Category Archives: MBA Essays

Using Covid19 in your MBA application

The Covid19 question is of course front and center in this MBA admissions cycle. There will be applicants who have been cut or furloughed, and some who have not, and it’s better if not, but not the end of the world if you are.

This is because a lot of things have been beyond the control of a lot of people this year. You won’t be penalized for this. But the question becomes, so what did you do?

How have you developed–if not something out there–then in yourself? What impact have you made, somehow,  even when you have been in lockdown at home, even if it’s only an impact on yourself?

Often MBA applicants  think their accomplishments get them in. Or their lack of accomplishments gets them dinged. That’s part of it for sure. But it’s not the whole story.

Another huge part of what gets you in is character. How do you show character? Certainly not by merely awarding it to yourself in empty sentences. You establish your character via evidence, where the evidence is challenges and transitions you have faced, the hard choices you have made (and what you chose), leading to a pattern of personal responsibility and reflective growth.

This is also another way of saying: you don’t need to be some kind of superstar. You do need to stand out, that is be unique in some way, and stories of character can be that way.

Also, character development is often the most interesting thing about someone. What path they’ve chosen and why, how they navigate choices, and what stimulates and inspires a person in making them is much more interesting to Adcom than the bald facts of their career progress.

Furthermore, if you talk about these things, and other things about you that matter to you, you also raise the passion and authenticity in your application which creates a bridge with your reader.

That’s a bridge you can walk across to… you know where.

MBA Admissions Optional Essay: To Do Or Not To Do?

As I look across my clients pushing their MBA essays for Round 2 deadlines, one common question I get is “should I use the optional essay?” (The add-on question at the end of the set, that basically says: ‘If there’s something else you’d like say, say it here.’)

So do you use it, yes or no? And if yes, what should you be talking about?

Traditionally this essay has been the place to mention and mitigate weaknesses. If your work history has been a little choppy, or your GPA a bit up-and-down, or similar, here is where you get credit by (a) ‘fessing up in advance of being ‘found out’ (Adcom sees all, so better to get in ahead of it) and (b) giving your explanation.

In this sense, the optional essay is not ‘optional’ if you have a weakness in your profile. If you have a gap in your employment history, or an ‘F’ on your record, or any such item that is not addressed elsewhere, it MUST be addressed here.

Use of the optional essay should be short and didactic. This is not the place to get poetic. Reveal the problem; make the most of the steps you took and/or are taking to ameliorate it, and stop writing. You don’t need to use the full length in this essay.

MBA admissions death comes to you via this essay if you name the problem but then find ways to excuse yourself or blame others. The admissions test is: can you take responsibility for your own mistakes? If yes, your application goes forward. If no, you’re dinged.

But, here’s the rider in choosing to use the essay or not: if you don’t have a good explanation for a problem, better to say nothing. In other words, if your salary is low in comparison with the applicant pool because you are working in a non-profit environment, that’s worth a mention. If your salary is low because you haven’t been promoted in 4 years, better to say nothing than draw attention to it.

All this, above, applies when you have a weakness or irregularity that demands discussion. But how about if you don’t? Can you use the optional essay to add another story, to tell Adcom a bit more about you, and make one final push for admission?

Traditional MBA admissions thinking says don’t use the optional essay in this way. It looks under-confident and can be interpreted as overreaching. But times change. And current practice seems to accept that if you have a positive point that is additional and special, that the admissions committee needs to know to have a genuinely better understanding of you, then you should put it down here.

Whatever you do, don’t use the essay to provide a summary of your application, just in case Adcom isn’t smart enough to have gotten it the first time you said it. What happens if you do that? I know you know… ding.