Last year HBS had a 12% accept rate with over 9,000 applicants. The other top MBA programs in the U.S. – Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg, Booth, Columbia and MIT Sloan, just to name a few had similar tight competition. We’ve already discussed the necessary GMAT score ranges and interview skills needed in other blog posts that give you a chance at the top. The question here then is, what makes an applicant’s MBA essay successful, and what can you do to raise yourself among the best?”
The answer to that question is to start by looking at some very successful essays. What does a good essay look like? The best resource I’ve found to pass on to the curious, is this resource here:
65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays
BUT, read with caution because even though I believe this book will help you better understand how to differentiate between a good essay and a bad one (and thereby help you honestly assess where you fall) it doesn’t do much for helping you tell your story, your background, or your professional vision. And, believe me, the ad com has read this book too, so if your essays sound too similar in structure or content to what’s in the book…let’s just say the word “ding” comes to the forefront of my mind.
So, what can you do? How can you make your MBA essays successful and land you a place at the top? HBS of course changed their requirements this year, and only asks applicants for one personal statement and are completely open in what they’re asking (read: pressure!), however other MBA programs are still asking the standard, traditional questions:
“What are your short and long-terms goals?” “Why a Columbia MBA?” (or Wharton, Stanford, NYU Stern, LBS, INSEAD), “What are Your Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses?“ “What Matters to You Most and Why?” and, of course, the “Optional Essay” (which should never be optional – did you hear that… make it optional and you’re passing up a great opportunity to tell the committee even more about you. You’re trying to stand out from 9,000 other applicants…I’d take that opportunity.
So, what do the successful MBA essays have in common that catapulted their authors into the Top Ten?
1. GOOD WRITING: This can’t be more stressed. Having solid experience isn’t enough, you must be able to structure your experience and narrative in a way that makes a clear and strong argument for why you would be a valuable addition to the MBA class. That’s what you’re really answering in every question — “This is what I’ve done, and this is why I am valuable.”
2. Let Them See Your Process: The ad com doesn’t just want to see a static goal, they want to understand the process of how you got there. Your decision making process. How you make and are making the hard career choices in your life and why.
That’s much more revealing about you as an applicant than just a passive, simple statement that says, “I want to be _____ when I graduate.” Show them your decision-making process and why your goals truly make sense.
3. Be Realistic: The best essays are the ones where the applicants have realistic long-term goals. This doesn’t mean your goals can’t be BIG, but it does mean that if they are big, that you already have something in your background (experience at a Fortune 500 company, a degree from an Ivy League school, patents under your name if you’re perhaps an entrepreneur). SOMETHING that shows your long-term vision has a foundation that makes it at least seem possible.
Lay out your course of action, your road map, that shows how you plan to get where you want to go. Too far-fetched with absolutely nothing to back it up = Dinged.
4. Ask for Help: There are a lot of MBA admissions firms out there now, and people are using them; your competition for that elusive HBS “Admitted” 12% is using them. Make sure you either have the confidence in your own writing skills to put your best foot forward on paper, and if you don’t, get help. The top consultants never rewrite your essays for you, but provide detailed comments and suggestions to help you get your own essays back on track.