want one long essay, while others might want two to three shorter essays.

Often the essay would come with a question, or an essay statement, such as “state your short-term and long-term career goals, or “why do you want to pursue an MBA at this particular stage in your career”, and so on.

Pay close attention to what is being asked as what you write will depend on the question.

Unfortunately, most of us have a habit of tossing the user manual into trash unopened, and then call customer care when we can’t figure out how to operate the washing machine. Let this not be the case with your MBA essay.

Here’s an introduction to the most commonly used MBA essay questions

Why MBA now? MBA Essay question: Why this school? Long-term and short-term career goals essay Leadership in MBA essays Optional MBA essays – Career failure essay – career break , education gap, low GPA or any other aspects.

3. Demonstrate your fit with the MBA program

This is an exercise you need to perform as much for your own benefit, as for the admission committee’s. First and foremost, convince yourself that the particular MBA program is exactly what you need to meet your career goals.

Because MBAs are expensive, and confirmation bias is real.

Just because someone put it into our heads when we were 16 that xyz is a great B-school, it is entirely possible that we will psych ourselves into believing that this school is the perfect fit for us, even if it is not.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum are the cases where we just want to get into any B-school at all, and never really give a good thought into why we want to do an MBA.

If you’ve got USD 150,000 lying around the house, and all you want is to make more money, you’d be better off opening a post office savings account and living off the 7.5% interest you get on it.

An MBA is a different beast. It’ll take from you not just your money, but also two years off the prime of your life, a lot of energy (read pulling off all-nighters trying to crack case studies and making presentations), and time spent away from your loved ones.

If you’re going to be investing all this into an MBA, you need to be very sure of two things – why you want to do an MBA, and why you want to do it from the particular school you are applying to.

Once you have it all figured out, put it down in your MBA application. Remember, if you’re not convinced yourself, you will most certainly not be able to convince the admissions committee either.

Our MBA MAP process is a helpful tool used by many applicants to select the right business schools.

Read this: – How to write business school specific MBA essays – How to evaluate ‘Fit’ with MBA program

4. Stick to the word count

There’s an old bit of Jewish wisdom which says that a proverb has 3 characteristics – few words, good sense, and a fine image.

While the adage may be about proverbs, it is the hallmark of all good writing.

There’s a reason people remember proverbs but forget stories. Proverbs speak to us less with words, and more with sense and images.

Word counts exist for a reason. One of which, of course, is that admissions committees have to wade through a ton of applications, and their time is limited.

But, equally importantly, a word count tests your ability to communicate ideas effectively. If you can’t get your message across in a 1000 words, you definitely will not get it across in 10,000.

And a good manager is nothing if not a good communicator. So take the word count of your essay as another test that you must pass on your way to your dream B-school.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you obsessively start counting words after every sentence you type. A margin of (+/-) 5% to 10% is acceptable in most cases.

But even if the b-school’s online application form does not enforce a hard cut-off, we’d recommend erring on the conservative side and staying below the word count.

Try to fit in all you need to say within this. You really don’t need anything more than that to tell your story. You’re writing an essay, not an autobiography.

Oscar Wilde famously said that brevity is the soul of wit, and we have since come to accept that brevity is pretty much the soul of most forms of communication, MBA essays included. Be frugal with your words and fathomless in your meaning.

Read: How important is the word count for MBA essays

5. Add a little X factor to it

This one is a little difficult to pin down, since what this X factor means will differ from one candidate to another.

That little magic dust that you sprinkle on your application to make it stand out from the crowd.

This become more important when you’re fighting in very competitive applicant pools and your resume doesn’t have much that automatically grabs the admission officer’s attention.

Here are some examples of what you can look at.

A small aspect of your life-story that you may have overlooked could provide that X factor that converts a regular story into a memorable masterpiece.

Or it could be related to your extracurricular activities where you achieved or experienced something remarkable.

Or it could be your unique writing style, or the way you use analogies to bring your ideas to life.

With the right, structured introspection, you’ll find that there are several avenues to highlight that makes the essays unmistakably reflect the real you.

This is one of the reasons we strongly discourage MBA applicants from using sample MBA essays that worked for others.

At first glance, they may look impressive to a new applicant, but they weren’t designed for recycling.

Using sample MBA essays will kill the uniqueness of your essays and consequently the crucial X factor.

Read why sample MBA essays don’t work .

Before we share our 6th and final tip, let’s first delve a little into the reasons we kept it for the end.

Despite their best efforts, even the strongest applicants tend to make mistakes in their application. We invited a special guest from a top school to list them down.

Top 5 mistakes to avoid while writing MBA essays

By rebecca loades, director, career accelerator programs, esmt berlin.

Essay writing tips

Unfortunately, the following 5 mistakes are all too common:

  • Not being authentic . No matter how qualified you may be on paper, authenticity counts. The biggest mistake we see is when applicants tell us what they think we want to hear, rather than showing us who they actually are.
  • Not answering the question or going beyond the word count . There’s a reason we ask the questions we do and limit the word count. Ignoring the prompt makes you stand out for the wrong reasons
  • Not trying . You might have stellar credentials and a super high test score but that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a place. Being successful in an MBA program requires more than pure academics. The essays are where you can help us see beyond your CV so that we get a sense of you, the unique perspective you will bring, and what you want to achieve.
  • Spelling and grammar errors . Spellcheck is there for a reason, use it! Ditto for making sure that you’ve spelled the school’s name properly and/or are calling us by our name vs the last business school you applied to.

  With that context, it becomes apparent why this final tip is so important.  

6. Get someone to look over your essay

Once you’re done writing, take a break and get some one you trust to have a look at your essay.

Having a fresh set of eyes go over your writing is always helpful. This is the reason why editors even exist.

Even the most gifted writers – the madcap literary geniuses and the Nobel Prize winners – relied on editors to polish their rough drafts into the enduring literary classics we know them as today.

The thing with writing is that when you’ve been living with the ideas in your head for so long, and then you begin the long, slow, painful process of putting those ideas on paper, you become just too familiar with them to be your own critic.

Those words have been a part of you for so long, you can no longer tell whether they’re good or bad.

It’s like how when we stare at a screen too long without blinking we begin to see the fine pixels and dots that make up the picture, but lose sight of the picture itself?

That sort of a thing.

A good editor can make that draft shine like a lapidary polishes a rough diamond to brilliance.

A “good editor” does not mean you need to get in touch with the New York Times to ask if they can loan out their literary editor for a day.

Here’s a candidate who got a USA MBA admit despite a big mistake in application .

A friend or a mentor with the experience and knowledge of the admissions process can help.

If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, and if all this sounds a little overwhelming, consider hiring a good MBA application consultant .

MBA Crystal Ball has highly experienced admission consultants who can help you polish your application. Read more about our MBA essay editing services .

Drop us an email when you’re ready: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

That’s all folks. Make sure you follow these steps, and we’re confident that you will be able to write an amazing MBA essay that with the potential to impress the admissions committee and to get you that elite MBA seat that could change your life.   Also read: – Top MBA application tips – Sample Harvard Stanford MBA essays using ChatGPT

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How to Structure Your MBA Essays

structure your MBA essays

A lot of people think they are not great storytellers. It’s true that some of us come by it more naturally than others. But with the proper structure and mindset, anybody can become a great storyteller. That’s why we’re diving deep into how to structure your MBA essays to tell your unique story. Remember, the AdCom member reading your materials only has about 15-20 minutes to form an impression of your candidacy. You don’t want them to merely like your application when they finish reading it.

“What you really want to be is the applicant they’re thinking about as they drive home that night, as they’re chatting with their spouse over spaghetti that evening,” explains SBC consultant and B-Schooled host Chandler Arnold. He recently sat down with fellow SBC consultant Kevin Rockmael to discuss essay writing strategy.

A few decades ago, business schools focused far more on applicants’ quantitative or technical skills when making admissions decisions. While your ability to handle the rigors of an MBA program is still a significant consideration, your emotional intelligence counts for an outsized amount these days. The so-called “soft skills” surrounding communication, the ability to motivate others, and leadership are attractive qualities to the admissions committee.

structure your MBA essays

Chandler says that if you can demonstrate those soft skills in your essays, the AdCom is much more likely to take a chance on you. “Because they know that not only will you be successful… but more importantly, when you graduate, you’ll have a larger impact on companies. And that’s ultimately what these business schools are trying to accomplish.”

Your goal when drafting those essays is to make sure your stories are believable and authentic, SBC consultant Kevin explains. Does it seem real? Is your motivation clear? And perhaps most important, do you seem like someone the admissions committee is rooting for?

Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help reviewing your MBA essays. Contact us today for a free 15-minute consult to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.

how to format mba essay

How to Structure Your MBA Essays to Win Over the AdCom

This is one of the topics SBC consultants get asked about the most. “I believe that structure is really the key part of the essay,” says Chandler. “So once you create that North Star, I think the second part is creating the structure, and then it’s actually filling in the sentences and then doing a lot of iteration to make sure that it all fits together.”

Some MBA applicants bristle at the idea, thinking that structure equals formulaic or that it will stunt their creativity. But we would urge you to flip that frame. Instead, think of structure as something that allows you to be more creative and compelling. When a reader senses there’s some structure to the material, it will enable them to relax and enjoy themselves as they read your essay.

 The best essays are a balanced combination of a lot of different things. You’ll see personal stories. You’ll see specific accomplishments and experiences. You’ll get insights into what people have learned and how they’ve grown.

Here are the four main components SBC consultant Kevin advises you to consider as you structure your MBA essays.

Your Opening. What big problem have you seen or experienced that you want to solve?

Your Background. Talk about your background and the obstacles you have faced and learned from. 

Your Goal + Your Experience. What is missing from your background and experience? How will business school help you reach your long-term goals? Here is where you connect your dreams to the MBA program you’re interested in attending.

Conclusion . The last part of the essay is a wrap-up of the problem you discussed at the beginning and how you addressed it. Finally, explain how you will create a better world to solve that problem. 

B-Schooled co-host/Harvard MBA Erika Olson wants you to remember those three magic words of good storytelling: show, don’t tell. 

@stacyblackmanconsulting #sbcyourfuture #mba #bschool #bschooladmissions #businessschool #essays #writing #writingtips ? Sexy Chill Vibes (Background Trap Hip Hop Beat) – rehegoosync

The Power of the Circle

Another way to think about how to structure your MBA essays is to harken back to your favorite high school English teacher. Remember those standard five-paragraph essays? It may seem overly simplistic, but sometimes those simple things are the most powerful, Chandler notes.

  • Paragraph 1: Start with an attention-grabbing first sentence or a personal anecdote. This surprises your reader and sets them up for the rest of your story.
  • Paragraphs 2-4: Each could share one specific point supporting your argument. Maybe it’s a lesson you learn from college, your first job, etc. Use the STAR format to highlight your results and what you learned.
  • Paragraph 5: Your conclusion harkens back to how you opened your essay. “I think there is a real power in kind of bringing things full circle,” Chandler says.

We often advise applicants to make a checklist of the key elements they want to cover in their entire application package.

  • Are there personal stories?
  • What about accomplishments?
  • Have you done significant self-reflection?
  • Did you highlight your leadership experience?
  • Is there enough about grit and perseverance?

Find a trusted friend, colleague, or family member to read through your materials. Ask them to identify the major themes or takeaways they get from your entire package. You’ll learn a few things. Have you covered everything? Does it seem balanced? Or are you heavy in one particular direction? And if you are, then it’s time to fix it. You want to ensure that you’re building a package that tells your unique story. It should showcase you as a complete human and differentiate you from others within the application pool.

how to format mba essay

Get ready to put in the work.

Author Stephen King once said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt . What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” The hardest part is starting. And after that, everything gets easier. Best of luck on your MBA adventures; we can’t wait to read what you create.

Want some help drafting a killer MBA essay? We’ve got you! Request a free MBA advising session  with  Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help with your complete MBA applications. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

how to format mba essay

Let us help you achieve your MBA dreams . Contact us for a free consultation to request time with an SBC Principal.

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Which program are you applying to?

Mba personal statement examples.

Get accepted to your top choice business school with your compelling essay.

MBA Personal Statement Sample Essays & Tips

Your academic record, GMAT scores, and GPA are important factors in the MBA application process. But, more than that, business schools ultimately care about who you are and whether you would be a good fit for their program. This is where your application essays come in. The goal here is to complete the picture that your scores and stats began sketching. Take your time when writing these essays. They will form the image the admissions committee will see before they meet you at your interview. Write, edit, and edit again. Be sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors in your essay. You want your portrait to be clean and clear. Once you are satisfied with your essay, ask a trusted friend, mentor, or admissions pro to read it. A fresh pair of eyes can often see things that you can’t.

7 tips for creating the best MBA essays

Here are some important things to remember when writing your MBA essays.

  • Show who you are in a background essay Use this opportunity to reveal your values and personality, the obstacles you’ve overcome, and the seminal experiences that have shaped you into the person you are today. No two people have the same history. Use stories and examples to make your background bright and stand out to demonstrate what makes you special. Discuss how your history has brought you to this point. What is there in your background that compels you to pursue an MBA at this time?
  • Show your direction in the goals essay Use this opportunity to show that you have clear direction and purpose based on experience and planning. Business school is not another opportunity to “find yourself.” Even if you have had one career path and will use your MBA to launch another career, this essay must describe the reasons behind your career-change, your new goals, and how the program will help you achieve them.
  • Use your optional essay to explain negatives in your stats If your GPA was lower than you would have liked early in your undergraduate education, use your essay to show how you learned from this experience. Everyone makes mistakes. How you deal with your mistakes shows a lot to the admissions committee – determination, discipline, success, resilience, and breadth of experience are qualities that will serve you well in your MBA studies and later in life. Be sure that you explain your negatives and don’t try to justify them. Show that you understand the mistake you made, learned from it and changed as a result of processing the experience. That response shows maturity. Justifying – instead of learning or changing – is a sign of immaturity. MBA programs want mature adults. Almost all of them have made mistakes.
  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say Admissions committees read thousands of essays during each admissions round. A concise, well thought-out essay will have them reading yours to the end.  You need examples and stories to support your statements and make your essay interesting and readable. Each of these needs to be to the point. These professionals are trained to spot an essay that is full of fluff and without substance.Avoid rambling and the use of keywords that you think the reader wants to see. A non-substantive essay will lead the reader to conclude that you, too, are without substance.
  • Find your passion This relates to tip #4 above. You want to grab the reader right away and create an essay that will keep their attention to the very end – and leave them wanting to meet you and get to know you even better. In other words, offer you a coveted interview! Find a theme, and weave it throughout your essay. If you can identify a passion that you had from an early age and follow it through the different stages of your life, you will have an interesting, readable essay. Connect your passion to your childhood and you professional and extracurricular experiences and accomplishments. Demonstrate how your passion will influence your future career and serve the community at the school you want to attend.
  • Focus on your professional experience and achievements Not everyone has a passion that they have carried with them throughout their life. However, since you are planning on attending an MBA program, you must have had professional and personal achievements. Highlight your professional skills and successes, as well as personal accomplishments. Show how these experiences and achievements have brought you to this point, and how they have influenced your long-term plans and reasons for pursuing an MBA.
  • Highlight your experience in your EMBA essay An applicant to an Executive MBA program is an executive or manager currently in the workforce, usually with at least eight years of business experience. As an EMBA student you will be expected to excel in your coursework while continuing to hold down your full-time job. You must demonstrate significant leadership, impact, potential, and the legitimate need for the degree to be accepted. Highlight your current responsibilities and recent achievements, as well as your skill sets. Discuss your goals and how an EMBA will help you reach them. Include how you will positively impact the community at the program you are applying to.

Read MBA Personal Statement Examples

Now that you have the tools to write your compelling essay, check out our sample MBA application essays to see what you will be able to accomplish.


BONUS: You'll also receive a free copy of our popular guide,  5 Fatal Flaws To Avoid in Your MBA Applications Essays.

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20 Great MBA Application Essay Samples (With Links)

With elite business schools like Harvard and Stanford boasting acceptance rates as low as 10% and 6% respectively, every aspect of your application counts. While GPA and GMAT scores matter, your essay can be a game-changer. Recognizing its weight, we’ve gathered top-notch MBA essay samples, endorsed by admission committees from premier institutions. Dive in and let’s craft that standout application!

What is an MBA Application Essay?

What admission committee look for in an mba essay.

If you want to learn more, here is the complete guide on how admission committees process MBA applications.

20 Great MBA Applications Essays Samples

Now you have known that what makes a great MBA admission essay, the next step is to write one for yourself. Before writing, check out this list of expert-vetted MBA application essays that secured admissions to top-rated business schools in the world. Admission consultants have shared these samples and they can be helpful if you read and analyze them carefully. If you’re completely unsure about how to get started, there are also custom essay writing services that can help you structure your essay with the help of professional editors.

Sample 1: Leadership-focused MBA application essay

Sample 2: self-focused mba application essay .

If you are asked to write about your strengths, weaknesses, aims, and goals in your application essay, this sample will help you. The applicant who wrote this got accepted to the INSEAD business school. It doesn’t merely describe her strengths and weaknesses, but it presents a complete picture of herself as a person. It highlighted the events and incidents that shaped her personality.

Sample 3: Life-hardships-focused MBA application essay

If you want to explain your life’s hardships and the events that turned you into an ambitious person, this sample is for you. In this application essay, the candidate has defined three phases of his life and how he survived through each adversity. He beautifully explained why the MBA program is important to his future.

Sample 4: Continuous growth and learning-focused MBA application essay

Sample 5: best mba application essay for low scorers.

Have a low GPA? What would you write about academics in an MBA essay to convince the admission committee? Do not overthink! MBA essay is not all about high achievements and sterling background. It is also an opportunity to atone for your past mistakes. This MBA essay was written by a student who obtained very low academic grades, yet got admitted to her desired business school. Her turning point? A powerful application essay.

Sample 6: A guitarist’s application essay for the MBA program

Sample 7: an engineer’s essay for mba application, sample 8: harvard business school mba essay, sample 9: wharton business school mba essay, sample 10: columbia business school mba essay.

The Columbia Business School’s admission committee shared this MBA essay. They explained why the applicant who wrote this was instantly accepted to the program and why they appreciated its content.

Sample 11: Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA essay

This essay was written by a candidate who got accepted to Stanford Business School for an MBA. If you are aiming to get your MBA at Stanford, this sample will give you a deep understanding of what convinces the esteemed school’s admission committee to accept applicants into their fold.

Sample 12: University of California Business School MBA essay

This sample was taken from a pool of successful MBA application essays submitted to the University of California business school. Read it carefully and analyze its structure, words, and substance before you compose your own fantastic MBA essay.

Sample 13: University of OXFORD business school MBA essay

Sample 14: london business school mba essay.

This essay was written by a candidate who got accepted to the London Business School. The school’s admission consultant shared this sample as a reference to other MBA aspirants. This piece will specifically help you understand the tone, writing style, formatting, and overall flow of the MBA application essay that meets the school’s standards.

Sample 15: A goal-oriented MBA application essay

Sometimes the MBA admission portal may demand an essay specifically focused on your future goals. In such a case, you must be very sure about yourself and must convey your goals and future directions based on your experiences and planning. Check out this sample to get an idea of how a successful candidate writes about personal goals.

Sample 16: Executive MBA essay

Sample 17: mba video essay.

Many business schools are turning to video-based essays for MBA applications. A video-based essay is a better option to express yourself directly to the admission committee. A successful candidate for the Kellogg School of Management submitted this sample. Listen to the video and appreciate how beautifully the applicant has explained his journey from beginning to end. Want to learn more about video MBA essays? Here is a complete guide.

Sample 18: Short-answer-based MBA application essay

Some business schools require candidates to respond to short questions to get insights into their personalities and suitability for the MBA program. More or less, most of the questions revolve around the same theme. The key to success is to grasp the intention of the admission committee behind the questions and to stick to your identity . These successful answers submitted to the Tepper School of Business will help you in formulating your answers.

Sample 19: MIT Sloan School of Management

Sample 20:  michigan ross school of business mba program, what should be included in the mba application essay.

These are the significant components of an MBA essay. Just adjust the sequence, play with words, and come up with a persuasive yet realistic picture of yourself.

What Makes a Great MBA Application Essay?

Do you want more tips? Here is a complete guide to writing a compelling MBA application essay.

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Your Complete Guide to Writing Winning MBA Essays

With thousands of highly-qualified applicants from around the world vying for a limited number of spots, your main objective during the application process is to stand out . Succeed in this endeavor, and you’ll find yourself joining the ranks of the world’s elite business schools .

Fail, and you’ll find yourself on a waitlist or worse, not admitted anywhere at all. Though there are many types of essays in which you will need to justify your fit with a prestigious MBA, each needs to focus on showing off your greatest hits and prove to the admissions committee that you’re someone worth admitting.

Nonetheless, writing a standout essay requires much more than sitting down to your computer and writing a stream of consciousness account of your career highlights. Instead, it requires careful selection and crafting to ensure your stories really sell you .

Table of Contents

1.1. The Role Essays Play in the Admissions Process 1.2. Make Sure You Stand Out

2. Structuring Your Essay

2.1. Reflect On Your Best Examples What makes a good example? 2.2. Choose Your Theme Wisely 2.3. Hook your reader from the very first word 2.4. Utilize Strong Storytelling How to choose the best stories? Theme and story go hand in hand Story: roadblocks and solutions 2.5. The STAR method is your secret storytelling weapon 2.6. Conflict is Key 2.7. The Protagonist is YOU 2.8. Be Passionate

3.1. Navigating Short Essays 3.2. 500 Word Essays – the Magic Number 3.3. Maintaining Focus in Long Essays How is a typical essay structured? What makes a good MBA essay structure? Sandwiches.

4. Common Types of MBA Essays and How to Approach Each Type

4.1. Goals Essays 4.2. Achievement Essays 4.3. Reapplicant Essays What does a “good” optional essay include? 4.4. Optional Essays What does a “good” optional essay include? 4.5. Video Essays How does the video essay work?

5.1. Strategic vs. Traditional Edits Technical editing: The basic ingredients of an MBA essay Strategic editing: the secret ingredient to an outstanding MBA essay 5.2. Cutting Words Strategy #1: Revisit your stories Strategy #2: Reduce “of” constructions Strategy #3: Reduce “I think/wish/believe…” phrases Strategy #4: Reduce passive voice 5.3. A Word on Feedback

1. Why Essays Matter

With admissions rates at elite MBAs like Stanford Graduate School of Business hovering around 6%, standing out from the crowd is one of the most important challenges you will face during your business school application journey.

Though there are many elements that make up a successful MBA application , one of the most important is your admissions essay.

Writing admissions essays that cut through the noise and help the admissions committee connect with you and your ideas means getting in to your target business schools.

1.1. The Role Essays Play in the Admissions Process

As anyone who has attended an MBA info session can tell you, the admissions process for elite business school is a holistic process that takes into account numerous factors about your profile.

how to format mba essay

In addition to your GMAT score , the admissions committee also takes into consideration your university grades, career progression, and letters of recommendation.

However, one of the most important elements of your application is your admissions essays, as these breathe life into your profile’s data points.

Though a great admissions essay cannot overcome a poor GMAT score and sub-par job performance, it is one of the greatest differentials among you and other highly-qualified candidates .

That’s because admissions essays offer context. Your CV may show where you’ve worked and for how long, but your essays show what inspired you to take this position, the valuable lessons you’ve learned, and how you intend to keep using these lessons to generate meaningful impact.

As such, essays are one of the most important parts of the application process and can be a major factor in determining if you’re invited to interview or dinged.

1.2. Make Sure You Stand Out

In today’s fast-paced world, a sort of “attention economy” has developed in which an ever-increasing stream of inputs is battling for our ever-decreasing attention spans .

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a tool that would reliably cut through all the distraction?

how to format mba essay

Luckily, such a tool already exists. In fact, storytelling has been the key to hacking the brain’s circuitry since long before the first word was ever written down ( even Harvard Business School agrees! )

In fact, the importance of storytelling has only become even more entrenched as research on the topic emerges, meaning stories remain one of the most efficient means we have to transmit information to others.

The power of storytelling even extends into a realm often thought to be “too serious” for stories: the business world.

Yet, with thought leaders reinforcing that stories are not only important but an essential tool for modern leaders (and the best TED talks being overwhelmingly story-driven), it’s clear that the ability to tell compelling stories is an advantage.

Harnessing this tool when writing your admissions essays goes a long way to giving you the edge you need to stand out — and when it comes to elite MBA admissions, it’s all about standing out!

One of the most essential elements to a compelling MBA admissions essay is your structure. Your structure is like your map: it helps your readers get flawlessly from A to B.

how to format mba essay

In terms of your essay, this means that structure helps your reader transition between what you said before, what you’re saying now, and what you will say next.

Without a solid, clear, and defining structure, your essay can be good, but won’t be excellent. Your stories may be fascinating – but only if your reader understands why they are reading about them in the first place. In other words, structure implicitly emphasizes relevance.

The tips below give you more insight into how to structure and write amazing application essays.

2.1. Reflect On Your Best Examples

Over your career, you’ve likely had a lot of wins — both big and small.

Though you’re hopefully nodding your head in agreement, when was the last time you really reflected on which of your achievements are your strongest?

how to format mba essay

Most of our clients are extremely ambitious, forward-looking people, however, writing your MBA essays requires keeping one eye on the future and the other on the past .

That’s why, before you start writing the first word of your first MBA essay, you should take the time to compile a list of your top stories.

What makes a good example?

In general, clients make the mistake of thinking that the only examples they can include in essays are those in which they helped establish one of Africa’s first private equity firms , created the world’s first mind-controlled jet pack , or developed a cure for cancer .

Though these are certainly all incredible achievements, your best example doesn’t necessarily have to be so big .

For example, while brainstorming his essay topics , a recent client was struggling with the fact that his corporate finance job felt to him like a lot of financial reports and Excel spreadsheets.

However, when we dug into the details, he told us that he’d led the process to help his company negotiate better terms with a foreign government to ensure they were able to continue offering affordable protein in that country.

Not only did this example show his ability to negotiate and communicate across cultures, he was also able to show how he generated meaningful results for his company and positively impacted people in an entire country.

That’s a pretty great example!

Go back and think of all the moments of your career you are proudest of.

Then, based on each essay question and each school’s values (If you’re having trouble understanding your dream school’s values, our team of admissions experts can help !), allocate your best examples. You’ll need a good theme, focus, and excellent story to turn these examples into winning MBA essays, but we’ll get more into that below! Here, just make sure the examples you choose truly answer the question .

2.2. Choose Your Theme Wisely

The first key, or element, of a compelling essay is a strong theme .

Your theme is the main message of your essay. Basic examples may be “teamwork is paramount” or “empowering others is what I value most”. Your choice of theme will depend on the essay question.

A theme is important for your MBA essay because it is what ties everything you say together. Instead of random stories that have no common thread, your theme is what allows you to use multiple stories to reinforce what you really want to say about yourself.

So how do you go about choosing the right theme?

how to format mba essay

Your theme expresses a value (ex: “community”, “ giving back ”, “innovation”) that you feel has defined you in some way. You can choose practically any value that you can relate back to your personal experiences. However, it is essential that you choose a value you truly believe in – faking it to sound good will be immediately obvious to any admissions board.

A good theme also relates back to the school and its values. The school’s values will give you an idea of who the school is looking for, and you should always take these into account when choosing your theme. Each school will have different, individual values.

The school’s values may be implicit or explicit – you may need to take a long look at their website, visit their campus, ponder their motto, or study their application materials to figure out what they are. (If you find yourself struggling to determine these, this is something that Ellin Lolis Consulting is glad to help you with.)

For example, when applying to the Stanford Graduate School of Business , their values include the following:

Global awareness, community-oriented, integrity, collaborative team leadership, passion, intellectual vitality, etc.

The theme of your Stanford essay should not , therefore, simply be “integrity” or “global awareness”. Instead, give the value a personal touch that says something about you: for example, you could go with “honesty above everything” or “the importance of an international team”. If you’ve chosen your theme well, it may even overlap with multiple values of your target school.

Keep in mind that your choice of theme must answer the essay question. While this might be easy in open-ended essays, some answers may require much deeper thought to determine your underlying values.


The most common problem pertaining to theme often comes down to this: too many or too few. Even if you’ve chosen the most awesome theme, encountering either one of these problems could make or break your MBA admissions essay.

How can you have too many themes? It may be hard to narrow down what you value most, or which of your target school’s values is the most important to you. If you can’t decide, you may end up trying to build in more than one.

You may begin your essay by exuberantly exclaiming the importance of teamwork while emphasizing how much your community means to you in your conclusion. This discrepancy will not only confuse your reader, it will lead to a weak message and a weak essay.

how to format mba essay

On the other hand, your theme must be explicitly clear. You cannot assume that your reader will simply understand your theme after reading your essay. You must state this for them multiple times.

Either option will cause your theme to feel unclear to your reader. Make sure you have a single theme (even if it might represent multiple values!) that you clearly stick with throughout the entire essay.

2.3. Hook your reader from the very first word

Quickly grabbing your audience’s attention is one of the most important, yet most challenging tasks when telling any story.

Let’s take a look at Nike’s “Breaking 2” commercial, named one of the 10 best ads of 2017 .

The ad starts out with the phrase, “Breaking the two hour marathon barrier is impossible.”


Immediately, as we see the runner standing at the starting line, preparing to train in the early light before dawn, we immediately want to know if this solitary figure has what it takes to “do the impossible.”

This curiosity drives us forward and makes it so that we literally can’t take our eyes of the screen.

A good hook in your essay functions in much the same way: it sparks the reader’s interest and compels them to keep reading.

Let’s take two versions of the same essay for example.

Here, the author has gone right into the story, neglecting to write a hook:

I have always been fascinated by cosmology and astronomy, not only because they relate to the study of the universe, but because they are an exercise in thinking beyond limitations. I first encountered these concepts at a young age. After presenting a perfect report card to my parents at age seven, I was rewarded with a book on spacetime. Diving into the realm of the cosmos inspired me to think about reality in imaginative ways free from the constraints often imposed by society and connecting me to the great thinkers of the past who made groundbreaking discoveries that changed the world.

Did this leave you wanting more? Perhaps not.

However, in the final version of the story, the author hits us with:

What do Copernicus and Phil Knight have in common? I learned about Copernicus after receiving a book on astronomy from my parents that awakened my childhood passion for the cosmos. I first learned about Knight from his book, Shoe Dog, but became more familiar with him much later in life while working with Nike, a client in my portfolio. What both have in common, however, is that they were agents of change. They refused to accept the status quo and revolutionized society with simple yet groundbreaking ideas that changed humanity forever.

This version is much more compelling. Copernicus and Phil Knight seemingly have nothing in common, so figuring this small puzzle out moves the reader forward and ultimately ensures they become immersed in the story.

Though MBA essay word limits are notoriously small , using an interesting hook that is related to your example is a good investment, as it will ensure the admissions committee member perusing your essay keeps reading and, ultimately, calls you for an interview.

2.4. Utilize Strong Storytelling

Stories are the examples you use to underline your theme.

They should be based on your personal experiences and are the most tangible element of your MBA admissions essay. The choices here are endless, and may come from the workplace, school, or your personal life.

If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, this article in The Economist offers some good starting points . The most important thing is that your stories illustrate how they have contributed to the value that you’ve presented in your theme.

how to format mba essay

How to choose the best stories? Theme and story go hand in hand

The stories you choose need to relate to your theme. Your theme will relate to your stories. The two of these – and choosing them – go hand in hand.

You may first brainstorm inspiring stories from your past and then choose which theme aligns with them. Or you may want to start by contemplating your theme and then deciding where it has been exemplified in your past. Either method will work, as long as you use honest examples and really believe in your theme.

How many stories you tell in your MBA essay depends on your theme and the topic of the essay (and possibly your word count!). In some cases, you may need multiple stories while in others a single story will suffice.

Story: roadblocks and solutions

The main problem you see with stories in MBA essays is that they do not match the theme. If this is the case, you need to rethink your story – or your theme.

In contrast to your theme, you cannot have too much information here at this stage in your essay. Remember here that although the details about what happened, how you felt about it, or why an event was significant may be clear to you, it will not always be clear to your reader . Including sufficient information about context, your motivations, and what you learned is essential to make sure your message is clear.

This is where a second set of eyes is absolutely necessary. Our editors here at Ellin Lolis Consulting are good at spotting the details that may be implicit in your essay, but have not been stated clearly enough for all your readers.

Another common problem is not highlighting your role in the story. Even if the experience was a team effort – and even if teamwork is your theme – it is necessary to highlight the individual part you played. After all, the admissions board is focusing on you .

how to format mba essay

2.5. The STAR method is your secret storytelling weapon

STAR stands for Situation – Task – Action – Result.

how to format mba essay

The framework will help you write a clear, compelling answer that provides background, tells exactly what you did and ends with a big reveal.

Here’s how it works :

  • Situation – Begin with setting the stage and presenting the complication or conflict of the story. For example: “My brand was losing market share to a new competitor” 

  • Task – Identify your objective in light of the complication and summarize the task or project performed: “I decided to revise our strategy” 

  • Action – Describe the action steps you took toward your goal: “I surveyed customers to learn what traits they valued and implemented product changes accordingly” 

  • Results – Summarize the outcome and how you and/or your team made a difference: “We gained 20 additional market share.”

The STAR method makes it very easy for your reader not only to understand what took place, but to also see your role in all of it — important given the fact that it’s you and not your team or company that’s applying for an MBA.

Not convinced you should follow this method? Check out the two stories below. Which does a better job of clearly showing the applicant’s strengths and achievement?

My greatest achievement in life so far has come from my study effort. It was one of the best days of my life when I got the news I was chosen for a scholarship from the Brazilian government to start a project in University of Texas. From this episode I learned that the long run counts a lot because this scholarship didn’t depend on taking a test and having a great day on it. It was awarded to students who had an English proficiency diploma at a specific point in time and a great college record. In Texas, I was forced to become a more independent man and I had the chance to connect with so many people with so many different backgrounds that I can say my desire to explore the world started there.

Or this one?

The achievement I’m most proud of happened recently. At my company, it had been three years since we had raised investments for a new fund, so finding a new opportunity was critical. In mid-December, that great opportunity arose, however, we’d be battling against an unbelievably short deadline to get the project approved.

Normally, at this time of year, we’re still fully staffed, but given the stagnant market, only one manager and myself remained. In addition, the fund’s investment policy relied on a strategy that we’d never used. Finally, I’d never worked on the public offering of a fund before.

Nonetheless, I knew that if the partner and I worked diligently to support each other, we could land this deal. Our first move was to organize a meeting to align all parties involved. Then, we divided tasks, and I took over coordinating stakeholders, assigning tasks and managing deliverables. In the end, we successfully delivered everything on time.

This experience made me more comfortable in a leadership position, as managing diverse stakeholders under pressure helped me better analyze what each brought to the table and execute accordingly. Recently, I’ve even been able to help other teams coordinate new offers. Finally, the project was a great opportunity to learn new management skills from my superior. This reinforced for me how important it will be to learn additional management frameworks at INSEAD and prepare myself to be a leader in the Private Equity market.

Though the first essay includes a tremendous achievement, the lack of structure and details makes it difficult for us to understand exactly what happened.

The second essay clearly states the facts, and doesn’t forget that the S of STAR is one of the most important parts of any winning achievement essay .

In any good story, we need some sort of challenge for our protagonist to solve.

2.6. Conflict is Key

In life, we work hard to avoid conflict as much as possible, yet when it comes to stories, conflict is not only important, it is essential to captivating attention.


Would Breaking Bad have been as interesting if Walter White was already an established drug lord when the show started? Probably not. Watching him take the news of his cancer diagnosis and find an unusual way to drum up the money for treatment is just what makes the show so addictive.

Conflict and how our “hero” (in this case, you!) solves the challenge is at the core of any good story, so make sure you use the STAR method to clearly set up the conflict you needed to navigate and then show how you took steps to turn this roadblock into one of your standout moments.

Let’s take this essay for example. In an early version, the story was conflict-free.

Upon joining MBB after graduation, another experience inspired personal growth. While in abroad, I participated in recruiting processes for top consulting firms, and saw firsthand that MBB lagged behind in recruiting students pursuing dual degrees abroad. After joining, I created a dedicated process to recruit these top performers. Four months later, we had the first online connection event, which attracted more than 40 interested students. The program has since become an essential recruiting tool. I am proud to lead this internal team in contributing to MBB’s long-term success as we attract the talent we need to deliver high-impact results to clients.

Though this shows initiative on the applicant’s part, it is far less compelling than this version of events:

After graduating, I joined MBB, as it allowed me to channel my intellectual curiosity, explore various sectors and be an agent of change. While abroad, I participated in recruiting processes for other top consulting firms, and saw firsthand that MBB lagged behind in recruiting dual-degree students. After joining, I spoke with several partners about creating a program to solve this issue. The partners were hesitant, however, concerned they could not adequately evaluate candidates remotely. After demonstrating the implications of overlooking these high-potential candidates, I received permission to create a dedicated dual-degree recruiting process. Four months later, I had mobilized 10 colleagues, leading them in organizing BCG’s first online connection event. The program has since become an essential recruiting tool, bringing in more than 10% of our hires since inception.

Here, not only does she show initiative, she also shows she has an ability to clearly communicate and add value to her firm, even when the odds are stacked against her.

So, when writing your MBA application essays, make sure to give your stories some much-needed drama!

2.7. The Protagonist is YOU

In general, modesty is a good thing.

However, when writing your MBA application essays, too much modesty can be fatal , as the admissions committee has a short amount of time to decide if you make the cut or not.

As such, one of the mistakes you want to be sure to avoid while writing is forgetting that the protagonist of your essays is you!

how to format mba essay

Specifically for extremely collaborative schools (like Kellogg or INSEAD), we see clients writing entire essays that talk a lot about what the team did, but never once use the pronoun “I.”

Though you may think that never saying “I” is a good way to show you’re a team player, it actually makes it very difficult for the reader to understand your role in the events that happened .

This kind of ambiguity turns even the greatest leadership example into something lackluster, as there is no evidence to support the fact that you had anything to do with the results.

Not clarifying your role when answering a failure question is perhaps even worse. Failure questions are inherently designed to test your level of self-awareness and maturity, so not making your role in the failure clear gives the impression that you’re unable to accept responsibility for your actions.

For example, let’s take a look at part of a former client, Marck’s, first attempt at answering the INSEAD Essay “ Describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiments impact your relationship with others? Comment on what you learned. ”

“When I was in my senior year in university, I was selected to be part of a four-student team that represented our school at the USC Marshall International Case Competition in Los Angeles. The competition format gave a real business problem and 24 hours to formulate a solution. After my team received the problem and processed the information, I envisioned a solution that went beyond the objective question, offering not only the hypothetical solution, but also an implementation plan. All groups were from top universities and would probably present strong solutions, so this way I thought our solution would maybe stand out. My colleagues wouldn’t agree on this approach because they thought 24-hours was already a short time to develop a solution so adding the extra work of developing an implementation plan would seem impractical. We started our case but it was very frustrating for me to help with the work that I felt was not meant to win the competition.

Finally we delivered our presentation, which got an regular scoring, not enough to advance to the finals. I was very disappointed by this premature disqualification, especially because our group have prepared well for this competition, for nearly 2 months.”

Though it’s clear to see that things didn’t go according to plan, it’s not clear how Marck played a clear role in contributing to this failure. In this case, he had to change his example, but by focusing in and making himself the protagonist of the essay, he was able to come up with this, stronger essay that ultimately helped him land a spot at INSEAD:

“After ten rigorous interviews, I had finally obtained my first ever job: an internship in Credit Suisse’s asset management department. Throughout the interviews, I was confident and highly communicative, and after two months of work, I was eager for my first professional evaluation. However, while my manager was impressed with my confidence and communication during interviews, he admonished me for having “lost” both traits as an intern and threatened to fire me should I not change. Rather than explaining myself, I held back, deferring to the authority of my superiors.

As I reflected on this feedback, I realized my behavior might have been influenced by my Asian background. Raised to be respectful and humble in the face of authority, I failed to consider that this does not fit in a finance environment, where one needs to be assertive and unafraid of disagreement to make the best deals. I thought critically about how my approach must be adapted to different situations, and that traits that are highly valued in one culture may not be in others. With this in mind, I adopted a more assertive communication style, receiving excellent feedback in future evaluations. Most importantly, I learned that effective team members must be perceptive enough to understand cultural differences and flexible enough to adapt accordingly. “

2.8. Be Passionate

With so many elements to keep in mind, it can be easy to focus on the strategy of your story and forget the most important ingredient in your essay – passion!

This is hugely important to the whole essay and you should take some time to really think about what you want to convey to the admissions officers. Keep in mind that they already have all the facts about you – they know your grades, your work history, and probably most of your measurable achievements.

The goal is to make them love you.

Write about what you’re passionate about, whatever it is, because it will give the admissions team insight into who you really are. It’s something that your grades and work history can’t communicate, but your passion can.

how to format mba essay

Here’s another tip: don’t try to fabricate something that you’re passionate about because it sounds good .

There are enough application essays out there that talk about wanting to help people because the world has a lot of problems. You won’t stand out just because you write about a noble cause.

Bruce DelMonico, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Yale School of Management, says he is wary of personal statements that tell dramatic stories and stretch the truth. He does not look for students who have had exotic experiences, but for evidence of resilience, introspection, and initiative.

Use this space to get personal. Tell an anecdote about your life and be creative with your presentation. You can write about something you’re passionate about without describing your life story.

The key is simply to care about what you’re writing about , whether that’s coffee or running or your grandmother. Let your qualities shine through that topic – it will be much more memorable than talking about how you want to help people.

And remember, because your essay is one in thousands being read by a team of people who have seen it all before, being memorable is absolutely essential.

So, what are you passionate about? Be honest, be yourself, and don’t be afraid to let your personality shine!

3. How to Maximize Word Counts

Your MBA admissions essay will, in most cases, be limited to a specific number of words. If it is, it is extremely important that you do not exceed the limit. For some schools, you simply won’t be able to upload longer essays. For other, though there is no official penalty, failing to follow instructions may get your essay thrown out.

Remember, you are not telling the admissions board your life story, but rather concentrating on specific events.

how to format mba essay

As such, choosing the right approach and right number of examples to use based on the number of words the question gives you is essential .

For example, if you were writing a timely tweet to share your opinion, you’d take a very different approach then if crafting a cover letter that demonstrated why you’d be the perfect candidate for your dream job.

In short, the size of the essay greatly dictates the content and approach you’ll utilize, so we’ve put together a number of tips to help you write winning essays of all sizes.

3.1. Navigating Short Essays

Though candidates often stress about long essays, short essays can often be more challenging. As they are becoming increasingly common (Berkeley Haas and Michigan Ross , for example, hasn’t included an essay longer than 300 words in years), it’s important to make sure every word you include packs a punch!

In 250 words or less , you are challenged with the task of communicating to the admissions team how you stand out from the crowd and why you should be admitted into their program. Since you are competing with thousands of other applicants who have the exact same goal, this might seem like an overwhelming task.

Have no fear!

Here at Ellin Lolis Consulting , we are extremely skilled at helping potential MBA students reach their goals. Among other things, our knowledge of what makes a winning short essay has led to a 99% success rate of our clients being accepted into at least one of their target schools. These tips will help you similarly reach your goal!

Stay focused

In an essay of 250 words, this might be the most important advice to keep in mind.

how to format mba essay

The reason one anecdote or story is because that’s all you have room for. This essay is not meant to repeat the achievements the admissions people already know, nor is it a good place to squeeze in a summary of your life – or even a summary of one year! Choose one moment, one situation, one idea , and follow it all the way through.

A quick note before we get deeper into how to write with focus: make sure this one point answers the question being asked.

Some universities ask very open ended questions that give you all kinds of freedom when writing, but many use more specific prompts. Before you start writing, all throughout the process, and after you think you’re finished, make sure that you are clearly answering the question.

How to Stay Focused Tip #1

Staying focused means using one story to support your point.

Resist the temptation to rabbit trail because it gives you a chance to talk about something else you’re proud of. Your essay should follow one idea beginning to end so that you can flesh it out a bit and show some of that deep thinking we were talking about. Listing things like a resume will not do that for you.

How to Stay Focused Tip #2

Cut the fluff and write concisely.

There are several ways you can do this. The first is writing in the active voice, where the subject of the sentence performs the action, as opposed to the passive voice, where the subject receives the action. The Writing Centre at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gives these examples:

Active: The dog bit the man.

Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.

Active should be used whenever possible because it makes the sentence more clear and uses less words – the goal of any shortessay.

The second major way you can cut out fluff is by avoiding big, general statements that don’t contribute much to the paragraph. If you are wondering whether a sentence is “fluffy” or not, try reading the paragraph without that sentence and see if the section loses much meaning. If your point is still clear (or more clear) without that sentence, cut it.

3.2. 500 Word Essays – the Magic Number

One of the most common word limits in MBA application essays is 500 words .

Whether a goals essay, a leadership essay, or a personal essay, this word count gives you just enough room to include meaningful, well-detailed examples without inviting you to wax poetic about your entire life story.

So, considering how popular they are, what is the first step to writing a compelling MBA essay in 500 words?

Forget about your word count.

Go ahead – let’s even take it to extremes. Take your ideas about word count, crumple them up, and throw them in the recycling bin. Or hide them in with the dirty laundry, or wherever else you know you won’t look until you’re on the final draft of your essay. Did that? Good.

Although most essays will have a word limit, that is not where you should begin – and it is definitely not what you should focus on while trying to develop your MBA admissions essay. In fact, trimming word count is the very last thing you should do before you finalize your draft.

So, you might ask, if I shouldn’t focus on word count, what should I be thinking about?

how to format mba essay

There are three answers to this question: theme, story, and structure . But what are these exactly?

Your theme is like your topic. It is the main thing you want your readers to know and remember about you while reading your essay. Everything – and I mean absolutely everything – in your MBA essay should pertain and relate back to your theme.

Story is how you express your theme. An MBA essay can have one or multiple stories. Your stories are personal (as in, they really did happen to you!) anecdotes about your past that contribute to the person you are today. These must (underline must) relate back to your theme.

Structure is how you combine the two in a way that makes it easy for your reader to get from one idea to the next. A strong structure will reinforce the meaning of your essay.

All three of these elements are interrelated, and all are necessary for creating a truly compelling MBA admissions essay.

In 500 words, you should have ample space to fully explore your theme by telling an interesting, well-structured story.

500 word essays, however, are usually not long enough for multiple fully-explored examples (unless we’re dealing with a goals essay, more on this below), so make sure you have a clear mission for the essay before getting started.

3.3. Maintaining Focus in Long Essays

Though the predominant trend is for MBA admissions committees to reduce the number of words required for their application, a few programs still ask candidates (or, in the case of HBS , allow candidates) to write much longer essays, often 1000 words or longer.

How is a typical essay structured?

Although this will vary according to the topic of the essay, the basic outline is often similar, as pointed out by Karen Schweitzer . The outline of your MBA essay will usually have the following format:

  • Introduction: present your theme and it’s larger contextual significance
  • Story 1 and the lesson(s) you learned from it
  • Story 2 and the lesson(s) you learned from it ( if the essay prompt allows for more than one story)
  • (Maybe more stories and lessons…)
  • How your stories/theme relate to your target school ( such as classes you intend to take, groups you want to participate in, or the unique things that school offers that will help you expand on these values )
  • Conclusion: tie all of this back into your theme

Keep in mind that this is only a basic outline for an MBA admissions essay , and there are other formats that may work just as well. You may find a different format works better for your message. In that case – go for it!

No matter which format you choose, however, make sure your reader can clearly and easily understand and navigate the structure of your essay. With thousands of other essays to read, sending a confusing essay to “stand out” is likely to get your essay tossed aside.

What makes a good MBA essay structure? Sandwiches.

How do you ensure that your MBA essay is well-structured? Here, it is best to rely on the classic sandwich method .

The sandwich method ensures that each of your stories (the lettuce, meat, cheese, and other particularly yummy parts of your structural sandwich) is surrounded by an explicit emphasis on your theme (the bread that holds your structural sandwich together).

how to format mba essay

You are going to need a few structural sandwiches for a good essay. Not only should the essay itself be one big sandwich, but each paragraph – each story – needs to be one as well. In other words:

Sandwich #1: The essay as a whole

In your essay-structural-sandwich, your theme needs to surround your stories. The introduction of your essay should clearly present your theme and your conclusion needs to pick it back up.

Sandwiches #2-?: Each and every story

Each story needs an introduction sentence and a concluding sentence. Both of these sentences need to relate your story back to your theme.

The sandwich method is a way to ensure your reader stays on the same page as you. They make it explicitly clear why what you are saying is relevant to the larger picture and how you got there in the first place.

Hungry? Have an example sandwich

In spring 2017, we helped Axel from Argentina compose and refine his Stanford essays. In this essay, he chose to focus on the theme “being an agent of change”. Take a look at one of the stories he told to highlight this theme:

“Later, while volunteering in São Paulo’s favelas, I wanted to convey the power of change to children by showing them what I learned from the book on the cosmos. By connecting my hobby of space with my desire for change, I shared my knowledge of cosmology and mathematics and gained valuable lessons from people with backgrounds in education. In learning from each other’s strengths, we were able to complement the children’s formal education and inspired them to look at past science geniuses who defied conventions so that the students might also be inspired to challenge their social standing. This experience showed me that working to create change is as important as its positive effects .”

As you can see in bold, the relevance of this story to Axel’s theme is clear in both the introduction and conclusion of the paragraph.

Keeping your structure and theme in mind throughout your entire essay not only makes your essay more compelling, it’s also the lifeblood that ensures your reader stays interested enough in what you have to say to get through all 1000 words of your essay.

how to format mba essay

Here we’ll go more into depth into the most common types and how to best tell your story in each format below.

4.1. Goals Essays

It’s not always phrased the same way, but each school is asking for the same thing: your goals essay .

Your response must be a personal statement that describes much more than just your short and long term goals (though they are, of course, the key to the whole essay).

Crafting a compelling goals essay that lands you an interview means giving context to your goals and showing that you’ve thought through them enough to be specific and realistic. This means that your own vision of your future career path must be crystal clear, since no elite business school will admit candidates who do not state clear, well argued goals .

If you’re still not quite sure what you want to do post-MBA, you may want to consider career coaching before you start writing.

Assuming you have some rock solid goals in place, here are several tips that will help you turn your career plan into a winning essay!

An interview-worthy formula

how to format mba essay

Try to think of the MBA goals essay as a story, and the important components of the story are your past, present, and future, and how they all connect. Specifically, how they connect should look like this:

Past Experience + Present MBA = Future Professional Goals

Your story should flow well between these components, building upon each of them and creating a unified narrative. However, that narrative shouldn’t follow a ‘past, present, future’ sequence at all, since it’s difficult to explain why a particular program is perfect for you if you haven’t stated your goals yet.

Instead, go with a ‘past, future, present’ format . Organizing your essay in this way will provide clarity and a pleasing flow to the information.

Now let’s look at what each section should include:

Past experience

Whether the question asks for it or not, a little bit about your work history is important to include in this essay. It gives context to your goals , proof that you have relevant experience related to your goals, and sets up the argument for why you’re applying for that specific MBA – a crucial aspect to the goals essay.

If the question does ask about your career progress to date, keep in mind the information the admissions counselors already have. The goal here is not to list every achievement you’ve made (they probably see that on your resume ), but to give brief, strong examples of an accomplished career, especially focusing on achievements that relate to your future goals.

For example, though you may have had a highly successful marketing internship, but have since forged a career in M&A, you may want to leave your marketing achievements out of your goals essay to focus on more relevant information.

Nonetheless, not everyone has a perfectly linear path where each step logically leads to the next. Your work history might look disjointed on paper, but the key is to emphasize growth and highlight your capabilities. All of this needs to add up to the next section: your future goals.

Future goals

Your essay revolves around your short and long term goals, which means you need to think through these two things more than anything else.

how to format mba essay

It is important that you explain the relationship between all the lessons you learned along your career journey and your future – how has your past prepared and inspired you for your future? Later, we’ll talk about some crucial things that need to come into play when describing your goals.

Present – the MBA

This is your chance to really sell yourself to the admissions committee – why is their school the very best for your specific needs?

You have shown the experience and knowledge you have, the goals that resulted, and now you need to prove that this program can give you everything you need to reach those goals.

This is no time to be vague. Specific classes, the school’s non-academic offerings, and school culture can all be referenced to support your argument that this program is the very best (or only) way to build the skills you need to reach your goals.

Standing out as a prime candidate to admissions counselors means writing a goals essay with clarity and purpose, showing that you are informed and visionary enough to see your goals through. If you follow the above format and tips, you will likely be on a path to achieving your next goal: landing an interview with your top choice MBA program .

4.2. Achievement Essays

Though a few programs do include questions about failures (most notably INSEAD and Columbia), most programs ask you about your best and brightest moments.

When writing your achievement essay, remember that you’re telling the story of the war through the eyes of a soldier — meaning your showing who you are as a professional with one, clear representative example.

This means sticking to one story.

how to format mba essay

You should also make sure you focus on demonstrating a specific set of strengths.

Though many achievements are open-ended enough for you to demonstrate 10 different skills MBAs highly value , including all 10 means you won’t have enough evidence to prove you truly possess these capabilities.

In any good essay, we need a reason to believe you have the skills and strengths you claim to possess. The only way to give your reader this evidence is to show rather than tell .

If you try to cram too much in, you simply won’t have the word count to fully justify all your strengths, resulting in a shallow, ineffective essay that will fall short of selling you to elite

Example MBA essay questions on achievements

So now that you’ve thought about your best achievements and know how to present them, what types of MBA essay questions can you actually expect to answer this way?

Though there are many schools that ask about your greatest hits, one of the schools that solicits an achievements essay most directly is INSEAD .

INSEAD’s Motivation Essay 2 asks you to “ Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (approximately 400 words) ”

Considering that you’re tasked with presenting the achievement of which you are the proudest , you must be absolutely certain that you are choosing an example that shows the admissions committee your most relevant positive attributes.

Choosing a relatively recent example (unless you really have a show-stopper from earlier in your career) is also generally preferable.

how to format mba essay

Furthermore, since you’ll need to discuss one failure, one achievement and what you learned from both in just 400 words, it’s extremely important to stay focused on one achievement and use the STAR method to quickly yet efficiently guide the reader through your essay.

For more info on how to write INSEAD essays in a manner that secures your place in their highly-coveted 1-year MBA, check out our INSEAD essay analysis !

Unlike INSEAD’s direct question, these schools’ essays can be thought of achievements essays in disguise!

Though Harvard changes its essay prompt each year, the core directive year after year is to show the admissions committee who you are and what you can contribute to the HBS community by discussing your previous achievements.

Let’s take their 2017-2018 essay question , for example.

(SOURCE: Harvard Business School)

Though you may be tempted just to reiterate your CV, this essay works best when you choose a clear theme and present various related achievements in your life to prove your thesis.

For example, a recent client who came from an underprivileged background and beat the odds to land a top consulting job before moving to government centered his essay around dreaming big and turning these dreams into a reality.

He then told stories of how he was the first of his family to attend an elite university, how he partnered with the Chilean government to overhaul their healthcare programs, and finally, how he reshaped his state governor’s entire internal transportation strategy to free up resources and redirect them towards initiatives that benefited the needy.

In the end, he had presented a compelling case that captured the admissions committee’s attention.

Other examples of this type of open-ended achievements essay include Stanford’s notorious “ What matters most to you and why? ”

TOP TIP : For the HBS and Stanford essays mentioned above, you will need to break the “1-story” rule and will instead choose several complementary stories to highlight multiple accomplishments. All stories should be told using the STAR method and should reinforce your personal brand.

4.3. Reapplicant Essays

Perhaps you applied to business school last year but weren’t quite able to turn land a spot at your dream school.

That doesn’t mean you should give up on your business school dream! We have worked with numerous reapplicants who have secured spots at Harvard, Columbia, and other elite MBA programs only the second time around .

As a reapplicant, however, you need to be conscious of the fact that you have a unique challenge that first-time applicants do not. First and most importantly, you must reflect on why you were not admitted the first time around.

Though there are many factors that go into play, some of the most common reasons a candidate is dinged are: a low GMAT, a lack of clearly-defined goals, and a failure to demonstrate fit with his or her target school.

As such, throughout your application, you must focus on showing the admissions committee how you have grown and evolved as a person and professional since your last application.

One of the most appropriate places to do so is in your reapplicant essay.

Let’s take a look at Columbia Business School’s prompt for reapplicants (especially critical given the fact that this is the only essay CBS allows reapplicants to submit).

The question states:

The question is perfect in its clarity. Columbia wants you to get to the point, showing them how you have grown and what your short term and long term goals are.

Though not all business schools ask the question in exactly the same way, your task is the same: show them the “new and improved you.”

Keep reading for our top tips on how to write this essay (including past successful essay) in the next section.

What does a “good” optional essay include?

When writing your reapplicant essay, you should keep the world “delta” in mind.

Defined as the “ an increment of a variable ,” in your application, delta should be defined to mean the difference between old you and new you.

Though there are many ways to demonstrate “delta,” some of the most effective in a reapplicant essay include:

  • A higher GMAT score
  • Clarified or refined goals
  • Additional leadership or managerial responsibilities at work
  • Additional international experience
  • New or additional community service experiences
  • Any other changes or improvements that will enhance your ability to contribute to the diversity of an elite MBA classroom

Let’s take our client Pedro for example.

The year before putting the Ellin Lolis Advantage to work for him, he had submitted an application to Columbia Business School that, among its greatest flaws, did not state coherent goals. Though Pedro had built a strong finance career, he focused his post-MBA goals in his first application on launching an art gallery.

For the admissions committee, it was a bit too much of a jump, and Pedro was dinged without interview.

After coming to us and critically reviewing his application , we developed a new line of attack that leveraged his company’s desire to sponsor his MBA and then give him a leading role in expanding the company’s regional presence.

Furthermore, we focused on showing how he had sought to grow as a leader both at work and in the community to really reinforce the value he could bring to Columbia.

Here’s how he did that:

“Not being admitted to the Columbia MBA was a big failure for me, though I can now see it was important, as it helped me realize what passion to follow, where I needed to improve, and what I needed to do to accomplish these things. Thus, I took steps to come closer to reaching my goals.

After going through a process of self-reflection and talking to many people, including the president of BANK, I realized that the bank has many opportunities for development, and not just in Brazil. BANK’s expansion throughout Latin America will require home-grown talent that is able to implement our DNA in a way that is compatible with local cultures and business practices. I want to play an important role in this process in two different ways. By acting as a connector, I will establish relationships with local players and open new markets to Brazilian companies. By building the adequate organizational structure, I will help prepare and manage our future leaders in this task.

Having decided on my goals, I started working on my own development. Professionally, I improved my negotiation skills when helping clients avoid default in the current economic environment. Although I still don’t directly manage people, I formally took art in the bank’s institutional recruiting and coaching of interns. Additionally, I engaged in two external consulting projects to restructure the bank’s commercial department. These projects gave me greater insight into the areas of general management and organizational planning.

Although I decided not to pursue the arts as a career, it remains a strong passion of mine. Therefore, I have continued to run and improve my volunteer organization “Integrarte,” which takes underprivileged children to museums to increase their interaction with art. Recently, I have taken steps to add an arts education component to the initiative and have been developing a methodology to scale the project with NGOs using a feasible, low-cost model. I believe that combining business skills with an inner passion for arts can help me continue to share this passion with others.

Now that I am sure where I am going, the Columbia MBA is even more essential to enable me to thrive. I am looking forward to hearing Carlos Brito talk about the challenges of transforming a local company into a global giant. Also, attending classes such as “The Future of Financial Services” and “Napoleon’s Glance” will help me better understand the financial industry and improve my decision making skills for the future. Outside of the classroom, I am excited to participate in the Arts and Culture Club and am interested in organizing a trip to Inhotim in Brazil to explore the combination of arts and social empowerment.

Lastly, I also expanded my network of contacts, getting in touch with CBS alumni and current students, such as Gabriel Adde, a close friend of mine. This enabled me to get to know the school even better and has only reinforced that Columbia is the best possible fit for my post-MBA goals, as it is the only school that provides the combination of learning specific concepts of finance from top-level faculty and contact with people from all of the globe in a city where the cultural and professional possibilities are truly limitless.”

In your own reapplicant essay, you should similarly discuss how you have overcome any weak spots in your application and provide evidence that reinforces your strong interest in your target MBA program.

With those elements in place, you should be well on your way to reaching your long-awaited goal of attending an elite business school.

4.4. Optional Essays

In the past, the optional essay section was extremely open-ended, with questions like LBS ’s 2015-2016 question “Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (this question is optional) (300 words). ”

This type of question was perfect for applicants to highlight another skill, activity, or experience that they wanted to share with the admissions committee but didn’t quite manage to squeeze in anywhere else.

How times have changed!

Not only have essay questions become shorter in general , the optional essay has become almost standardized across business schools.

how to format mba essay

Take Kellogg ’s optional essay from 2017, for example. The question asks “ If needed, use this section to briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.)”.

A nearly identical question is used for the optional essay prompt for most of the other top MBA programs.

The change in wording makes it clear that business schools do not want extra essays. They only want to hear about extenuating circumstances .

Considering the fact anything you write will add additional work for your reader and how important it is to follow instructions, truly reflect on whether or not your case needs explaining in an optional essay.

Good reasons to write optional essays include:

  • A low GMAT score or poor academic performance
  • Explaining your choice of recommenders
  • Explaining any gaps or confusing jumps in your work experience
  • Any relevant personal circumstances that have greatly influenced your application
  • How you have grown as a candidate since reapplying only if the school you are applying to does not have a dedicated reapplicant essay .

Though it’s tempting to fill every box with information about why you are a great fit for your dream school, resist this temptation and make sure, first and foremost, that you follow instructions .

In a word: brevity .

In some cases, the admissions officer reviewing your file has already read more than 1,000 words before getting to your optional essay.

how to format mba essay

This means that they don’t need to read a novel about why your boss is not writing one of your letters of recommendation.

In most cases, a simple explanation is more than enough to get the point across.

If you need to explain a shortcoming in your application — such as a low GMAT score — you also want to make sure to provide evidence that you are still well-suited to add value to your target school’s MBA program.

For example, despite building a challenging, high-performance career in the financial markets, this applicant’s Quant score on the GMAT exam was lower than ideal.

To show his score was not an accurate reflection of his abilities, he included this optional essay: “First, I would like to address my low GMAT quantitative score. Math has never been a problem for me. As such, I chose to pursue a career in the financial markets, a very quantitative industry. I have been improving my math skills, mainly in statistics and probability, for more than 10 years at university and in my career. I have also done professional courses in derivatives and risk management, and have passed though the first two stages of the CFA certification process. As a result, despite my low score, I strongly believe that I have the quantitative skills necessary to thrive in the Michigan MBA program.”

Though this is slightly on the long side for an optional essay, the candidate had ample evidence to present to offset his less-than-stellar performance. In the end, the essay was enough to earn him an admissions offer.

Finally, be careful where you draw attention.

If your Quant score on GMAT was 50 rather than an elusive, perfect 51, there is no need to explain this. More likely than not, the admissions committee member reading this optional essay will respond with an eye roll.

As such, think carefully about where your application and/or profile may be slightly below average for the school to which you are applying and address only these issues.

4.5. Video Essays

Though many applicants see video essays as a major headache, they have become increasingly popular, with more and more schools adopting the practice each year.

how to format mba essay

Considering the stress the video essays cause applicants, why do business schools seem to love the practice?

Niki da Silva, former Director of Admissions at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School (the school that started the whole video essay trend) said that the video essay allows the admissions team to screen for different skills and competencies in the admissions process.

That’s because the video format gives the admissions committee the chance to truly “meet” candidates — as well as identify red flags in applicants.

According to INSEAD’s admissions committee, “ The video should be seen as a unique opportunity for you to share your passions, your motivations and who you truly are. The MBA Admissions Committee is interested in obtaining an authentic view of you as a person, to see how you think on your feet and how you convey your ideas. ”

With that in mind, it’s extremely important to make sure you fully understand this component of the application.

How does the video essay work?

Though the specifics vary slightly from school to school, the general elements of the video essay are relatively similar.

In all cases, you will sign into an online platform (most often you will receive the link to access the platform via email after submitting your application).

After signing in, you will receive a set of questions (usually ranging from 2-4) on a variety of topics ranging from why you want to attend a particular school, to ice breaker questions, to standard interview-type questions.

For all schools, the timing mechanism will be slightly different, but you can expect to have between 20-60 seconds to prepare your answer and between 45-90 seconds to deliver your answers.

In all cases, you can not redo questions .

If you’d like to get a head start in preparing for your video essays, we’ve compiled a list of our top tips (including practice questions!) to ensure you perform at your very best.

5. Editing your Essays

How do you make sure your essays are as professional as they can be, that they reflect your personality, and that they are truly unique?

That’s where editing comes in.

But what is editing good for, anyway?

Why do you need to get your MBA admissions essays edited? You may be an excellent writer, or at least a creative and capable candidate. Do you really need to have your essay edited?

Yes. You do.

Anyone can write a good essay. But to write a great one, you need a bit of expertise and focused direction . That’s what editing can provide.

Editing an essay means taking an in-depth look at all of its aspects. This may range from simple grammar (especially if English isn’t your first language) to content itself and beyond towards storytelling techniques and organization. If you are curious, this article from the University of Leicester gives a detailed overview of the significance of editing.

You may be excellent at perfecting some of these aspects – and feel you may not need an editor – but crafting all of them together to create a truly persuasive essay takes expertise that the average applicant should take advantage of.

Think of your favorite book or that magazine article you read yesterday. The authors are both excellent writers, no doubt. Nevertheless, neither one would even think of putting their words to print before it has landed on the desk of an experienced editor. In fact, that author probably did this multiple times before anyone else even read the title.

how to format mba essay

The point is, all great writers need great editors. Your MBA admissions essay should be no exception.

What does a good editor do?

So, does a good editor just correct mistakes? Shouldn’t anyone fluent in English be able to do that with a quick read?

Of course not.

First of all, an editor does much more than just proofread your essay. Second of all, editing is not a ‘quick read’ kind of process. (If you want more information about the difference between editing and proofreading, the Writing Center of the University of North Carolina provides this comprehensive overview .)

Many types of editing are essential for a successful MBA admissions essay, so let’s take a closer look at them.

5.1. Strategic vs. Traditional Edits

Here at Ellin Lolis Consulting , we concentrate on two types of editing to make your essay the best it can be. We call these technical edits and strategic edits . But what are they, exactly?

Technical editing: The basic ingredients of an MBA essay

Technical editing is probably what comes to mind when you imagine someone else reading your MBA essay. It includes adapting elements like grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, word choice, and word count . However, executing these changes correctly – and comprehensively – is not always as straightforward as it may seem.

These type of corrections guarantee that your essay adheres to the standard use of the English language. On the one hand, technical editing ensures that your readers can understand what you are saying (and sometimes not even being 100% grammatically correct guarantees that!).

As pointed out in this clarifying article by Shana Lebowitz , grammar or punctuation mistakes can often lead to misunderstandings, or simply ambiguous statements – something you obviously want to avoid in your essay.

On the other hand, these adjustments are often what gives your essay that professional touch.

Although the admissions board is not judging you on your language skills, poor use of language could still contribute negatively to their perception of you. You wouldn’t want to give the admissions board the idea that you don’t pay attention to detail just because you use inconsistent capitalization. Not only are such oversights unnecessary, they are easy to avoid in the first place.

Think of technical editing as the basic ingredients to any MBA essay. They are an essential base for a successful recipe. If nothing else, you need to make sure your essay uses language correctly in order to spice it up later.

Strategic editing: the secret ingredient to an outstanding MBA essay

Strategic editing goes far beyond making sure your use of language is simply correct. Instead, it ensures that your use of language is effective . An effective use of language will be what makes your MBA essay stand out to the admissions board.

Strategic editing includes relevance, story shaping, clarity, and targeting the school . In other words, strategic editing focuses primarily on fine-tuning content.

That is not to say it is your editor’s job to come up with a relevant story for your essay. Instead, it is their job to tell you if the story you’ve chosen is appropriate in the first place and how much detail that story should go into.

Strategic editing is like the secret ingredient to your MBA essay recipe. These edits are the spices that will make your readers – the admissions board – remember your essay for being profound and unique.

5.2. Cutting Words

You may find yourself with an essay that is way too long. How can you go about shortening it?

how to format mba essay

Although this may seem like a challenge, it is one you can overcome. Our editors are very practiced at this, and are glad to help you if you get stuck.

For example, in a recent essay for UCLA Anderson School of Management, one of our clients found herself with an essay of nearly 900 words; the limit for the essay was 500. Using the following strategies, we were able to get her word count down to 486.

Strategy #1: Revisit your stories

The easiest way to reduce word count is to take another pass at each of your stories. Are there any parts that are repetitive? Is there anything that is not essential to the story? Tangents? Searching for these is a good way to drastically reduce your word count.

Strategy #2: Reduce “of” constructions

There are two ways to express possession in English. Take a look at the difference between these two sentences:

“I won the admiration of my supervisor” (7 words) vs. “ I won my supervisor’s admiration” (5 words)

Simply by trading out the “of” phrase here and replacing it with the possessive noun phrase, you can make your sentences shorter.

Strategy #3: Reduce “I think/wish/believe…” phrases

Everything in your essay is authored by you, a fact that is obvious to your admissions board. Beginning sentences with “I think…” phrases are, therefore, unnecessary. Removing phrases like this not only reduces word count, it will also make your statements stronger. Take a look at the following example:

“I believe that Stanford Graduate School of Business will be the key to furthering my professional career.” (17 words)

Now take a look at the sentence with the “I think…” phrase removed:

“Stanford Graduate School of Business will be the key to furthering my professional career.” (14 words)

Strategy #4: Reduce passive voice

You are the center of your essay, so the action should always be focused on you. This means you should avoid being the object of the sentence and passive voice.

Take a look at this example:

“The project was completed by my team in November 2017.” (10 words)

Here, the project is the subject of the sentence and in focus, not your team. Instead, you could bring the focus back to you by phrasing it like this:

“My team completed the project in November 2017.” (8 words)

This is only one example of passive voice and how you can reduce it in your MBA admissions essay, but there are other passive constructions that you can watch for. If you want to learn more about how to avoid passive voice, the University of Toronto offers some insightful writing advice on the topic.

These tips will help reduce your word count while unlocking your MBA essay’s true potential. Not only will their application limit your essay to the most essential information, it will make sure your reader gets an authentic look at the person behind the words.

5.3. A Word on Feedback

Self-reflection of any type is challenging.

It can be a complex task to identify your profile’s strengths and then develop a surgically precise essay to demonstrate how these strengths demonstrate you’d be a great fit for your dream school.

For that reason, feedback on your essays can be a fantastic tool to ensure that your writing is well-structured and compelling.

how to format mba essay

However, it’s important to carefully consider who you approach for feedback.

Though friends and family members are surely some of your greatest supporters during your MBA process, they may not be the best editors for your application essays.

This is because they are unlikely to know what the school’s are really looking for in terms of values, achievements, and career plans. They can be helpful with more personal essays, like Stanford, and can be a good gauge of how authentic your essay is.

For more specific feedback on how your essay captures what a particular school offers, you may want to share your essay with alumni or current students from that program . They can often cue you in to new offerings that might not be widely publicized and can help you capture the essence of their alma maters .

A word of caution, however. Every person will have a slightly different view on what you should add or change , so make sure to limit the number of people you approach for feedback to ensure your essay doesn’t become a wandering road with no destination.

Finally, although editing may seem straightforward, it involves much more than just touching up grammar and straightening out stray sentences. Technical editing, although important, is not enough to really get your essay into shape .

Instead, it is the combination of technical editing with the more complex strategic editing that will make your MBA admissions essay truly stand out. Taking advantage of both of these is essential for creating an essay that your admissions board will remember.

Of course, there is nothing better than working with a professional. Here at Ellin Lolis Consulting , we have the experience to strategically edit your essay to make it as intriguing, unique, and professional as possible. Contact us today to help you get the ball rolling on your MBA admissions essay.

6. Make Sure your Story Shines

It’s no secret that elite MBAs receive applications from many more applicants than they can admit.

But did you know that Harvard estimates that 80% of it’s 10,000+ applicants are fully qualified to attend?

how to format mba essay

Considering these stats, it’s not just important that your achievements essays help you stand out from a large crowd of qualified professionals, it is essential that they do so .

Yet crafting the perfect essay is easier said than done.

That’s why many candidates turn to us to help put our 99% acceptance rate and personalized approach to work for them .

Not only can we help you develop a strong personal brand and identify the achievements that will best reinforce your brand, our expert team of editors can also ensure you’re able to turn ideas into essays that cut through the noise and help the admissions committee connect with you and your ideas.

As our client (and Berkeley Haas grad) Kelsey Pecherer said, “I was so impressed with Ellin Lolis Consulting’s eye for detail, and her ability to help me refine my points without losing my voice in the essays. They understand the specific characteristics that each top MBA program is looking for. ”

Want to put the Ellin Lolis Advantage to work for your admissions essays?

MBA Essay Tips

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Most graduate business programs require applicants to submit at least one MBA essay as part of the application process. Admissions committees use essays, along with other application components , to determine whether or not you are a good fit for their business school. A well-written MBA essay can increase your chances of acceptance and help you stand out among other applicants.

Choosing an MBA Essay Topic

In most cases, you will be assigned a topic or instructed to answer a specific question. However, there are some schools that allow you to choose a topic or select from a shortlist of provided topics.

If you are given the opportunity to choose your own MBA essay topic, you should make strategic choices that allow you to highlight your best qualities. This may include an essay that demonstrates your leadership ability, an essay that showcases your ability to overcome obstacles or an essay that clearly defines your career goals.

Chances are, you will be asked to submit multiple essays, usually two or three. You may also have the opportunity to submit an "optional essay ." Optional essays are usually guideline and topic free, which means you can write about anything you want. Find out when to use the optional essay .

Whatever topic you choose, be sure to come up with stories that support the topic or answer a specific question. Your MBA essay should be focused and feature you as the central player.

Common MBA Essay Topics

Remember, most business schools will provide you with a topic to write on. Although topics can vary from school to school, there are a few common topics/questions that can be found on many business school applications. They include:

  • Why attend this business school?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • What will you do with your degree?
  • How will a degree help you achieve your goals?
  • Why do you want an MBA?
  • What matters to you most and why?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is your biggest accomplishment?
  • What is your biggest regret?
  • How have you failed in the past?
  • How do you respond to adversity?
  • What challenges have you overcome?
  • Who do you admire most and why?
  • Who are you?
  • How will you contribute to this program?
  • Why do you have leadership potential?
  • How do you explain weaknesses in your academic record?

Answer the Question

One of the biggest mistakes that MBA applicants make is not answering the question they are asked. If you are asked about your professional goals, then professional goals should be the focus of the essay. If you are asked about your failures, you should discuss mistakes you have made and lessons you have learned, not accomplishments or success.

Stick to the topic and avoid beating around the bush. Your essay should be direct and pointed from start to finish. It should also focus on you. Remember, an MBA essay is meant to introduce you to the admissions committee. You should be the main character of the story. It is okay to describe admiring someone else, learning from someone else, or helping someone else, but these mentions should support the story of you, not cover it up.

Basic Essay Tips

As with any essay assignment, you'll want to carefully follow any instructions you are given. Again, answer the question assigned to you, keep it focused and concise. It is also important to pay attention to word counts. If you are asked for a 500-word essay, you should aim for 500 words, rather than 400 or 600. Make every word count.

Your essay should also be readable and grammatically correct. The entire paper should be free of errors. Do not use special paper or a crazy font. Keep it simple and professional. Above all, give yourself enough time to write your MBA essays. You don’t want to have to slop through them and turn in something that's less than your best work simply because you had to meet a deadline.

More Essay Writing Tips

Remember that the #1 rule when writing an MBA essay is to answer the question/stay on topic. When you have finished your essay, ask at least two people to proofread it and guess the topic or question you were trying to answer. If they do not guess correctly, you should revisit the essay and adjust the focus until your proofreaders can easily tell what the essay is supposed to be about.

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  • Self Assessment and Writing a Graduate Admissions Essay
  • How Long Should Your Common Application Short Answer Essay Be?
  • Topic of Your Choice: Common Application Essay Tips
  • How to Write an Outstanding College Application Essay
  • Do You Make a Good MBA Candidate?
  • Common Topics for Graduate School Admissions Essays
  • The 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts


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MBA Essay 101: Write, Edit, and Impress Your Way into Your Dream Business School

Emma W.

Table of contents

Getting an MBA is a significant step towards a rewarding career. But before you get there, you must navigate the challenging task of writing a compelling MBA essay. This critical piece is more than a mere application requirement - it's your chance to shine, to show the admissions committee who you truly are and what you bring to the table.

Mind-blowing facts!

  • GMAC reported a significant increase in applications to MBA programs globally in 2020, with 67% of programs stating that they had seen a rise in applications.
  • According to the Financial Times 2021 Global MBA ranking, alumni of MBA programs saw an average salary increase of 100% three years after graduation compared to their pre-MBA salary.
  • According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' 2021 Job Outlook report, writing skills were among the top attributes employers seek on a candidate's resume.
  • A study by Grammarly found that professionals who made fewer grammar errors in their LinkedIn profiles achieved higher positions and switched jobs less frequently.

In this blog post, we'll guide you on how to write and format an MBA essay that gets noticed. We'll focus on uncovering your unique story, crafting a compelling narrative, and fine-tuning your essay to stand out from the crowd. So, let's dive in and start your journey to creating an unforgettable MBA essay.

Grasping the Essence of Your MBA Essay Prompt: The Foundation of a Stellar Response

Before we delve into the actual writing process, let's take a moment to understand the real task at hand. Each MBA essay prompt is a carefully crafted question designed to reveal specific aspects about you. Knowing this, your mission is to align your response perfectly with what the prompt asks. It's not about creating a one-size-fits-all answer but tailoring your essay to meet the unique demands of each question.

For instance, if the prompt asks you to describe a significant leadership experience, you're being invited to showcase your leadership skills, team collaboration, problem-solving abilities, and more. Look beyond the obvious and find the deeper meaning within the question.

Keep in mind that MBA admission teams read thousands of essays. They can tell when a candidate has taken time to understand the prompt and when someone is just trying to fit a generic response. Always tailor your answer to the question. Remember, it's not just about what you write, but how you relate it to the question asked.

NOTE : Understanding the task is the first step to writing a compelling MBA essay. Fail to understand, and you risk misaligning your response and missing the mark.

The Art of Introspection: Finding Your Unique Story

Writing a compelling MBA essay demands introspection, a journey within to find that unique story that will pique the interest of the admissions committee. This is your chance to move beyond the scores and grades and present yourself as a living, aspiring individual with a distinct narrative.

The first step in this process is to identify your values, aspirations, strengths, and even weaknesses. Reflect on your experiences, both professional and personal. Ask yourself what challenges you've faced, how you overcame them, and how these experiences shaped your career goals.

Once you have a clearer understanding of your personal narrative, it's time to tie this to your aspirations for your MBA and beyond. Consider why you want an MBA and why now. Reflect on what you hope to achieve professionally and personally, and how an MBA will help you bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.

Remember , authenticity is crucial here. The admissions committee reads thousands of essays, and a genuine, well-told story will always stand out. Try to be specific, focus on a few key stories or experiences, and really delve into the details. This is much more effective than trying to cover too much ground with generalities.

As you go through this introspection, keep in mind that this is not just a task for your MBA essay, but a meaningful exercise in self-understanding that can benefit you throughout your life and career.

Key Aspects to Craft an MBA Essay that Resonates

  • Start Strong
  • Be Clear and Concise
  • Show, Don't Tell
  • Highlight Your Unique Attributes
  • Keep it Authentic
  • Connect it to the School

Having conducted your introspection and identified your unique story, the next step is to weave these insights into a compelling narrative. This is where you connect the dots, aligning your past experiences, your present motivations, and your future aspirations into a clear and compelling story. Here are some key aspects to consider:

1. Start Strong : Capture the attention of the admissions committee right from the start. Your first paragraph should serve as a hook, engaging the reader and making them want to continue reading.

2. Be Clear and Concise : While your story might be complex, your telling of it shouldn’t be. Avoid jargon, write in plain English, and keep your sentences concise. Remember, clarity and precision often make for stronger impressions than flowery language.

3. Show, Don't Tell : Whenever possible, illustrate your points with stories and examples. Don't just say you're a great leader; show it through a story that demonstrates your leadership skills.

4. Highlight Your Unique Attributes : What sets you apart from other candidates? Is it a unique skill, an unusual experience, a particular passion? Make sure your unique attributes come through in your essay.

5. Keep it Authentic : Be honest, be humble, and be yourself. The goal isn't to present an image of who you think the admissions committee wants, but to present the real you.

6. Connect it to the School : Show that you've done your homework about the school and program. How will this specific MBA program help you achieve your goals? Be specific.

REMEMBER : writing a compelling essay takes time. Be ready to write multiple drafts until you've created an essay that truly represents you and makes a strong case for your admission.

How to Sidestep Common Errors in MBA Essay Writing

Creating an impactful MBA essay is as much about avoiding missteps as it is about executing positive strategies. Here are some common pitfalls you should look out for and avoid:

1. Rehashing Your Resume : The admissions committee already has your resume. Don't waste precious essay space repeating information they already know. Instead, delve deeper and share the stories behind your achievements and experiences.

2. Ignoring the Question : Stay focused on the essay prompt. Straying off-topic will make it seem like you can't follow instructions or don't have a clear narrative.

3. Using Cliches and Jargon : Expressions like "think outside the box" or "synergize" are overused and often vague. Instead, use specific, clear language to express your ideas.

4. Neglecting to Proofread : Typos, grammar mistakes, and sloppy formatting can suggest a lack of attention to detail. Always proofread your essay multiple times, and consider having a friend or mentor review it as well.

5. Making Unsupported Claims : If you claim you're a great leader, provide an example of a leadership challenge you faced and how you handled it. Concrete examples always trump unsupported claims.

6. Neglecting the 'Why This School' Element : Admissions committees want to know why you chose their school. Research the program and be specific about how it aligns with your career goals.

7. Forgetting to Reflect Your Personality : Your essay should give the admissions committee a sense of who you are. Let your personality shine through.

In conclusion, by being mindful of these common mistakes and actively avoiding them, you can enhance the quality and impact of your MBA essay. This will help ensure your application stands out for the right reasons.

The Role of Editing and Proofreading in Your MBA Essay

Writing your MBA essay is just the first part of the process. The editing and proofreading phase is where good essays become great. Here's why this step is so crucial:

1. Clarity and Coherence : Editing helps ensure that your essay presents a clear, coherent narrative. It's a chance to check that you've fully answered the prompt, that your paragraphs flow logically from one to the next, and that your overall argument makes sense.

2. Elimination of Errors : Proofreading catches spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors that could distract from your content. Even small mistakes can give an impression of carelessness.

3. Consistency : This is where you check that your use of tense, language, and formatting is consistent throughout the essay. Consistency contributes to the overall readability and professionalism of your piece.

4. Tone and Style : The editing process is also a chance to refine your essay's tone and style, ensuring it sounds like you and reflects your personality.

Don't rush this step. Set your essay aside for a day or two and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Remember, seeking outside perspectives from mentors, friends, or asking someone to edit your paper can provide valuable insights to further polish your essay.

Mastering the art of MBA essay writing is a journey. It requires introspection, understanding the task, crafting your story, and avoiding common missteps. Remember, your MBA essay is a platform to showcase your uniqueness and potential to the admissions committee.

Finally, never underestimate the value of a well-edited and proofread essay. However, if you find this process daunting or simply don't have the time, professional help is just a click away. At Writers Per Hour, we have a team of experts ready to help craft your MBA essay. Take the first step towards your dream MBA program - reach out to us today!

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Essays help us learn about who you are rather than solely what you have done.

Other parts of the application give insight into your academic and professional accomplishments; the essays reveal the person behind those achievements.

Essay Questions

We request that you write two personal essays.

In each essay, we want to hear your genuine voice. Think carefully about your values, passions, aims, and dreams. There is no “right answer” to these questions — the best answer is the one that is truest for you.

Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?

For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?

Essay B: Why Stanford?

Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.

Both essays combined may not exceed 1,000 words. We recommend up to 650 words for Essay A and up to 350 words for Essay B. We often read effective essays that are written in fewer words.

Editing Your Essays

Begin work on the essays early to give yourself time to reflect, write, and edit.

Feel free to ask friends or family members for feedback, especially about whether the tone and voice sound like you. Your family and friends know you better than anyone. If they think the essays do not capture who you are, what you believe, and what you aspire to do, then surely we will be unable to recognize what is distinctive about you.

Feedback vs. Coaching

There is a big difference between “feedback” and “coaching.” You cross that line when any part of the application (excluding the letters of recommendation ) ceases to be exclusively yours in either thought or word.

Appropriate feedback occurs when others review your completed application — perhaps once or twice — and apprise you of omissions, errors, or inaccuracies that you later correct or address. After editing is complete, your thoughts, voice, and style remain intact. Inappropriate coaching occurs when you allow others to craft any part of your application for you and, as a result, your application or self-presentation is not authentic.

It is improper and a violation of the terms of this application process to have another person or tool write your essays. Such behavior will result in denial of your application or revocation of your admission.

Additional Information

If there is any information that is critical for us to know and is not captured elsewhere, include it in the Additional Information section of the application. Pertinent examples include:

  • Extenuating circumstances affecting your candidacy, including academic, work, or test-taking experiences
  • Academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere
  • Explanation of why you are not using a current supervisor as a recommender

This section should not be used as an additional essay.

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how to format mba essay

Get science-backed answers as you write with Paperpal's Research feature

How to Structure an Essay

essay structure

Essay writing is a fundamental skill, a basic task, that is expected of those who choose to pursue their undergraduate and master’s degrees. It constitutes a key requirement for students to complete a given course credit. However, many students and early career researchers find themselves struggling with the challenge of organizing their thoughts into a coherent, engaging structure. This article is especially for those who see essay writing as a daunting task and face problems in presenting their work in an impactful way.  

Table of Contents

  • Writing an essay: basic elements and some key principles  
  • Essay structure template 
  • Chronological structure 
  • Problem-methods-solutions structure 
  • Compare and contrast structures 
  • Frequently asked questions on essay structure 

Read on as we delve into the basic elements of essay writing, outline key principles for organizing information, and cover some foundational features of writing essays.  

Writing an essay: basic elements and some key principles

Essays are written in a flowing and continuous pattern but with a structure of its own. An introduction, body and conclusion are integral to it. The key is to balance the amount and kind of information to be presented in each part. Various disciplines may have their own conventions or guidelines on the information to be provided in the introduction.  

A clear articulation of the context and background of the study is important, as is the definition of key terms and an outline of specific models or theories used. Readers also need to know the significance of the study and its implications for further research. Most importantly, the thesis or the main proposition should be clearly presented.  

The body of the essay is therefore organized into paragraphs that hold the main ideas and arguments and is presented and analyzed in a logical manner. Ideally, each paragraph of the body focuses on one main point or a distinct topic and must be supported by evidence and analysis. The concluding paragraph should bring back to the reader the key arguments, its significance and food for thought. It is best not to re-state all the points of the essay or introduce a new concept here. 

In other words, certain general guidelines help structure the information in the essay. The information must flow logically with the context or the background information presented in the introductory part of the essay. The arguments are built organically where each paragraph in the body of the essay deals with a different point, yet closely linked to the para preceding and following it. Importantly, when writing essays, early career researchers must be careful in ensuring that each piece of information relates to the main thesis and is a building block to the arguments. 

Essay structure template

  • Introduction 
  • Provide the context and share significance of the study 
  • Clearly articulate the thesis statement 
  • Body  
  • Paragraph 1 consisting of the first main point, followed by supporting evidence and an analysis of the findings. Transitional words and phrases can be used to move to the next main point. 
  • There can be as many paragraphs with the above-mentioned elements as there are points and arguments to support your thesis. 
  • Conclusion  
  • Bring in key ideas and discuss their significance and relevance 
  • Call for action 
  • References 

Essay structures

The structure of an essay can be determined by the kind of essay that is required.  

Chronological structure

Also known as the cause-and-effect approach, this is a straightforward way to structure an essay. In such essays, events are discussed sequentially, as they occurred from the earliest to the latest. A chronological structure is useful for discussing a series of events or processes such as historical analyses or narratives of events. The introduction should have the topic sentence. The body of the essay should follow a chorological progression with each para discussing a major aspect of that event with supporting evidence. It ends with a summarizing of the results of the events.  

Problem-methods-solutions structure

Where the essay focuses on a specific problem, the problem-methods-solutions structure can be used to organize the essay. This structure is ideal for essays that address complex issues. It starts with presenting the problem, the context, and thesis statement as introduction to the essay. The major part of the discussion which forms the body of the essay focuses on stating the problem and its significance, the author’s approach or methods adopted to address the problem along with its relevance, and accordingly proposing solution(s) to the identified problem. The concluding part offers a recap of the research problem, methods, and proposed solutions, emphasizing their significance and potential impact. 

Compare and contrast structures

This structure of essay writing is ideally used when two or more key subjects require a comparison of ideas, theories, or phenomena. The three crucial elements, introduction, body, and conclusion, remain the same. The introduction presents the context and the thesis statement. The body of the essay seeks to focus on and highlight differences between the subjects, supported by evidence and analysis. The conclusion is used to summarize the key points of comparison and contrast, offering insights into the significance of the analysis.  

Depending on how the subjects will be discussed, the body of the essay can be organized according to the block method or the alternating method. In the block method, one para discusses one subject and the next para the other subject. In the alternative method, both subjects are discussed in one para based on a particular topic or issue followed by the next para on another issue and so on.  

Frequently asked questions on essay structure

An essay structure serves as a framework for presenting ideas coherently and logically. It comprises three crucial elements: an introduction that communicates the context, topic, and thesis statement; the body focusing on the main points and arguments supported with appropriate evidence followed by its analysis; and a conclusion that ties together the main points and its importance .  

An essay structure well-defined essay structure enhances clarity, coherence, and readability, and is crucial for organizing ideas and arguments to effectively communicate key aspects of a chosen topic. It allows readers to better understand arguments presented and demonstrates the author’s ability to organize and present information systematically. 

Yes, while expert recommend following an essay structure, early career researchers may choose how best to adapt standard essay structures to communicate and share their research in an impactful and engaging way. However, do keep in mind that deviating too far from established structures can hinder comprehension and weaken the overall effectiveness of the essay,  By understanding the basic elements of essay writing and employing appropriate structures such as chronological, problem-methods-solutions, or compare and contrast, researchers can effectively organize their ideas and communicate their findings with clarity and precision. 

Paperpal is a comprehensive AI writing toolkit that helps students and researchers achieve 2x the writing in half the time. It leverages 21+ years of STM experience and insights from millions of research articles to provide in-depth academic writing, language editing, and submission readiness support to help you write better, faster.  

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Related Reads:

Powerful academic phrases to improve your essay writing .

  • How to Paraphrase Research Papers Effectively
  • How to Use AI to Enhance Your College Essays and Thesis
  • How to Cite Social Media Sources in Academic Writing? 

Leveraging Generative AI to Enhance Student Understanding of Complex Research Concepts 

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Revealed: Harvard Business School’s New MBA Essays For Applicants

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how to format mba essay

Harvard Business School’s Baker Library.

With just 10 weeks before its first application deadline on Sept. 4th, Harvard Business School today (June 25) revealed a newly revised application for MBA candidates, including a new set of three short essays along with a refresh on how it will evaluate applicants for future classes.

The new prompts?

Business-Minded Essay : Please reflect on how your experiences have influenced your career choices and aspirations and the impact you will have on the businesses, organizations, and communities you plan to serve. (up to 300 words)

Leadership-Focused Essay : What experiences have shaped who you are, how you invest in others, and what kind of leader you want to become? (up to 250 words)

Growth-Oriented Essay : Curiosity can be seen in many ways. Please share an example of how you have demonstrated curiosity and how that has influenced your growth. (up to 250 words)


Eagerly awaited by thousands of prospective students and admission consultants, you can bet that the admissions pages of the HBS website were continually refreshed all morning for a glimpse at the new essay. The Harvard Business School essay prompt for the Class of 2027 was posted at 10:30 a.m. with the opening of the 2024-2025 application online.

This year’s change was put through by Rupal Gadhia , who joined the school as managing director of admissions and financial aid last October. A 2004 Harvard MBA, Gadhia came to the school with no previous admissions experience, having been the global head of marketing for SharkNinja robots.

In explaining the change in a blog post , Gadhia noted that “we have refreshed the criteria on which we evaluate candidates. We are looking for applicants who are business-minded, leadership-focused, and growth-oriented…This is your opportunity to discuss meaningful or formative experiences that are important to you that you haven’t had a chance to fully explore elsewhere in your application…Be authentic, be yourself.”


The school added some context to its new criteria for admission, more clearly defining what it means by business-minded, leadership-focused, and growth-oriented.


We are looking for individuals who are passionate about using business as a force for good – who strive to improve and transform companies, industries, and the world. We are seeking those who are eager to solve today’s biggest problems and shape the future through creative and integrated thinking. Being business-minded is about the interest to help organizations succeed, whether in the private, public, or non-profit sector. This business inclination can be found in individuals with a variety of professional and educational experiences, not just those who come from traditional business backgrounds.

In Your Application: We will look for evidence of your interpersonal skills, quantitative abilities, and the ways in which you plan to create impact through business in the future.


We are looking for individuals who aspire to lead others toward making a difference in the world, and those who recognize that to build and sustain successful organizations, they must develop and nurture diverse teams. Leadership takes many forms in many contexts – you do not have to have a formal leadership role to make a difference. We deliberately create a class that includes different kinds of leaders, from the front-line manager to the startup founder to the behind-the-scenes thought leader.

In Your Application: Your leadership impact may be most evident in extracurriculars, community initiatives, or your professional work.


We are looking for individuals who desire to broaden their perspectives through creative problem solving, active listening, and lively discussion. At HBS you will be surrounded by future leaders from around the world who will make you think more expansively about what impact you might have. Our case and field-based learning methods depend on the active participation of curious students who are excited to listen and learn from faculty and classmates, as well as contribute their own ideas and perspectives.

In Your Application: We will look for the ways in which you have grown, developed, and how you engage with the world around you.


The new essay prompts come  nearly two months after candidates to the school’s MBA program would more typically know what was expected of them. Some admission consultants say the delay over the prompt’s release, along with nearly a month’s slow down in releasing application deadlines, is “wildly insensitive” to applicants who will have less time than normal to prepare for the round one deadline of Sept. 4th.

That’s especially true because the most successful applicants to HBS have highly demanding jobs that consume the vast majority of their time. Many candidates go through multiple drafts of their essays to get them as close to perfection as humanly possible. MBA admission consultants are expecting a lot of up-to-the-deadline work this year to help prep candidates for Harvard and other top business schools.

The new application still preserves the post-interview reflection for applicants who are invited to a 30-minute admissions interview. Within 24 hours of the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection through the school’s online application system.


Early reaction to the change suggests the likelihood of mixed reviews. “This is an uninspired and odd set of questions,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of and an MBA admissions consultant who closely reads the tea leaves of Harvard’s admissions process. “I don’t know how it’s different from what else do you want us to know about you, frankly,” he adds in a reference to last year’s single essay prompt.

“HBS has certainly moved from the abstract to the concrete,” believes Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “Some applicants previously felt like they didn’t know where to start and some weren’t sure if they had answered the question, even when they were done. Now, the questions are quite straightforward and all have a cause and effect relationship — one where the applicant discusses the past to reveal the present or future. Smart applicants will understand how to share their experiences and, more importantly, how to relay their values. Some will mistakenly try to whack HBS over the head with stories of their epic feats, but the key isn’t to brag or embellish – the key is to simply create a clear relationship, via narrative, between past experience and true motivations.”

Shinewald found it astonishing that Harvard could not have made the change earlier. “It is, of course, surprising that HBS left applicants on edge until the last minute, all to create very traditional essays,” he adds. “As applicants learn in MBA classrooms, change can be hard and take time. The bottom line here is that these essays are somewhat of an applicant’s dream – they allow the savvy applicant to play to their strengths and draw on their best anecdotes and experiences to create a complete story. Some applicants will lament the absence of a ‘Why HBS?’ prompt, but my guess is that the admissions committee recognized that they would get an almost homogenous collection of essays touting the case method and other well known features. HBS gets some kudos for keeping the focus on the applicant.”

Adds Petia Whitmore of My MBA Path: “I think they reflect one of the traits of this new generation of candidates which is that they don’t handle ambiguity well. So it seems like Harvard had to spell out what they’re looking for way more prescriptively than in the past.”

Some, however, find the new essays a return to the past. “To me, the prompts feel quite regressive, and a return to the more formulaic approach that pervaded MBA applications two decades ago,” believes Justin Marshall, a New York-based MBA admissions consultant. “Because the previous prompt was so open ended, it forced applicants to be introspective and self-aware. You couldn’t just ramble for 900 words; you had to identify themes in your life to show how your personal experiences shaped your values, your leadership style, and your goals. Comparatively, these new prompts are much more paint-by-numbers. Applicants will likely cover the same ground in terms of topic, but there’s very little room for nuance and self-expression. I think it will be harder for applicants with less conventional backgrounds and experiences to differentiate themselves. I’m sure HBS grew tired of reading so many painfully earnest ‘life story’ essays, but I suspect they’ll soon find themselves yearning for essays that have a heartbeat and personality. 250 words just doesn’t allow for that unless you’re a very crafty writer.”

Whatever the case, getting into Harvard’s MBA program is still a daunting exercise. Last year, 1,076 of the 8,264 candidates who applied for admission to Harvard Business School gained admission, an acceptance rate of 13.2%, making HBS the second most selective prestige MBA program in the country after Stanford Graduate School of Business which had an admit rate of 8.4%. Harvard saw a 15.4% drop in MBA applications from the 9,773 it received a year-earlier.

Joint degree applicants for the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School must provide an additional essay: How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (up to 400 words)


Joint degree applicants for the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences must provide an additional essay: The MS/MBA Engineering Sciences program is focused on entrepreneurship, design, and innovation. Describe your past experiences in these areas and your reasons for pursuing a program with this focus. (recommended length: 500 words). Applicants will also be able to respond to an optional essay.

In any case, it’s the biggest change in Harvard Business School’s application in nearly a decade. The last time HBS made a major switch, moving to the essay prompt it just eliminated, was in 2016. That change to just one essay with no word limit and a post-interview reflection was made by then admissions chief Dee Leopold.

When Leopold applied to Harvard as an MBA candidate in 1978, she had to write eight essays. Over her years as managing director of admissions, she first cut the essays down to four and then one, making it optional, and finally the one last prompt with a post-interview reflection, saying that applying to HBS should not be a writing contest .

how to format mba essay

OUR BUSINESS CASUAL PODCAST: The New HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL MBA Application:   Fortuna Admissions’ Caroline Diarte-Edwards and ApplicantLab’s Maria Wich-Vila join P&Q’s John A. Byrne to offer applicant advice on how to answer the new HBS essay prompts


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Harvard business school announces 3 new application essays.

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Harvard Business School.

Harvard Business School announced a surprising departure from its single, open-ended application essay to three short essays with specific prompts. The HBS website sums up the kind of applicant the school is seeking: “We are looking for future leaders who are passionate about business, leadership, and growth.”

The prompts for the class that will begin in fall 2025 instruct applicants to address each topic in turn.

  • Business-Minded Essay : Please reflect on how your experiences have influenced your career choices and aspirations and the impact you will have on the businesses, organizations, and communities you plan to serve. (up to 300 words)
  • Leadership-Focused Essay : What experiences have shaped who you are, how you invest in others, and what kind of leader you want to become? (up to 250 words)
  • Growth-Oriented Essay : Curiosity can be seen in many ways. Please share an example of how you have demonstrated curiosity and how that has influenced your growth. (up to 250 words)

The prompts ask applicants to go beyond simply asserting their allegiance to the ideals of business, leadership and growth. Each of the three questions asks for evidence: “experiences,” “experiences” and “an example,” respectively.

The prompts do not expect a straightforward list of what happened in the past. Rather, they encourage reflection on how these experiences affected present realities and future goals.

Applicants are asked to reflect on past, present and future as an ongoing process of becoming who they are now and who they wish to become. Even the “Business-Minded Essay” is about past choices and future impact; it also assumes you “plan to serve.” The “Leadership-Focused Essay” does not ask applicants to recite a list of titles, but to discuss who they are and how they relate to others; not what title they aspire to, but “what kind of leader you wish to become.”

Perhaps the most surprising essay prompt is No. 3, which asks about curiosity. It opens the door for applicants to discuss a more personal aspect of their candidacies. The prompt asks not about end result, but about the process of change. Once again, the emphasis is on “growth.”

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In short, the prompts ask about person and process.

How The 3 New Prompts Differ From Last Year’s Single Question

This year’s prompts give applicants more direction than the previous open-ended instruction, which was: “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”

Applicants may find it easier to follow these more detailed instructions and to stay on topic. They no longer need to face an open question and a blank page.

Another aid is the shorter word limit. The essay on being business-minded has a limit of 300 words, and the essays on leadership and growth through curiosity are limited to 250 words each.

A third difference is the specific inquiry about business. Last year’s prompt allowed candidates to choose anything they thought would be important for HBS to consider. Some applicants struggled to decide whether to focus on business or something beyond work. While the “Business-Minded Essay” is still personal, it does ask applicants to reflect on their careers.

One might also speculate that the new, more directive prompts makes it easier for the admissions committee to compare essays across applications, while still leaving room for considerable variation in how applicants choose to address the essay prompts.

Dr. Marlena Corcoran

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The Olin MBA admissions essay: Focusing on what makes your experience and values unique

  • June 10, 2024
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 3 minute read

Cut off shot of young woman at desk writing on a pad with a book in front of her.

Every student applying to an MBA program wants to be seen as exceptional in some way.

Without appearing as a vain Hercules on paper, there are methods to convey value as a prospective student without resorting to worn clichés or unsubstantiated claims.   

Olin Business School places a high value on equity, diversity, and inclusion. They believe a diverse student body is beneficial to all MBA students. A student's life experiences can make them a valuable member of Olin's student body and the way they communicate their experience matters. Here are four MBA application essay tips that have helped prospective students get accepted into Olin Business School.

They don't use AI

It might sound tempting to use AI to make essays sound professional; however, let's discuss how AI operates. AI functions by mining the internet for content, which it then repurposes into (supposedly) new forms. If this seems a lot like plagiarism, that's because it's a legal gray area that has not yet been fully reconciled with existing legal definitions of plagiarism.

Since AI uses existing content as a model, the essay it produces may sound bland and uninspired. A student's voice and personality may not shine through as much. If a student wants to stand out in the MBA admission process, they will need to sound wholly original to themselves.

They show (rather than tell) their story

Besides ensuring the MBA admission essay communicates how a student prevents errors from slipping by undetected, this is an opportunity for them to narrate their life and be creative.

An essay prompt is presented in the online application, giving prospective students an opportunity to share their values, strengths and weaknesses. The essay is their time to provide the committee with a narrative and showcase their creativity and the impact they hope to have on those around them. They should use this opportunity to tell their story, allowing the committee to see the person they are and the person they hope to become. Students should demonstrate how they are living out their values with real-life examples. They must ask themselves, "What can I bring to Olin that no one else can?" and communicate this with confidence.

They demonstrate why they chose Olin

When a prospective student is writing, they should focus on why the MBA program at Olin can help them achieve their goals and how Olin Business School can help them make the impact they're aiming to make on the world. Every student should take time to reflect on what they hope to get out of an MBA degree and determine what factors are most important to the program they intend to pursue.

They don't use generic templates

No matter how many MBA programs a student may wish to apply to, they should write a new essay for each program from scratch. They shouldn't rely on a generic template and simply change a few words.

Students should slow down and spend ample time writing something unique—it makes a big difference. The evaluators of MBA admission essays can easily detect a generic essay, as it often lacks relevance and focus.

It's easy to discern whether prospective students have thoroughly contemplated their MBA admission essay or merely checked it off their to-do list. If they are unsure whether their essay reads well or aligns with the prompt, they should ask someone they trust to read their essay. Then, they should ask this person to tell them what they assumed the prompt was. Their response will help the student determine if their essay is aligned with the prompt or if adjustments are needed.   

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.

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Sara Savat, Senior News Director, Business and Social Sciences 314-935-9615 [email protected]

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