The secret behind successful essays

A few valuable tips for writing strong essays to support your application, from the co-founder of the QS World MBA Tour. *1. Edit your essays * Read through for logic, and be sure to use your computer’s spelling and grammar check. This …

A few valuable tips for writing strong essays to support your application, from the co-founder of the QS World MBA Tour.

1. Edit your essays

Read through for logic, and be sure to use your computer's spelling and grammar check. This won't catch everything, but it will help.

2. Have someone who knows you well read your essays

Ask them if that describes you. Is it an accurate picture? What do they NOT say? Friends and colleagues are often a good source for singling out your accomplishments, strengths, and weaknesses.

3. Have someone who does NOT know you read your essays

Ask a friend of a friend. Find someone who only knows you professionally. The admissions committee does not know you personally, so this can give you a better feeling for the tone your essays are setting for a stranger.

There are an increasing number of admissions consulting services available to candidates that can help to focus your work and strengthen your key messages. It is important that such services stop short of actually writing for you, but they can provide very valuable impartial input.

4. Think before you write

The writing can be the easy part; deciding what you want to say can be harder. You have limited space to convey a lot of information about yourself and you should use it most effectively and efficiently.

5. Be interesting

If you are naturally funny and light hearted, let some of that show in your essays. While you should certainly take the essays seriously, make sure you allow some personality to show through.

6. Be true to yourself

Do not write what you think the Admissions Office wants to read if it does not accurately reflect the "real" you.

7. Be a contributor

Wharton does not want to admit someone who is smart but unlikely to add to the greater community. Through your application, show what you can add to the experience of your classmates – whether that be through extracurricular activities, a unique professional background, or your quirky sense of humor.

What B-schools are looking for in your essays

The essays are where you can provide the "how" and the "why" behind the "what" and "when" of the data forms. Before reading your essays, a reader will have looked at the data forms and your resume. Use the essays to explain the path you have taken, what you have learned along the way, and what you can offer to the school community.

The essay questions give candidates the chance to express what they think is important to the admissions committee, in addition to answering more typical questions regarding the candidate's reasons for obtaining an MBA, path, goals, and interest in the a particular school's MBA. What we would therefore remind you is that there is no one response to each essay, but to give you tools to ensure that you are addressing the question, and thinking about it in terms that better enable the admissions committee to evaluate you for their school.

This is your chance to convey a sense of self – a level of self understanding that validates your previous experience whilst conveying your potential for future achievement. You might be talking about your values – what is important to you, what are your priorities in life? Equally you can communicate your goals – what do you intend to achieve, what are your ambitions? To be truly convincing, make sure that you provide concrete examples. When the school asks you about your strengths and weaknesses, convey each strength with a specific illustration. Telling the school, "People say that I am very creative", will not get you very far. It is only when you back up your claim that you can impress the school. "A good example of my creativity would be the investment proposal that I put together for Company X, which provided an innovative solution to …"

It is also important at this stage to avoid lists – nobody remembers them, least of all a school handling thousands of applications a year. It is far more effective to limit yourself to two or three strengths, or to focus on a singular achievement, and provide a valuable insight as to what this says about you as a person.

To fully grasp this idea, and use is to your advantage in your essays, compare your rsum with your answers to the school questions. A rsum will provide dates, locations, either job titles or qualifications, and a brief description of your responsibilities.

For example:
2004-2006 Financial Analyst, Mumbai
- Advised on US investment for key Asian accounts
- Averaged 12,7% return on portfolio investment

In comparison, the essay is the chance to convey the characteristics that made such an experience a success, or tells the admissions team about your personality. What attracted you to this position? Maybe it is because you love to face new challenges, and are open-minded to business with an international context. Over the two-year period you had to demonstrate be determined and even single-minded when completing your research. These are the stories and illustrations that bring your admissions file to life, and help you to stand out from the other applicants.

The other golden rule is to always answer the question, whether in an essay or during an interview. If the interviewer asks you about a weakness, a shrug and the answer "I don't have any weaknesses" has just had the opposite effect, and highlighted a major weakness of self awareness! Most candidates struggle with the dilemma of either providing an honest answer that ruins one's chances, or the rehearsed answer which leaves one looking evasive, phony, or guilty of giving yet another tired clich. How many times have the admissions team heard "My greatest weakness is that I'm a perfectionist, and work too hard"?

Such a candidate has obviously tried to rely on the idea of naming a fault that's not really a fault. Impatience with incompetence might be another example. If you do try this technique, again be sure to use a real example to give the story some interest and substance. An alternative is to provide a weakness that is actually related to others. "I get frustrated when committees or institutions fail to respond decisively or in a timely fashion. Worse though is when they avoid taking a decision, pass it on to another department or group, and then criticize how it's done." Your answer should be in keeping with the school to which you are applying.

Telling a school that emphasizes leadership and finance that you are a shy person, or that you don't like mathematics, would make a school renowned for its leadership training and quantitative program quite concerned. It is often better to avoid interpersonal issues, because explaining that you don't get along with people challenges the importance of the shared student experience on campus.

You could consider naming a real weakness, but one you're taking steps to improve. This shows that you are aware of a situation, and are taking the initiative to do something about it.

Examples could include learning another language, or improving your comfort level with technology. As business schools emphasize, there is no one right answer – just the freedom to express what you feel is important, and says something about the real you.

Matt Symonds is co-founder of the QS World MBA Tour , and author of the bestselling book on applying to b-school, "Getting the MBA Admissions Edge". An experienced public speaker in more than 40 countries on TV, radio and at conferences and seminars public presentations, Matt is an authority on Graduate Executive Management Education.


thanks a ton Apurv for this excellent article ! Though its a bit late for me but it is surely gonna help many future applicants.
one more thing, how can we search for the old articles?

one more thing, how can we search for the old articles?

Amit which articles are you looking for old articles related to GMAT and MBA abroad or those articles that are featured on the main page of the forum?
Govi Says
Amit which articles are you looking for old articles related to GMAT and MBA abroad or those articles that are featured on the main page of the forum?

i can see only latest 5 articles under the GMAT, International MBA heading on the main page. But what about the old articles that were written on this topic?
amitnsitian Says
i can see only latest 5 articles under the GMAT, International MBA heading on the main page. But what about the old articles that were written on this topic?

Amit you can find them here
Amit you can find them here

Or you could just simply go to to reach all the older International MBA articles 😃


The article was articulate and interesting to read. I believe that the article should consist details on specific sections. It was a very general article, needs to be more specific.

Some more things I urge all applicants to do:
a) If applying online, then practice the essays on an MS Word file by trying to answer the essay questions in about 90% of the word limit. It will help develop writing skill.
b) On professional / personal stories that respond to leadership or other situational essays, assume a 400 word limit (20-25 lines) - concentrate on getting the situation / challenge in just 4-5 lines, your reactions, actions, solutions & results in the next 10-15 lines; with the last 5-6 lines stating why this was important to you, or what you learnt from the experience going forward.
c) Write flawless grammar..... you'll hear this repeatedly, but do so.... flawed grammar can make a small yet significant (to a reader) difference to an otherwise wonderfully crafted essay.
d) Remember, with the exception of the stanford essay (where the challenge is to NOT ramble) essays are condensed versions of your rationale for an MBA. Be crisp, sharp, concise yet passionate about your goals. Use vocabulary & sentencing that will help you shorten sentences, yet keep them understandable to the reader. You may have heard of "active verbs". An example - instead of "I was responsible for ....", try writing "I managed / supervised / controlled / led / learnt / imbibed / executed / trained...". Avoid long winding sentences - any sentence longer than two lines is probably two/three words too long. Avoid complicated verbiage as this will eat into the limited number of words you are otherwise allowed.
e) Last but not least, IF you find yourself writing a good essay WITHOUT using up the word limit, pat yourself on the back, but DON'T write more just to make the number of words.
f) Without getting too journalistic, try and use direct speech in describing your own thoughts in a situation above or others words.. Simple example - describing a success at work could start with Quote-- "We won....", cried my boss... -- Unquote. This helps a reader connect with you by imagining / visualizing what you might have heard, seen or experienced. Use them sparingly and where you believe the reader will understand you better.
Good luck

There is an interesting download from Business Week on what NOT to write in essays.

@Time - that was an excellent article. thanks so much 😃

Azeem Says


In your other post wrote on 17th Nov. at the below link


you have said that you are an aspirant! Now so soon you got admits????? And you did not even post about the admits???

I think you are working in cahoots with the above post.

Mods: This looks like surrogate advertising!!