Tag Archives: MBA Admissions

Brevity is the Soul of Wit, War, and MBA Admissions Essays

Here’s a bit of fun with a serious twist. You may have seen this document below as it does the rounds on the Internet.

I believe it is genuine, and in it the then British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was telling his 1940 War Cabinet the equivalent of “hello, did you know there’s a war on? Let’s not confuse ourselves and waste our time on excessive verbiage and writing flourishes. If you’ve got something to say, just say it.”


MBA admissions is not a war zone. But admissions committees are busy, particularly around their application deadlines. So do them and therefore yourself a favor by keeping your writing tight and to-the-point.

This does not mean you should adopt a clipped tone and write like morse code. You get to brevity without losing content or style by carefully selecting your examples,  using plain words, avoiding all verbal windups and empty phrases, and deleting repetition.

For a full discussion of practical writing strategies to deliver content in the briefest possible way, with examples, please see Section 4: Writing Tools and Methods, in my book MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building to Essay Writing (McGraw Hill).

Maslow’s Hierarchy and the MBA Admissions Goals Essay

Abraham Maslow created a 5-level theory of human motivation (Psychology Review, 1943) in which he proposed that human needs and satisfaction levels move upwards according to a “hierarchy” of needs. When lower needs such as sustenance and safety are met, we aspire to fulfill social, self-esteem, and self-actualization needs. The chart looks like this:

credit: Wikipedia
credit: Wikipedia

(The structure of the pyramid itself has been tinkered with over time, for example by Manfred Max-Neef, who sees levels of subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, freedom.) But the core insight remains: once basic levels of fulfillment are achieved, and as long as they remain achieved, we move up the hierarchy in search of broader fulfillment.

What does this have to do with MBA admissions essays, and how does this help those struggling with the MBA admissions goals essay question in particular?

It helps because it provides a quick, reliable guide to the necessary reach of the essay. Too often applicants deal only at levels 2 and 3, talking of security and quality of employment, taking care of family (including elderly or immigrant parents) and developing friendship and contact networks, career progress, and so on.

This is all important. But there is more to say, and Maslow shows the way to it. The rest of your motivation statement should be rooted in levels 4 and 5: how the MBA will take you activities that create self-respect, and the respect of others, what you will create, or solve or build, and why this will be self-actualizing at the highest level.

As I tell my clients: a good career and family security are great things to want, but what comes after that? You don’t need to aspire to save the world, but you do need to reach into yourself and ask: “levels 4 and 5 — what are they for me? What would actualizing myself at these levels look like? And how will an MBA be part of the route that gets me there?”


‘Fast-Thinking’ in MBA Admissions and How to Manage It

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s best-seller Thinking Fast and Slow (Farrar, 2011) documents how decision-makers arrive at decisions, either instantly without a lot of mental hard work — “fast thinking” or by “slow thinking” which means full analytical process.

Fast thinking is going on when you have a “first impression” of someone, and of course when an MBA Adcom member forms a first impression of you.

On a similar theme, Blink (Little, Brown & Co, 2005) by Malcolm Gladwell, makes a further claim — that instant judgments oftentimes produce better, more accurate, conclusions than those made by way of exhaustive analysis.

Whether “blinking” provides a better basis for decision-making than formal analysis or not, the point is fast thinking and slow thinking are both at play decision-making, whether the decision-maker is aware of it or not.

The implication for MBA admissions is that, while b-school Adcoms everywhere would assert that they rigorously analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each applicant, there is also considerable “fast thinking” involved in how they choose.

Note that Adcom essay readers and committee members are not seeking to make an “impressionistic” judgment. In fact the opposite is true. But they will be picking up impressions at every turn. After all, they have to make a big call, fairly quickly, about a complex situation (you and your future prospects) and they don’t actually have that much analytical material to go on.

Fast thinking is the way the MBA admissions committee will get its working impression of your personality, motivation, determination, charisma, team orientation, and overall prospects, all of which will precede and then run in parallel with their more formal analysis.

Before Adcom even gets to fully considering your grades and scores, performance metrics, and work history, they will have formed an impression from the first things they see. It’s hard to know what they will see first of course, but very often it will be the file data and/or resume.

An impression will form almost immediately and build through the course of considering your application, as they continue to absorb first impressions about each part of it–the essays, particularly their erudition and tone; the tone and warmth of recommendations and interview report, and so on. (The interview itself is of course another first-impression decision situation.)

Managing fast thinking:

The best way to deal with fast thinking is to realize it is there, and always will be, and provide ways for admissions officers to use this mode in judging you.
• Expecting snap judgments about your motivation, take care that everything you submit is carefully checked and complete.
• Expecting snap judgments about your pre-MBA work experience, take care to get the highlights high up in the essay.
• Expecting snap judgments about your professionalism, take care that any correspondence you enter into (by phone or email) is scrupulously professional, and so on.
Play to the first-impression mode first, and follow this with data and detail that corroborates the impression.