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The point of a boot camp is to get significant results very quickly, by working much more intensely and more often than you would during a regular long-term workout regimen. If you’re staring down an MBA application deadline, it’s time to approach your essays like a sprint, not a marathon. These three tips can help you get your MBA essays done in no time:
1. Don’t skimp on the brainstorming
The pre-writing phase is one of the most overlooked and undervalued portions of the writing process, especially when it comes to short, thoughtful essays like the ones required by business schools.
It’s tempting to look at a 500-word essay limit and think, “I could knock that out in an hour or two.” And if hitting your word count were all that mattered, you easily could. But a business school application is not the same as a 10th grade history paper.
The admissions committee won’t be reading your essay to see if you passed a minimum bar of writing competency and basic understanding of the essay prompt. They’re looking to be persuaded. The MBA application essay is your chance to tell the adcom “I’m great! This is why you should admit me to your school!” You might be pressed for time, but you don’t want to waste this opportunity.
Boot camp example: We’ll use UVA Darden’s 2017 essay question as our example. The question reads, “Describe the most important professional Feedback you have received and how you responded to this feedback.”
First, read the essay prompt(s) through at least twice. Then, set a timer for one hour. You must spend that entire time doing two things, and two things only: researching the school’s brand and values, and coming up with the key values that the essay prompt is looking to uncover.
Comb the Darden website looking for clues about what the adcom looks for in an applicant, like the requirements page that mentions that essays should “show us how you think about and approach business challenges,” or the Darden Experience page that describes their Active Learning approach which “immerse[s] you in real-world business challenges and puts you in the role of the decision-maker.”
Key takeaways? The admissions committee wants to see an example of your real world workplace behavior: what kind of feedback do you consider important, how do you handle feedback, how do you evaluate situations and make changes to your performance in a business environment?
2. Get personal, fast
One of the most common mistakes MBA applicants make is trying to write an essay that “appeals to everyone”. In other words, an essay so bland it could have been written by any of the hundreds of other applicants that will also be applying to your target schools.
That doesn’t mean you should jump straight to TMI. But it does mean you should draw heavily on the one resource that you know sets you apart from all the other candidates: your own history and experience.
The more specifics you can provide, the more effective your essay will be. If you’re trying to convey a passion for leadership that has been with you since your earliest memories, don’t just say that you’re a born leader. Describe the expeditions you lead for neighborhood children, the clubs you chaired throughout your school years, the after school jobs where you took on additional duties.
Boot camp example: Set another timer for an hour. Spend that time brainstorming as many feedback examples as you can think of (focusing on significant feedback that encouraged you to change your approach or pursue a new direction, not meaningless attaboys).
Once you’ve got your list of feedback examples, winnow them down – think about the ones that feel the most important, and think about why they were important to you and your career. Important feedback should lead to change, so look at the changes that have shaped your career, and what kinds of feedback spurred those changes.
For your final example, you should be able to address four elements:
– What the feedback was
– Why it was the most important professional feedback of your career
– How you responded to the feedback
– How your career or career path has changed as a result of the feedback
3. Look toward the future
Admissions committees work hard to craft essay prompts that will give them meaningful insight into applicants: how they work, what they value, what they’ll add to the school’s culture. Your research in Step 1 showed you what values the school holds; now it’s time to think about your own values.
MBA admissions essays don’t always explicitly ask you to address your current or future career, but an understanding of your goals and values is a crucial underpinning for a successful b-school essay. It doesn’t need to be a long exposition about lessons learned or where you’re going next. Given that most essays have a word limit, you won’t have space for more than a sentence or two.
The final sentences of your MBA essay should offer a sense of where your experiences have taken you. If an experience was valuable enough for it to be an example in such an important essay, it’s probably had a lasting effect on who you are and what you value. Let that effect shine through.
Boot camp example: Darden’s essay question asks about “how you responded” to the most important professional feedback you received. Your essay should address how you responded in the moment, and (as we discussed in Step 2) what changes have happened in your career as a result.
But you should also address how you have changed as a result, what you personally took away from the feedback. Did you learn to handle a situation differently? Pursue a different career path? Try a new management style? The most important feedback you’ve ever received has certainly had an effect on who you are now, and how you’ll approach your MBA program. Let the adcom see that effect.
If you have more questions about writing a great essay, or crafting an MBA application that will get you in to your target schools, EXPARTUS can help. Send us your questions at [email protected], or take a look at our application resources for additional help.
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