The Dos and Don’ts of Stand-Out MBA Application Essays

So you’ve decided to apply to business schools – congratulations! Unfortunately, you now probably feel overwhelmed and fretful about the numerous required essays. Fear not! We have compiled a fool-proof list of dos and don’ts to get your application essays noticed!
As with anything, start at the beginning. The essay writing process begins long before your fingers hit the keyboard. Most importantly, give yourself plenty of time!! Stand-out essays are not written in one day, one weekend, or even one week (unless you buy essay online). Allow yourself ample time to write, rewrite, and seek someone else’s opinion – ideally multiple times.
As soon as you decide to apply for an MBA program, start jotting down ideas that come to you throughout your days. These ideas don’t even have to seem “great” or “essay-worthy,” but everything that sparks your interest – a travel experience, an intriguing conversation with a friend, an inspiring movie, etc— are all worth writing down. You likely won’t use the majority of the ideas for your MBA essays but at least you will have a list of unique material to pull from and some common themes that indicate what is important to you will likely emerge.
You will also want to do some in-depth research about the programs to which you are applying. Don’t try to flatter the selection committee by telling them what a great school it is – they already know that! Instead, you can make your essay stand out by researching the school’s mission statement and using some of the same languages in your application essays. Show the readers that you fit the qualities they are looking for and that you bothered to personalize your essays to their particular philosophy.
Now that you have a plethora of topics and stories to include in your essays, thoroughly review the questions for each of the applications. Most MBA application questions have multiple parts, so make sure you fully understand what is needed to respond effectively to each. Before you begin to write any of the essays, outline which stories you will use for each application. Make sure that you plan each set of essays mindfully. Although one essay may be used to answer the question on two different applications, you do not want to use the same story and examples in each of the essays you submit to one particular program.
With the aforementioned in mind, you are now ready to begin the actual writing part of your process, which will be greatly shortened by a thoughtful pre-writing period. As you crank out those stand-out essays, keep these simple dos and don’ts in mind:

  • DOs:
    • Budget your time logically: Everybody works at a different pace so be honest with yourself about how long it will take you, allowing for a little extra “wiggle room.” Many applicants find it helpful to mark down application deadlines one week prior to their actual due-dates. This is a great way to avoid stress in case something goes wrong in the final stages of your application.
    • Start out with more than you need and edit accordingly: Although it is important to be direct and concise in your final draft, it is far more effective to write freely at the beginning, and edit later. For instance, if you start with five examples of your leadership abilities, you can self-edit (or consult with a reviewer) to determine which one or two is the most compelling. On the other hand, if you start out with only one you may diminish its effectiveness by adding “fluff” later.
    • Play up your imperfections: Nobody’s perfect and selection committees like to know you’re aware that you’re human. You want to brag and show that you’re a great candidate for their program but remember that sometimes the best way to demonstrate this is through admitting that you have experienced failure and made mistakes. Explaining how you have learned from these setbacks and connecting it to the program will make you seem more realistic and likable.
    • Pick an honest and knowledgeable reviewer: If you really want to benefit from a second person reviewing your essays, you need somebody who will be brutally honest with you. Ask your reviewer to provide feedback on what is most and least compelling in your essays, as well as the typical proofreading. A great way to test how well you answered the questions is actually to have your reviewer read your essays without knowing the prompt and see if they can correctly guess the original questions. A reviewer who is familiar with the MBA application process is most desirable.
  • DON’Ts:
    • Don’t be too stiff: You want your essays to sound professional, but you should also sound like yourself. Don’t use a thesaurus for every word or feel the need to use “GMAT vocabulary.” Strive to strike the perfect balance between sounding stiff and casual. A great rule of thumb is to use the same sort of language you would use in an interview – be natural, but still present your best self.
    • Don’t be afraid to use headings: This is an often-avoided technique that is actually quite useful. If you are feeling overwhelmed with fitting in all the parts of an essay question, the reader is going to be equally concerned. There is nothing wrong with using headings to organize your writing and make sure you are clear. As a bonus, this will help you eliminate transitions, which take up unnecessary space in word-limited essays.
    • Don’t feel confined to these or any other tips you may read: Obviously, we all have our own way of doing things. You may be someone who benefits greatly from outlining your essays or it may feel like doing so starves your natural flow. Follow your personal style and forget about the “best way” to write. You know what has been most successful for you in the past – this is not the time to try forcing something new.
    • Don’t forget that the essays are just one aspect of your application: Understandably, applicants agonize most about their writing. However, many MBA programs are actually cutting the length of their essays to help convey that this part of the application shouldn’t demand all of your time. Make sure to put plenty of effort into selecting and talking with your recommenders, studying for the GMAT, and preparing for your interviews.