The Mother of all International MBA FAQs: Why MBA Admission Essays are so important

The Executive Education building of HEC Paris

We saved MBA essays for the end of our mini-theme (covering MBA application components) for several reasons.

  1. When you are competing in the Indian applicant pool that looks like one big homogeneous monolith, MBA essays are the single most effective way to achieve differentiation and stand out from the crowd.
  2. Within the jigsaw puzzle that is your MBA application, the essay the most confusing and mysterious piece. You wont know if and when youve completed it, because there is no standard solution that you can compare it with. The essay topics you need to tackle for a specific school are exactly the same for everyone, but every candidate ends up with a final image that is (hopefully) different and unique.
  3. The essay questions tend to be introspective . In our lives, ruled by mathematics and technical topics that always had a right answer, the big I-word is something that most of us havent tackled before (unless you derive perverse pleasure from looking up big words in the dictionary).

Q1. What role do MBA essays play in the b-school admissions process?

An MBA program attracts applicants from various backgrounds and b-schools try their best to maintain diversity in the class. Often it is tough to really decide on why or how any candidate is better than the others. Beyond a particular point, a GMAT or TOEFL score doesnt matter. Just because a few applicants scored 10 points more than many other people competing for the same seat, doesnt make them superior. The resume has the same limitations. How can an admissions officer compare a management consultant against an investment banker?

This is where MBA essays come into the picture. They help candidates go beyond their GMAT scores, their industries and basically everything that slots them into a particular category (e.g. Indian/IT/Male/Engineer). Essays are a great way to bring the application to life.

Q2. Are MBA essays the same as Statements of Purpose (SoP)?

The basic intention of both these tools is the same, that is, to evaluate if applicants have the right reasons to join a higher education programme, but the scope and depth of MBA essays is far greater. In an SoP, as the name suggests the applicants’ purpose needs to come across clearly to ensure that the right candidates are admitted. This format is commonly associated with MS degrees though many MBA programs also have been accepting it.

The term MBA essays may not completely reveal the underlying concept (SoP is far more self-explanatory), but it does more or less what the SoP does, but in a more comprehensive manner. So instead of a single all-encompassing motherhood question (yes, the Maa-friendliness of this FAQ series goes beyond the title), essays are broken up into multiple topics covering different aspects that help the admissions officer judge the professional and personal calibre of the candidate.

Q2. What kind of questions do schools ask in their MBA essays?

The main topics that youll encounter in most of the top schools are as follows:

Why MBA: What are your career goals? How do you think a full-time MBA degree will help you achieve them? Have you considered other (non-MBA) options? If so, why dont you think those are worth pursuing?

Timing: Why do you think this is a good time to take a break from what you are doing to go back to school? If you are younger or older than the typical candidate entering the programme, why should we select you over the others?

Accomplishments: What have you done in your professional life that you are proud of? What have you learnt from a failure?

Personal traits and qualities: Describe stories where you have demonstrated leadership, business acumen, teamwork, communication skills.

Extra-curricular activities, social involvement: Do you have a life outside work? What do you really like doing? Do you care about anything else apart from money? What makes you an interesting person?

Creativity: This could range from writing the table of contents of your autobiography to how your friends might describe you 10 years later.

The wording for the essay questions might differ, but many of them would touch upon these common themes.

Trying to wrap up the topic of MBA essays in a single post would be downright insulting. So we’ll be back with another one on essays next week.

In the meanwhile, pick up some MBA essay writing tips, roll up your sleeves and try your hand at a few of the essays listed on business school websites. It doesnt matter if schools havent released essays for the upcoming season. As with many skills, this one gets better with practice too.

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 (and, er, introspective) 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 admissions consulting venture. He claims to have completed his MBA from the University of Cambridge. You can connect with him on Twitter @kamatsameer