MBA application essays are the part of your application where you have the most freedom in expressing yourself, in telling the admissions committee what really makes your life experience, professional vision and unique skill-set the right match for their business school. You have two basic options for how to do that: showing and telling.
Show and Tell
It’s a writer’s cliche that showing beats telling, and for good reason. If you can engage an admission officer’s imagination during a long day of reviewing application materials, you have a much better chance of being remembered. However, both showing and telling have their place in good essay writing. Using specific details, strong visual images and a personal, yet professional, tone will quickly engage your reader. But no matter how well you spin your yarn, it won’t get you into business school unless you tell it in the service of making a well thought-out point about your candidacy for an MBA. Every sentence of narrative must support a clearly explained and compelling conclusion that directly answers the essay question.
Discovering Your Own Story
Regardless of whether you majored in English or accounting, whether you devour John Grisham novels or only read textbooks for class, whether you work in advertising or engineering, everyone has a story to tell. We make sense of our lives by repeating the details to ourselves again and again, we tell stories to friends and families. A good way to get started on your essays is to brainstorm significant turning points in your professional and personal life, then zero in on the most relevant anecdotes and begin filling in the details.
Writing a Hook
Admissions officers read stacks — literally stacks — of essays every day. Inevitably, they will read some of those essays more closely than others. In order to ensure that your essays receive the readers’ full attention, you should begin with a strong, compelling bit of narrative. Talking through the story aloud, either to yourself or to a friend, will often help to generate a hook. If you can pull the reader into a unique personal story in the first sentence of your essay, you have a much better chance of retaining their attention as you reflect on the lessons you have learned. Such a hook will also help your admissions officer remember you at the end of a long day of reading essays.
Drafts and Revisions
Essay writing is a reflective process, and the more time you can afford to devote to it, the stronger your essays will become. If possible, begin by taking notes on turning points in your life a few months before your application is due. Write your first draft as it becomes clear to you which stories have the most relevance to the essay questions, and allow a few weeks to revise the essays and tailor them for each school. A good strategy for revision is to focus on tightening your language, eliminating cliches and cutting any material that is not absolutely necessary. Then fill in the gaps you have created with an eye toward focusing the essay more directly on its theme.