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Writing the perfect MBA application essay involves brevity, a degree of literary panache, and total honesty. It also helps if you mention you were South Korea’s first astronaut.
It is not a dean’s duty to sift through the thousands of student applications that the world’s most prestigious schools receive each year — they have admissions teams to do that. But they are often asked to pass judgment on the written essays — and increasingly videos and other multimedia applications — from notable candidates, so their opinions on style and content count
Rich Lyons, dean of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business , spotted Yi So-yeon , the first Korean to fly in space, in 2010 from the 15 candidates he was handed. Every year, he receives a sample in each selection round, picked for the exceptional qualities displayed from a pool of about 4,000 applicants.
“I don’t even remember what score she got in the GMAT [admission test], I just knew she would add value,” he says. “You have got to have something special to get through that stage.”
The Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School last year made offers to one in every four of its applicants to fill 180 places on its full-time MBA programme.
Each essay is read and scored by the admissions team — but this is just one element of the selection process, alongside GMAT scores and proven work experience, Yuan Ding, the dean, notes.
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“[The essay] is where we learn about applicants’ career aspiration, understanding of China, and writing skills.” He adds that they also look for exaggeration or an economy with the truth.
Applicants to UCLA Anderson School of Management are given a 500-word limit for their essays. They must explain their short and long-term career goals and what their time at the business school would add to their professional development.
The essays are then assessed by at least two admissions team members, each of whom are looking for elements that make them want to accept an applicant, such as unusual work experience, rather than deny them a place, according to Rob Weiler, associate dean for the MBA programme.
It pays to be concise, he adds. “If an applicant attempts to add too much supplemental information, chances are they are trying too hard.”
New York University’s Stern School of Business , this year “Instagrammed” its essay format by asking candidates to pick six visual items — photographs, charts and even emojis — and give each a caption, rather than writing a piece of prose. The school’s admissions team, which has assessed about 50,000 essays over the past 15 years, likes innovation, according to Peter Henry, NYU Stern dean. They were looking for creativity and an ability to be succinct and accurate. What makes any application “leap out from the pack” during the admissions process is that the writers can explain their career goals and how NYU Stern would help them achieve these, Prof Henry says.
Barcelona’s IESE business school does not set a format for applications. One applicant recently produced a video as his cover letter — a method of application increasingly common in US schools. But content trumps format, according to Franz Heukamp, the dean.
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a pan-school online exam to assess verbal, analytical and writing skills. The test is required for most business school MBA applications but does not examine business knowledge or general intelligence.
Many business schools also set mandatory essays, which tend to ask applicants to explain their work experiences, why they would excel at the school and how the MBA would help with future career goals. Most set an upper limit of 500 words.
Not all schools set an essay. Some ask for a CV and cover letter.
Shortlisted candidates are usually invited for a formal interview either on campus or online with the admissions team.
“The ones that grab our attention do so not because they say something we have never heard before, are wild or outrageous,” he says. “What makes a cover letter special is when it is very clear that the candidate knows what he or she wants to achieve professionally.”
The most important element of an essay is a “clear and concise” message, according to Winfried Ruigrok, the dean at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland .
“An MBA application stands out if the applicant knows our specific programme strengths, structure and culture,” he says.
SDA Bocconi School of Management was the first European school to add mandatory video interviews to its application process, says its dean, Giuseppe Soda, with candidates required to answer a series of random questions on camera.
Those applying to its 12-month MBA course must also submit two reference letters and attend a face-to-face interview at the school’s Milan campus, as well as performing well in the GMAT exam — its average test score is 665 out of a possible 800, compared with a sector average of about 550.
The video format complements the wider objective of Bocconi’s admissions team, to get to know each candidate by name, according to Prof Soda.
This level of detail is possible at Bocconi — which last year received 375 applications for 132 places — but not feasible for larger institutions. “We want to focus on each candidate’s personal development,” Prof Soda says. “We want to know the students by name.”
Before becoming dean, Prof Soda’s job included reading every essay from the PhD applicants. “The problem was that they were always the same sort of essay,” he says. “Written pieces can be faked so a video seems a better way.”
He anticipates a day when the video test replaces the written elements of the MBA application.
“When you write you have more time to prepare,” he says. “With our video test there is the element of the unexpected. It is not just what they say but how they say it, and there is the pressure of being in front of a camera.”
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MBA essay tips: Good structure is very important
Essays are just as common in your Masters as other periods of your college or university career. Knowing how to structure your MBA essay is important despite the fact that they are often such small projects compared to your other homework.
Reasons why structure is so important
If your structure is wrong, your essay won’t successfully convey the message you desire. Coherency and structure are unavoidably linked, so messing up the structure will render an essay that isn’t logically translated by the reader. There’s nothing worse for your professor than having to spend extra time deciphering what you are trying to say.
Good structure makes each sentence and paragraph flow nicely in a way that is easily understood. If you jump from one point to another without linking your paragraphs, you will easily lose the reader’s attention and leave him or her asking too many questions. Essays should be problem solvers, not question generators.
If your essay is not structured correctly, your professor will mark you down. An essay that isn’t giving the reader a good indication of your thoughts and ideas is usually disregarded as a failure. Your Masters homework is a big step up from previous assignments. Professors will expect a lot more from you and require a much more mature style of assignment construction.
Great ways to get the right advice
Buy a good MBA essay example from a reputable writing company. You can do this conveniently by going online and having one emailed to you. Spending the little bit of money on a good, relevant example will prove to be a good investment for every time you find yourself needing to write an essay.
Online tutors can give you advice straight over the internet. Most of them will charge a small consultation fee for any advice you need, so compile all your questions beforehand and get sound structure advice as speedily as you can.
If you are in doubt about whether your essay meets MBA standards, hand it to a professional writing company. They have individuals who edit essays everyday and are familiar with the required structure criteria each one must possess.
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