Business school admissions committees care about more than 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 is a list of dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you begin to write.
• Communicate that you are a proactive, can-do sort of person. Business schools want leaders, not applicants content with following the herd.
• Put yourself on ego-alert. Stress what makes you unique, not what makes you number one.
• 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.
• Bring passion to your writing. Admissions officers want to know what excites you. And if you’ll bring a similar enthusiasm to the classroom.
• Break the mold. Challenge perceptions with unexpected essays that say, “There’s more to me than you think.”
• If you’ve taken an unorthodox path to business school, play it up. Admissions officers appreciate risk-takers.
• Talk about your gender, ethnicity, minority status or foreign background—but only if it has affected your outlook or experiences.
• 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.
• Demonstrate a sense of humor or vulnerability. You’re a real person, and it’s okay to show it!
• 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.
• 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.
• Fill essays with industry jargon. Construct your essays with only enough detail about your job to frame your story and make your point.
• 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.
• Exceed the recommended word limits. This suggests you don’t know how to follow directions, operate within constraints or organize your thoughts.
• Submit an application full of typos and grammatical errors. A sloppy application suggests a sloppy attitude.
• 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.
• Make excuses. If your undergraduate experience was one long party, be honest. Discuss how you’ve matured, both personally and professionally.
• 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.
• Make too many generalizations. An essay full of generalizations is a giveaway that you don’t have anything to say.
• 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.