How do you make your MBA application essays really stand out?

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Top MBA programs have a rigorous selection process, demanding a lot from the students in terms of three key areas: work experience, academic performance, and extra-curricular skills. This is why MBA programs in coveted business schools are highly competitive with 291,779+ applications per year (as per GMAC 2018 report). The MBA essay is really the singular aspect that differentiates a program from other postgraduate programs. These essay type questions are used by the admissions committee to evaluate an applicant on both a personal and professional level plus impact the applicant has demonstrated.

The selection process is based on a detailed assessment of the resume (MBA format), letters of recommendation, statement of purpose or cover letter (if required) and MBA essays. The most important part of the application is the essays and the questions are meant to assess the impactful experiences and deeper qualities and personality of the aspirants. I often tell a lot of candidates that infusing humility into the articles is one of the biggest skills – also called “humble brag”. Leadership, significant challenges and goals – these make up a critical component of a good essay. The adcom (admissions committee) wants to know you on a professional and personal level. They read through dozens of applications so need to look for needle in a haystack – these are candidates who stand out because they communicate with empathy, display leadership potential against odds, and are able to prove their mettle outside the work place.

How to write a winning essay?

Isser Gallogly, associate dean of MBA Admissions at New York University’s Stern School of Business, provides some insight into what he most looks for in a winning application, in an interview with Business Insider.

“We often get the question how creative should you be when you’re writing your essays to business school. “Should your first sentence be, ‘Call me Ishmael,’ or, ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ or, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?’ You don’t necessarily have to have a headline or a grabber. Instead, Gallogly said that it’s most important ensure you stay on message for the prompt. Respond to the prompts, do it completely. That said, make sure you get across who you are in this essay.”

“Finally, convey yourself and your goals clearly. I would treat this a little bit more like if you are presenting a business case on yourself and you are providing almost an executive summary as to who you are, what you’re about, and why you’re going to business school”

Our take on it:

The adcom wants to learn more about how you will leverage your experiences to contribute to the community at the school. Remember, the essay is not just about your accomplishments (“humble brag”) we earlier spoke about. In other words, they want you to really convince them that you understand their program, and can tell them why you will fit in there.  You will need to demonstrate your knowledge of how the School works and the place you see for yourself within it.

  • To respond effectively to the prompts, you have to go the extra mile in learning more about the school, so that you can write thoughtful, nuanced essays.
  • Connect with students and alumni, attend admissions events, and especially, visit the campus (if possible) to get the kind of in-depth insight that will show the adcom that can talk about unique aspects of the essay you really care about and can show your desire to belong there.
  • One golden rule that I tell all candidates. Do a litmus test for each line in your essay. If it can be copy pasted by another candidate, then it lacks originality and is too generic. Write something that no-one can copy in their essay and speaks uniquely about you.

Now that you know how to write an effective essay, it’s time to practice writing one! If you need help in brainstorming your story or understand second year MBA students and/or alumni of top b-schools think about while writing their essays, you can speak to them at

Don’t forget to check our article “Most common mba interview questions” and to read some of our free resources!

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