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FRANS BONA: Writing an MBA Essay



“Ben, it’s all about the essay. You need to really explain to us what makes you special. What life experience separates you from all the rest. Life experience! What can you tell me, Ben, that’s going to dazzle me?” –From “21” the movie


Writing a good essay is difficult, indeed. However, the difficulties start when prospective students have no clear understanding about how MBA schools work and what each one of them has done so far, to pursue an MBA degree as a meaningful process to achieve their career and life objectives. This essay will focus more on the fundamental factors to consider before applying for an MBA program, with the intent of exploring all factors that need to be considered, so that writing an essay could become easier.


The first thing to consider is what MBA schools actually expect from prospective students. We can see this from their websites, as per examples below:

  •       Experience is the best teacher… A one-year MBA program integrates business theory, critical skills, and the practical application of both through hands-on experience and action learning. These elements are not taught separately; rather, they are integrated into a comprehensive curriculum. – Hult International Business School
  •       To experience the HBS MBA is to go inside the issues that matter—and to reach inside yourself for the strength, skills, and confidence you will develop to face them. In every case, class, event, and activity, you are asked not only to study leadership, but to demonstrate it. – Harvard Business School


There are three key points mentioned in both statements above: experience, action/activities, and class/theory. Yes, prospective students are expected to have professional experiences, learn from the classes or theory, and be given the chance to apply them in activities.  Having experiences prior to pursuing an MBA is important because in most classes, we will learn more from others; thus, we are also expected to bring something valuable from our experience. Connecting theories to real-life cases is also important, thus, most MBA schools use business cases that were developed from real company’s cases, for students to experience real problems.


The second thing to consider is the school itself. Each school has its own uniqueness. For example, the reason I chose Hult International Business School is because the professors are mostly practitioners. The school has a Strategy professor who is a partner at a leading consulting firm, and the marketing professor owns a consulting firm. In addition, it’s a one-year program, with the possibility to rotate to five different countries around the world. Prior to choosing Hult, I had also considered Ross Business School for its strength in Supply Chain Management, which is one of my professional interests. If you apply for an MBA program, you should do the research and talk to the alumni from the schools that you consider, to get better understanding about the school.


The third consideration is to understand your career and life objectives. Lay out your career path from the beginning and see where you are right now. What factors make you stay in one or diverse path? Where do you want to go after graduation and why?


After considering the fundamental factors above, then you can start writing your essay. Start from the easy part, like listing all your activities, professionally and other related ones, and then choose the one that may dazzle the recruiter. Have your CV or resume close by, to help you align your essay with your professional track record and life experiences. I discussed my list with some friends and mentors and solicit their honest opinion on whether any particular activity is worth including in the essay or not. Another way to justify a good activity is when you have officially been recognition or an award for it.


MBA schools usually hand out new essay questions to applicants every year, but do not worry, because all questions are essentially the same; they seek to understand the candidates as well as their potentials to grow and succeed in school and beyond. To show the recruiter your potentials, focus on explaining the process and your role within. An essay question that starts with “what” for example, typically expects you to  explain why you choose so and how you play a pivotal role in that decision.


Nowadays there are many websites that provide essay writing guides for free. I myself used the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Results) framework to structure my essay. You can answer the essay questions directly using this framework, or gradually shape your writing so that the framework flows smoothly in your essay.


In summary, in order to write a good MBA essay, there are at least three fundamental factors that you need to understand: (1) what the MBA school expects from a candidate in general; (2) information about the potential schools and which particular discipline(s) they are strong at, and (3) how the school would help you grow and reach your potential and whether its program is aligned with your career aspiration. Find information on the Internet on essay writing, and gain insights from current students and alumni. Once you’ve considered these factors, your essay should dazzle the recruiter.

January 21, 2015

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