The Mother of all International MBA FAQs: 9 tips for writing MBA Admission Essays without putting off the Adcoms

Goizueta Business School, Emory University (Photo: Daniel Mayer)

From the previous blog posts in this series, we know that essays can play a key role in helping candidates differentiate themselves from the rest of the competition. This time we look at some guidelines to start working on those first drafts. Why Nine tips? Why not aim for a perfect Ten? Well get to that soon.

Tip 1: Do the background research first

Dont jump into the writing part before you have had a chance to figure out what you want to say and how. Know the personality and the requirements of the school you are applying to, think about how the two of you are compatible and how both the sides will be happy with the ‘relationship’. Sounds strange? It is all about the fit. So whether its a personal or business relationship, similar concepts apply.

Tip 2: No copy-pasting please

After a while, all the b-school essay questions start sounding the same. Youll find same keywords related to careers, accomplishments, leadership and managerial skills in most of them. But dont assume that you can just ‘find and replace’ the name of the next business school and your job is done. Each essay question might be worded slightly differently. If you have the ability to read between the lines, the essay question will have hints on the nuances that you need to emphasise.

Tip 3: Prioritise

Essays are a lot like the best of series (The best of Michael Jackson, The best of Gulzar, The best of Poonam Pandey) of music, books or stars. Your body of work might be vast, impressive and all tweet-worthy. You might have amazing stories in every sphere of life that youve experimented with. But 400 words (plus or minus a few hundred) are hardly enough to reveal everything. Choose your stories carefully.

Tip 4: Focus on the hygiene factors

Typos and word-counts are the easiest to fix. Admission officers might pardon you for a few minor typos if youve done something phenomenal in areas that they value. But why take a chance? Word-counts are another challenge for many applicants. If youve taken care of the previous tip (prioritisation), you can manage this one painlessly. Heres a quick crash course on how to write MBA essays within the word-count.

Tip 5: Retain your voice

Often theres a tendency to project a larger-than-life image in MBA essays with the assumption that the Adcoms will be floored. Candidates frequently shoot themselves in the foot by writing essays that make them sound like a completely different person. Impactful content always scores over aesthetics. For the same reason, Tendulkars minor follies (like the straightened hair) can be overlooked, if he continues piling up the runs.

Tip 6: Empower Adcoms to form a judgement

Well, they are empowered anyway. But dont try to force your opinion on them in order to make their job too easy. Dont force-feed them with your opinions hoping itll result in a quick, positive decision. Give them just the right data and let them decide whether youd be a good candidate for their program.

Tip 7: Build credibility, not a bubble

If youve worked on a one-off research assignment related to a strategic topic and presented the findings to the senior management, dont pretend that the CEO calls you every time he wants to make an important personal or professional decision. Exaggeration is a great way to quickly gain attention, and lose credibility.

Tip 8: Dont experiment with humour

You might be damn funny in real life. You might also have a fantastic ice-breaker of a joke ready for your essays. But save that till you get into the program and are relatively sure you can take social ostracism in your stride if it backfires. Humour isnt universal. Different cultures and people can interpret the same joke in different ways. You have no clue whos going to read your joke and how she might react to it.

Tip 9: Tell a story

Your MBA application is not just a bunch of parameters. Its a story. Its got a beginning, a middle and a future (rather than an end). Weve all seen romantic movies, action movies, horror movies. Over the years, have any of the themes or the characters or the basic premise changed? Not really. But some movies still get us hooked, while the others fizzle away (despite great actors, great direction and soul-stirring item numbers). Think about it and you might get some ideas for your essays.

If you are wondering why we didnt just round it off to make it Top 10 tips for writing MBA essays, well, thats the tenth tip. Share enough to trigger interest. Give the Adcoms a reason to invite you for an interview and get to know more about the wonderful person theyve just been introduced to in the essays. You dont need to lay out ALL the cards on the table at once. Have some additional stories ready to make the interview interesting as well.

Are there any other burning questions in your mind that youd like us to address in subsequent posts? Paste them in the comments below. Also, check out the earlier posts in this FAQ series if you’ve missed any.

Author Sameer Kamat is author of the bestselling MBA book Beyond The MBA Hype where he shares insights and pitfalls that aspirants should be aware of before they embark on their international MBA journey. He is also the founder of MBA Crystal Ball, an MBA admissions consulting venture. He completed his MBA from the University of Cambridge. You can connect with him on Twitter @kamatsameer.

Read Next