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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

October 21, 2019

A QUICK GUIDE TO WRITING SUCCESSFUL MBA ESSAYS FOR CLASS OF 2022 ADMISSION TO THE M7 (BUT APPLICABLE TO OTHER SCHOOLS)

The following post is based on a workshop I did in Tokyo in September 2019.  I needed to analyze and explain the essays for the M7 (HBS, Stanford, Booth, Columbia Business School, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT Sloan)  in 3 hours. To do so,  I structured key teaching points related to each school, which are often applicable to other schools.  While this presentation is not intended to replace my longer school specific posts, which are highly detailed, it does provide a total overview to some of the ways I analyze essay questions and advise clients. While focused specifically on the M7, this analysis can be useful for a wide range of essay questions for other MBA programs. It was written as a presentation rather than a blog post, so it is an outline.  I have edited it a bit and added some links but otherwise is what I presented over 3 hours.
This post consists of  an Introduction followed by analysis of  HBS, Booth, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia Business School, Kellogg, and MIT in that order. All essays for Class of 2022 admission.

THE M7: WRITING SUCCESSFUL ESSAYS FOR FALL 2020 ADMISSION
INTRODUCTION 
-Before discussing specific schools I wanted to provide a few core assumptions I make about MBA  school application essays.

Core Assumptions

Assumption I. You must find fit with the school so that the school will find fit with you!
  • You must show why the school is right for you in terms of your goals, learning needs, and values. How you will do this will vary from school to school.
  • Finding fit is about convincing those doing the admitting that you belong at their school.
  • Your only audience is the admissions committee, everyone else including yourself and anyone you have reviewing your essays is not.
Assumption II. You are writing your essays for your reader, not for yourself. So keep these three rules in mind.
 Rule #1 Your reader must understand you. 
  • Provide a clear interpretation of what you have done.
  • Write in simple language, even about complex things.
  • Assume your reader has a basic business background, but don’t assume any expertise.  US admissions committees consist solely of admissions officers whose educational and professional background svaries greatly.
Rule #2 Your reader must believe you.
  • If your reader is not convinced by your story, you are dead.
  • I am all in favor of telling the best version of a story that you can, provided it is also believable.
  • Bad self-marketing is frequently based on lies that can be seen through. I have met many admissions officers and while not all of them were brilliant, all the good ones had finely tuned “bullshit detectors.”
Rule #3 Your reader must be engaged.
  • If a reader does not become interested in what they are reading, there is a problem.
  • The problem may be that the essay is simply generic or the way a story is being told is boring or there is a lack of passion in the writing.  Whatever the case, it needs fixing.
Assumption III.  Essays are only piece of the application and you are being judged holistically.
We are focused on the essays but always remember other parts of the application are very important.
  • I would argue that the resume is actually the single most important part of any application because it represents what an applicant has done overall.
  • For some schools, extensive application form content is also important.
  • Test scores and academic performance have a significant impact on an applicant's basic chance for admission.
  • Recommendations can support an applicant but if they are don't appear as authentic, they can kill an application.
  • Interviews play a critical role in the process, but it is (with just a few top US Schools exceptions, Kellogg (and on-campus at Tuck and Duke) most notably) part of a second stage selection process because interviews are by invitation only.  Except for Kellogg, at the other M7 schools once you receive an invite your chances of admission have increased significantly (Most extreme is GSB where your chances just went from 6% to 50%).

Therefore, always look at your essays as part of the overall application process.

HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL 
My full HBS Class of 2022 application analysis can be found here.

CORE LEARNING POINT: Think Strategically

Overview: HBS is the world's most famous business school. Regardless of shifts in rankings and that Stanford is more difficult to get into, it is at the top of the US MBA ecosystem.  HBS also has the biggest single class of any MBA program (INSEAD takes more annually but divided into 2 classes in the fall and winter) and the most applicants.  What I mean by en ecosystem is just that. It is a dominant player and what it looks for in applicants is a good general guide to what all MBA programs look for. For that reason alone, it is a good school to start with
ESSAY: As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? There is no word limit for this question.
Based on the above, you should be asking yourself: Given the question, what do HBS admissions need to know in order to offer me an interview and then admit me?  My answer would be to take a deep dive into HBS’ criteria for admission and consider how they can apply to you.  HBS introduced this more open style of question for the Class of 2016.
Four Ways HBS Evaluates Applicants
We can summarize what HBS is looking for in terms of three stated values-Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship-plus Diversity. These four core ways that HBS uses to evaluate applicants need to be communicated in your application and one or more of them should be used in your essay.
Habit of Leadership
Leadership may be expressed in many forms, from college extracurricular activities to academic or business achievements, from personal accomplishments to community commitments. We appreciate leadership on any scale, from organizing a classroom to directing a combat squad, from running an independent business to spearheading initiatives at work. In essence, we are looking for evidence of your potential .- HBS
If you think you are not a leader, you have not thought enough. -Adam

Some examples of leadership experiences that make for effective content in essays, recommendations, and interviews
  • A time you convinced someone or some group
  • A time you made a difficult decision
  • A time you changed something
  • A time you effectively negotiated with someone
  • A time created something
  • A time you managed or organized something
  • A time you represented an organization in public

Analytical Aptitude and Appetite = INTELLIGENCE
  • Well written essays regardless of topic can do this.
  • Breaking down a complex problem that you solved and communicating it to non-expert readers
  • Demonstrating great personal insight into weaknesses, failures, and/or mistakes EVERYONE CAN AND SHOULD DO THIS!
  • Creative writing

Engaged Community Citizenship
Engagement in a community may take many different forms:
  • Volunteer or social activities at work/school/extracurricular
  • Participation in sports, debating, orchestra, band, drama or dance
  • Serving as the leader, organizer, or active member of a team-based activity such as a seminar, project, or trip

Diversity
  • What unique values and experiences will you contribute?
  • Why admit you and not someone else?
Some ways of demonstrating diversity:
  • Being the first person or kind of person to do something
  • Being the youngest person to do something
  • Coming from a minority group
  • Having an unusual family, academic, personal, or professional background
  • Unusual skills or talents
  • Extensive international experience
THE BOTTOM LINE: WHAT MAKES YOU STAND OUT?
Everyone has their own unique life story and the point is to get your reader interested in your story.
When I am working with an applicant, especially in the initial stages of writing I am actually focused on this question because I know that great applications are based on great self-marketing campaigns and the heart of such campaigns is applicant differentiation. Good differentiation will be based on good stories.
  • Think about the hard and interesting moments in your life.
  • What has challenged you in your life?
  • How have you suffered and grown stronger?
  • What has made you rethink your decisions or view or career?
  • Why do excel at what you do?
  • Who or what motivates you?


CHICAGO BOOTH 
My latest Booth application analysis can be found here.
CORE LEARNING POINTS: 1. Focus on Goals 2. Two Ways of Telling a Story

Overview: Booth is, like the University of Chicago as whole, a school that values intelligence and independence. Many consider the University of Chicago to be the single most academically rigorous school in the US (even compared to Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT).  Beyond its reputation in finance and economics, it is strong in analytics (including quantitative marketing, which it has long been dominant in) and entrepreneurship. Regarding entrepreneurship, the school is extremely well resourced. Most students live in downtown Chicago in the same buildings and commute to Hyde Park.  Beyond taking classes on campus in Hyde Park, they can also take the same exact classes downtown with evening MBA program students, which is unique amongst the M7.

————————————————————————————
Note: Like most other M7 schools, the Booth app form contains short questions related to goals:
What is your immediate post-MBA career goal? (250 characters)
What is your long-term post-MBA career goal? (250 characters)
-In the two short answer questions state your goals as clearly possible. You can fully leverage the essay to explain your motivations in depth and elaborate further on such details as potential employers.
Short-term
  • Be clear on your industry and job function.
  • Provide specific examples of potential employers.
Examples:
  1. "After Booth, I want to join McKinsey or another management consulting firm with a strong healthcare practice."
  2. "After Booth, I will return to my employer where I hope to join as a manager in the Africa and Middle East Business Development Team.
Long-term:
Be ambitious!
Think about your wider impact beyond a short-term post-MBA role. Think about
What will be your legacy?
Examples:
  • "Given the pace of change in the finance industry, I hope to play a leading role in developing new services to meet the changing needs of consumers." -TREND
  • "While still in the early stages of development, immense opportunities exist for extending the human lifespan, which I hope to support through the creation of a new venture fund." –MISSION/DREAM
  • "I see myself taking on increasingly greater responsibilities not alone but building teams that can succeed." –LEADERSHIP ROLE
  • "Empowering future generations of female corporate leaders is a critical part of my long-term vision." -ROLE/MISSION
 REMEMBER: THE SOLE FUNCTION OF MBA APPLICATION CAREER GOALS IS TO GET YOU ADMITTED!!!!


Essay 1: How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (250 word minimum)

Interpretation:  This is a "Goals/Why MBA at this Program" question
  • Explain how specific parts of Booth will help you reach your professional objectives.


What Booth cares about: What do you want from Booth?
  • What your professional objectives and learning needs are
  • Your knowledge of how Booth will help you
  • Clearly this is an essay that requires knowing a lot about Booth
  • Booth has the most flexible curriculum of any MBA program: There is only one required course (LEAD) and the five general subject requirements that can be filled by many courses


Essay 2: Chicago Booth immerses you in a choice-rich environment. How have your interests, leadership experiences, and other passions influenced the choices in your life? (250 word minimum)
Interpretation:
  • This is really the BOOTH QUESTION as it relates directly to the core cultural values of the school
  • Booth wants students who are strongly self-motivated to take advantage of this flexibility
  • Booth cares about the choices you have made in your life

HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR ANSWER: TWO WAYS TO TELL A STORY
A chronological approach: A key early passion or interest leads to something you study or do (extracurricular) that leads to major choices in your life
Example: "Passionate about tennis since childhood, I played on my university team. On that team I realized that I really enjoyed organizing training sessions and recruiting, this led to my decision to study organizational behavior during university and to pursue a career in HR consulting. "
A thematic approach: Focuses on how an interest or passion leads to choices in your life
Example: "Caring about others is something I have been passionate about since childhood. I think this concern for others has effected my approach to many things I do. For example, while I loved competing on my university tennis team, I realized that I really enjoyed organizing training sessions and recruiting even more. I think wanting to really understand how I could positively impact others also is the reason I  decided to study organizational behavior during university and pursue a career in HR consulting. "

  • You may have multiple interests/choices in this essay
  • Don't focus on just work but focus much of this essay on your personal and academic choices
  • There is no specific maximum. My admitted clients typically write from 500-1000 words for this answer.
  • If you have written the essays for Stanford or HBS already, you are likely to find that you have anywhere from 50% to 90% of the content for this essay






STANFORD GSB  
My full Stanford GSB Class of 2022 application analysis can be found here.

CORE LEARNING POINTS: 1. Expressing what you value 2. Believability in goals 3. Explaining why want to attend a program 4. Telling impact act story 5. Connecting your past to the present

There is a lot I could say about Stanford but if your objective is to get in, you need to do look into in depth.  One thing I can say is that this year it involved writing up to 6 essays (3 are "optional")

Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (750)
WHERE DO SUCCESSFUL ANSWERS COME FROM?
In my experience, answers to this question that result in acceptance come from the HEART and the HEAD. The two combined will allow you to tell your story about what matters most.

Heart: The admits I worked with found that what matters most to them by looking inside of themselves and finding something essential about who they are. Beyond the most basic things of survival, what motivates you? What do you live for? What do you care about? How do you relate to other people? Are you driven by a particular idea or issue? Where do you find meaning?
Head: Once you think you have identified that essential thing that matters most to you, begin analyzing it. What is its source? WHY does it remain important to you? How? How does it relate to the career goals you discuss in Essay B? The heart will tell what it is, but the head must explain it.
Some Common Types of What Matters Essays
I would like to discuss three common types of answers.
Abstract and metaphorical: Abstract and metaphorical answers can produce very creative responses. An example would be “What matters most to me are the doors in my life.”
-Using the whole concept of entering and exiting, this essay concept might work very well, but could easily generate a series of disconnected stories that don’t leave the reader with a really clear answer.
-Remember that writing MBA essays is not primarily a literary exercise, so be careful with this approach.
Core value: A core value response might involve a very simple answer to the question, such as “What matters to me most is love.”
-Applicants frequently stress out about giving simple answers to the question because they worry that the answer will be too common.
-What is ultimately important is not the what, but the why and how you explain that why in the essay.
– I have had a number of clients who were admitted with one to three-word answers to the question.
The Mission: A mission version of the answer works exceptionally well if your stated mission is really backed-up by your resume and other aspects of your application. An example would be “What matters most to me is protecting the Earth’s environment for future generations.”
-I have seen many answers like this that were truly excellent and resulted in admission for candidates who could really prove they had the mission in the past and would be continuing it in the future.
-On the other hand, I have seen so many bad answers that lacked believability because the applicant’s biographical details did not align with the answer, and/or lacked a clearly stated mission with a scope that was clarified in Essay B.
Make a choice! All successful versions of this essay that I have read involve making a choice. That is to say, you must actually clearly indicate something that matters most.

Essay B: Why Stanford? (400)

THIS IS A FUTURE DIRECTED QUESTION
Unlike some other “Why MBA” questions, Stanford is not asking about the past.  You have Essay A, your resume, and the application form to discuss the past. This essay is about who you want to become.

Stanford views itself as a change agent. Show in you essay how it will change you. In my experience, a good answer to Essay B will do the following;

1.Shows how the applicant intends to be an agent of change in whatever career he or she pursues after his or her MBA. Your answer should be consistent with Stanford’s mission to “Change lives, Change organizations, Change the world.”  This really does matter.

2. Shows connectivity with Essay A.Whether the connection is extremely direct or relatively abstract, the reader should feel a sense of synergy between these essays.
For those who have a mission (see above) type answers in Essay A, Essay B is an opportunity to explain how an MBA will help you carry out that mission.
For those with other types of Essay A answers, the connectivity will be more indirect, but should still be intuitively obvious to the reader.


3. Consistent with the applicant’s biography.That is to say, applicants have facts in their past experience that must make their goals believable.
-WHAT WILL NOT WORK:  Goals that have no connection to the personal, professional, or academic background of the applicant.
-WHAT WILL: Goals that seem connected with the applicant's personal, professional, and/or academic experience and interests.


4. Does not just make a series of dumb lists of classes or tells Stanford about itself but explains what the applicant wants from Stanford.
By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, the admissions reader will be learning about you.
An example of an explanation for why:  “While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank of Joy, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I will need to succeed as an investment banker.”
A complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Stanford.
Avoid circular (tautological) reasoning:  “I want to take Accelerated Corporate Finance: Applications, Techniques, and Models because I am interested in learning advanced corporate financial techniques.” This kind of circular reasoning is so common. Usually, it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. They actually convey nothing about the applicant.  They are just abstract needs and will have limited impact on your reader.  The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program.



Optional Short-Answer Question: Think about times you've created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? You are welcome to share up to three examples. (Up to 1500 characters, approximately 250 words, for each example)
Effective answers to this question will clearly state the activity engaged in, identify the impact, and explain why it was significant (made a difference) to your yourself or others.
Essay Outline What was your role? What does it mean? Why will this essay sell them on you?
Situation:
When?
Where?
Who?
What?
How?
Effective answers to when, where, who, what, and how should all relate directly to your role in the situation. You are the hero or heroine of your story. Your reader should have a clear understanding of the situation. They are not reading a mystery story, a poem, or some other form of writing where withholding information will be valued. The situation needs to be one that the reader will believe, consider to be important, and hopefully be impressed by.
Action Steps:
What actions did you take?Action Step 1:
Action Step 2:
Action Step 3:
Stories break down into steps. For each step, make sure you are clear about what you did. Each action step should be meaningful and demonstrate your potential. This is the core of the story and it is important the rationale for your actions be stated as clearly as possible. Effective essays involve both description and interpretation. If you are actions are clear and their value is clear in terms of your leadership, analytical, engaged community citizenship, or unique background, you will be on a firm basis for selling your story to admissions.
Result Results should be stated as clearly as possible. Your relationship to the results should be clear. Explain the significance of results clearly. Make your results meaningful so that they will be impressive.

THE ESSAY IN THE APPLICATION: Give them a new perspective on you!
“More About You: Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.”  (1200 characters)

Summary Examples:
-Learnt the importance of proactive communication during university as a result of specific activities engaged in and applied it to specific kind of activity at work.
-Benefitted from growing up in an extended family which created a highly collaborative environment. At work saw a lack of engagement amongst employees and proposed ways to overcome the problem.



WHARTON
 My full Wharton Class of 2022 application analysis can be found here.
CORE LEARNING POINTS: 1. Transactional Essay Sets 2. Contribution questions 3. Optional questions

Overview: America's biggest business school if you combine undergraduate and MBA students. It has more courses on more different subjects than any other M7 school. A general characterization of Wharton- data driven, but also a place with a commitment to experiential learning, East Coast focused but with a San Francisco campus that is now become integrated into the MBA program, highly international, highly flexible with strengths in a large number of areas, including healthcare, finance, real estate, and marketing- is  helpful to keep in mind when writing this essay. Wharton is a huge program with so many strengths that the point is not to think about some big overall image of the school, but to focus on what you want to get out of it.

Wharton’s essay set is transactional in the most basic sense because Essay 1 is about what Wharton can give you and Essay 2 is about what you can give Wharton. This reflects the core pragmatism of the school’s culture and specifically the culture of the admissions office.

Wharton Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
Interpretation:  This is a "Goals/Why MBA at this Program" question
  • Explain how specific parts of the Wharton program will help you reach your professional objectives.
What Wharton cares about: What do you want from Wharton?
  • What your professional objectives and learning needs are
  • Your knowledge of how Wharton will help you
  • You need to give Wharton admissions a very clear image of your professional objectives for attending their MBA program.


Wharton Essay 2: Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)
Interpretation:  This is a Contribution Question
  • You must focus on a single story not covered elsewhere in your application and must have learned something from the experience/accomplishment that will be the basis for one or more contributions at Wharton
What Wharton cares most about: What can you give to the Wharton community?
  • What makes you distinct in terms of your experience and/or accomplishments that demonstrates your ability to add value
  • Your knowledge of how you could make impact at Wharton
  • You should know enough about the Wharton community to show specific ways you might contribute.


Wharton also cares about what you learned
  • One requirement for this essay is that the contributions be based on something you learned from the experience or accomplishment.
  • Learning means discovering something new about yourself, other people and/or the world. It is about gaining a new perspective, insight into to how things work, possibly becoming more mature. It is about growth.
  • BEWARE OF FALSE LEARNING: False learning is any situation when you indicate that you learned something  but actually it was something that you already knew or others are likely to assume that you know.


Outlining contribution questions

EXPERIENCE/
ACCOMPLISHMENT

LEARNING
CONTRIBUTION AT WHARTON
Led tennis team to victory for 1st time ever
How to build a successful team
Win at case competitions
How to overcome team conflict
Solve problems in my learning team

As you can see from this example a specific experience’s learning lessons are applied to specific ways of contributing to Wharton.

Wharton Additional Question: First-time applicants may use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)
What Wharton cares about: Any problems or concerns?
Examples: Low TOEFL/IELTS/GMAT/GRE test scores or GPA, something odd in your university transcript, long gaps in employment or schooling, lack of extracurricular activities and no recommendation from a direct supervisor, something important that really must be told but cannot be accounted for anywhere else in the application.What
Wharton does not want: Another essay. Don’t do that! It really is totally optional.
-Many MBA programs have this kind of question. The length varies from 500 characters (HBS) to unlimited (Stanford). This type of question is really for only discussing something negative, complicated, or otherwise significant but it is not something every applicant needs to write.
-This question-type is in contrast to more open ended optional questions where positive content could be written about. This type of question is much more common for non-US programs such as London Business School.


Columbia Business School 
My full Columbia Business School Class of 2022 application analysis can be found here.

CORE LEARNING POINTS: 1. Intensive Goals Focus 2. Leadership Values

Overview:  CBS is the M7 school in the best location with the worst campus amongst this group. Given Columbia’s overall rank as well as the unique nature of both January (J-Term) and Early Decision for August (ED), it has been very common for me to work with clients who apply only to it.

Rolling Admission: The first thing to keep in mind about admission to both January Term and August Term (ED and RD) is that Columbia uses a rolling admissions system unlike the fixed deadline system used by most other schools
– I do recommend before or by the January Merit Fellowship deadline for RD.
-While you can consider the Merit deadline to be kind of a “Round Two Deadline,” I recommend you apply as soon as you are ready to do so.

Immediate Post-MBA Goals Statement
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
Examples of possible responses:
"Work in business development for a media company."
"Join a strategy consulting firm."
"Launch a data-management start-up."
-Remember this is 50 characters, not words! This would be about 5-10 words. The question itself, fortunately, includes the above examples to make it clear what Columbia is looking for here.
-Being clever is not critical here, being clear is.

Essay 1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
THIS ESSAY IS COMPLETELY FUTURE FOCUSED. That is why they say they “have a clear sense of your professional path to date.”
-Any statements you make about your past experience should be analytical rather than descriptive and for the sole purpose of explaining what you want to do in the future and why.
Example: "As a consultant I have worked a wide range of engagements but became most excited by those involving analytical operations, which is my post-MBA goal is to take on an operations heavy role in a b-to-b or b-to-c firm such as…."
We can break this essay up into two main parts:
Part 1. 3-5 years = Immediate Post-MBA Role = Short-Term Goal
-Specific role, give company examples, possibly involving companies that recruit at CBS
-Discuss what you would do and learn during those first couple of years in your new role.
– How would this relate to your long-term dream job?
Part 2. Long-term Dream Job= Long-Term Goal = More than 5 years from now, Could be 10, 20, etc.
-This dream is not a fantasy, it should reflect your reflect your ambitions and values
-What kind of an impact do you want to make through your career?


Essay 2: Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)
CBS is a school for people who know what they want to do. You need to clearly specific aspects of this program that will help you achieve your goals.
-If your goals are not showing themselves to be particularly well supported by Columbia, you may need to either change your goals or decide to apply elsewhere.
– Given the limited length, I suggest you organize this essay in terms of your learning needs and identify 2-4 such needs with paragraphs from 50-125 words in length.

Essay 3: Who is a leader you admire, and why? (250 words)

I have Three Rules for answering this question

RULE 1: ANY QUESTION IS REALLY ABOUT YOU.
While this question certainly requires writing about someone else, whoever you discuss and why you discuss them is a reflection on you.
-Bad answers to this question take the form of mini-biographies that fail to connect the writer to the leader they admire.
-Bring in your own values and/or experience to make this an effective answer.


RULE 2:  TRY TO COME UP WITH SOMEONE INTERESTING
The leader need not be famous to be interesting.
-The obviously famous and frequently mentioned, like CBS alumnus Warren Buffett or Steve Jobs, is BORING AND CLICHE.
-Your boss, a famous general from your country, your great grandmother, the head of a political or other organization, living or dead, could make a good topic.
-The key point is that whoever you select, you make it clear what aspect of their leadership you admire.


RULE 3: CLEARLY EXPLAIN WHY
-Your admiration is based on something about this person.  What is it?    If relates to specific act they performed, briefly describe it and then explain why you admire it. If relates to their leadership style, define it
-Part of the why is explaining the impact of this leader's ideas or actions on you.
-Whatever the case, focus your answer on the WHY and not on the leaders’ personal details.


Kellogg 
My full Kellogg Class of 2022 application analysis can be found here.
CORE LEARNING POINT: Appealing to a school with a strong focus on leadership, teamwork, initiative, and community

Kellogg’s Teamwork Culture and its Campus Community
If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Social life in Evanston is not limited to campus. Kellogg is filled with people who are great communicators, friendly, outgoing, and able to thrive in a socially intense environment. If you are not that kind of person, don’t apply there. If you are, it will be heaven. At Kellogg, We offer an environment that requires teamwork and encourages risk-taking, among colleagues who are as supportive as they are ambitious.

THE ESSAYS
“The essays let you explain, in your own words, why you think Kellogg is right for you. Take some time to think through the experiences that led you here and how they have shaped where you want to go.”
I think it is important to keep these overall instructions about the essays in mind.  In particular, Kellogg’s application essays are designed, along with the rest of the application and interview, to help admissions determine whether you demonstrate that you meet the following criteria:
  • "Can motivate a team to drive impact
  • Are not afraid to question the status quo and seek the non-obvious solutions
  • Approach business problems with a mix of intellect, energy, and creativity
  • Seek diversity in their networks and teams
  • Are eager to dive in and collaborate with an engaged, ambitious community of peers"
The two essays give you a chance to show why you fit this criteria.

Essay 1: “Kellogg's purpose is to educate, equip and inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face and what did you learn? (450 words)”

Structure:  Very similar to Stanford Impact Essays but with more word count to discuss your learning and challenges.

-I suggest focusing on a recent example where you go beyond a simply defined leadership role and add specific value.
-You might question a plan, build something new, intervene in a situation where you didn't have to, take charge, or otherwise do what others didn't do.
-Show you have courage, an innovative spirit, a capacity for leading others beyond the previous limits of the organization, or otherwise going beyond the status quo.


What kind of a leader are you?
I think it is useful to analyze the kind of leader you are showing through this and other leadership essays.  There are many ways to think about leadership. This is one I like. It was developed by the founder of the Executive Masters program I attended at INSEAD.
Eight Types of Leadership
  • The strategist: leadership as a game of chess
  • The change-catalyst: leadership as a turnaround activity
  • The transactor: leadership as deal making
  • The builder: leadership as an entrepreneurial activity
  • The innovator: leadership as creative idea generation
  • The processor: leadership as an exercise in efficiency
  • The coach: leadership as a form of people development
  • The communicator: leadership as stage management
Professor Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, INSEAD and regular HBR contributor

Essay 2: “Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you and how have they influenced you? (450 words)”
-For anyone writing essays for Stanford, HBS or Booth, it should be easy to repurpose some of your content
Given that there is no Why Kellogg essay in this essay set and given the previously quoted instructions above about explaining why Kellogg is right for you, this is the essay where I would recommend making that very clear.
– The key thing about values for this essay is that be ones you have acted on.  In other words, a value maybe important to you but unless it reflects actions you have taken, it is not a good topic.
-Strong answers here will help the reader understand how your ideas/beliefs/perspectives have effected both your personal and private choices.
-Be sure to write about something that is outside of work here as well as writing about something professional.


MIT SLOAN
My latest MIT Sloan application analysis can be found here
CORE LEARNING POINTS: (1) Making a pure fit argument (2) Making a strong first impression

Overview:
MIT’s motto, “Mens et Manus” (Mind and Hand) fosters an attitude of excellence that transforms a career path into a lifetime of exploration, innovation, and leadership.

MIT is well known for transforming theory into practice and this is certainly true of its business school. Amongst all the M7, MIT Sloan has long been the leader in experiential learning and the use of multiple classroom methods.  It has long been the anti-HBS (flexible, collaborative and not high pressure, practical not case-based). If anything, HBS is now trying to be more like MIT Sloan.

MIT has the shortest essay set of the M7, a 300-word cover letter and a one-minute video.

THE COVER LETTER
"MIT Sloan seeks students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas. We demand integrity and respect passion."
Taking the above into consideration, please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence, include one or more examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria above, and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia and Ms. Dawna Levenson, Assistant Deans of Admissions (300 words or fewer, excluding address and salutation)."

Keep in mind that great cover letters result in job interviews. The purpose of a cover letter is to accompany a resume and get you an interview!  How will your cover letter standout?
If you don’t know how to do a US-style cover letter, you need to learn. Use Google to see the format.
-My suggestion is that you tell a story about yourself and why you fit at MIT Sloan that incorporates some of your key accomplishments.
-If you can touch on about 3-4 key selling points while actually making an argument for why you belong at MIT Sloan, you will have done a good job.
Paragraph structure: Relate one specific aspect of Sloan culture or values to something you have done.  In the process of doing this include important details about your professional and/or academic experience.
Cover letter structure: Make 3-4 such paragraphs.
You will notice that I have specifically not included post-MBA career goals in the above questions.  That is because your cover letter should not focus on such goals. MIT makes it clear in all their events that they don't want that here.

VIDEO STATEMENT

Please take a minute to introduce yourself to your future classmates via video. Include a bit on your past experience and why MIT Sloan is the best place for you to pursue your MBA. Videos should be a single take (no editing) lasting no more than one minute and consisting of you speaking directly to the camera. We recommend using an application such as QuickTime or iMovie to record yourself.
This video has a few different purposes:
  1. It is a great way to get an overall first impression of an applicant.
  2. The question itself is a very good way to see who is actually paying attention to who the intended hypothetical audience is. This is useful for getting rid of social idiots who cannot construct even a one-minute appealing statement to their future classmates.
  3. Since MIT Sloan does not require TOEFL, it is an easy way to get an impression of English ability even prior to an interview.
  4. Briefly explain the applicant wants to come to Sloan.

What all successful versions of this video do:
  1. Help the viewer understand why they would like the applicant as a person and as a classmate
  2. Highlight a few key characteristics about the applicant not covered in the cover letter.
  3. Showcase what makes someone special.
  4. Why they want to be at Sloan.

How to make the video:
  1. Write a script. It will mostly likely be too long. (Once you add in breathing, facial expressions, in acting you might do, and speaking a speed to heard effectively, your script should be 90-120 words long most likely)
  2. Have your script reviewed by whoever you are sharing it with.
  3. Make an initial video. If your script is too long at this point, edit it down again.
  4. Have your video reviewed, taking feedback into consideration, alter the script as needed.
  5. Record until you have an acceptable take.
  6. As the instructions say, don't edit it. They don't want a well-produced TV commercial.


-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

October 18, 2019

Booth Pre-Interview Essays for Class of 2022

For my overall suggestions on Chicago Booth MBA  interviews, please see here.  However Booth started asking for essays for those who receive interviews.In addition to the essays required for applying to Booth, my R1 clients received the following:

There’s still more we want to learn about you! Please respond to one question from Group A and one question from Group B (two responses in total), each in 250 words or less. 
Group A
  • What or who in your life has been your biggest motivator?
  • What has been your most surprising accomplishment and why?
Group B
  • What are you most excited to share with your classmates?
  • What is present you most curious to learn about future you?


Overall suggestions:

Given that Booth has already asked a lot about you in the main essays, you should certainly give answers that are consistent with what is found there.  However this is an opportunity to give them new perspectives and/or elaborate on themes found only briefly in your essays. If you choose to write about something that has already been covered, really consider whether what you are adding is really strong enough to make a difference. In general, I recommend writing on something new that  not at all or is only minimally discussed in your application.

Given the length of  250  words each, obviously you cannot write in huge detail, rather think of these as one-point or two-point answers. That is to say try to make one or two clear points when providing the answer.

While these questions are not directly connected to the interview as the interviewer will not have access to them, do keep in mind that they will be analyzed in relationship to your application and the interview report.

Regarding the questions themselves, see below.

Group A
  • What or who in your life has been your biggest motivator?
Whether it is a What or Who Keep the Focus on YOU. Keep in that the what here is not a mere abstraction but like a person something that has really motivated you.  While this question certainly requires writing about someone or something else, whoever or whatever you discuss and why you discuss them is a reflection on you.  Bad answers to this question take the form of mini-biographies  (who) or analysis of the situation/subject (what)  but don’t focus even on why this was a sources of motivation.   Keep the focus of the essay on why this was your biggest motivator, not on the what/who. The why aspect of this question is particularly important as answering that will immediately put the focus on you and not the person or thing that is your motivator.
  • What has been your most surprising accomplishment and why?
Surprising would mean just that. Not something expected. So an accomplishment that an obvious one from what you were doing would not be acceptable. Instead you need an unexpected positive result. Keep in mind that accomplishments can be highly personal. It might not even be perceived as an accomplishment by anyone else, the point is that you can explain why it was an accomplishment for you and one that you could not have easily anticipated.
Group B
  • What are you most excited to share with your classmates?
An effective answer here would highlight some aspect(s) of yourself that would help you befriend and/or support your classmates.  Why would someone want to be friends with you?  Why would they want to work with you in and out of class?  How will add value to them?

  • What is present you most curious to learn about future you?
While I suppose one could use this for a different purpose (such as single person asking will I be married in the future or have children), I view this essay as  a chance to say how you hope to achieve or improve or change your self. The future you is not specified in terms of timing.  I assume you will factor in Booth and your career/personal goals into the answer.
So I suggest you do the following:
  1. Decide 1-3 topics to cover. The topics could be distinct or connected.
  2. For each topic explain what you are interested in learning about your future self and why
Since you cannot know the future, the focus is here on what you would be curious to learn about rather than creating a picture of the future you. You may consider such questions as:
-What kind of leader will I have become?
-Where will my career have taken me?
-What aspect of my personality has changed?
-How was impacted by my Booth experience?
-Did I overcome a particular weakness?
-How did I handle future challenges?


------------
Finally, don't treat these questions casually but given the deadline, think quickly and deeply. Then, write fast.
Best of luck!


-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

August 09, 2019

Kellogg MBA Essays for the Class of 2022

In the post, I analyze Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business Application Essay Questions for the MBA program for the Class of 2022. I have taken the questions from Kellogg’s website.
My clients have been admitted to Kellogg every year since 2002. Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have had 46 clients admitted to Kellogg. My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on Kellogg, I regularly help additional candidates with Kellogg interview preparation.
Kellogg’s Teamwork Culture and its Campus Community
If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Social life in Evanston is not limited to campus. Kellogg is filled with people who are great communicators, friendly, outgoing, and able to thrive in a socially intense environment. If you are not that kind of person, don’t apply there. If you are, it will be heaven. At Kellogg, We offer an environment that requires teamwork and encourages risk-taking, among colleagues who are as supportive as they are ambitious.
Along With Chicago Booth, Kellogg is the US business school I have visited the most (I did an Executive Masters at INSEAD, so it is the business school I have attended). The reason is very simply, my family moved from Los Angeles to Chicago when I was 18, so I have had many opportunities to visit when go back to the US to see my family. Most recently I visited Kellogg in 2018 when the professional admissions consultants organization I am a part of, held our conference at their wonderful new campus.  Dean Sally Blount left a great impact on the school in many ways but surely the most lasting will be getting the new campus built. Kellogg went from having an overcrowded building that reminded me of a large US high school to one of the best campuses of any MBA program. At this point, Columbia Business School is the only M7 with a first class campus (it will have one but it will take a while.  Kellogg’s campus right on Lake Michigan is a real gem. Sure, it  is freezing walking on campus during the winter but the rest of the year makes up for it.
Sometimes when I talk to applicants they don’t quite understand that Evanston is really part of Chicago and not some distant cut-off college town.  The thing that is nice about Evanston is that it is both a college town and part of a major American city.  You can stay in a nice safe college town while simultaneously being able to enjoy one of America’s most diverse cities.   Unlike Booth students who mostly commute to Hyde Park from downtown Chicago,   Kellogg students typically reside in Evanston, which contributes to Kellogg’s intense community focus.  As I discuss below, the community aspect is something one should fully take into account when applying to Kellogg.
THE ESSAYS
“The essays let you explain, in your own words, why you think Kellogg is right for you. Take some time to think through the experiences that led you here and how they have shaped where you want to go.”
I think it is important to keep these overall instructions about the essays in mind.  In particular, Kellogg’s application essays are designed, along with the rest of the application and interview, to help admissions determine whether you demonstrate that you meet the following criteria:
  • Can motivate a team to drive impact
  • Are not afraid to question the status quo and seek the non-obvious solutions
  • Approach business problems with a mix of intellect, energy, and creativity
  • Seek diversity in their networks and teams
  • Are eager to dive in and collaborate with an engaged, ambitious community of peers
I suggest you keep these criteria in mind when writing Essays 1 and 2. While it could be very challenging to provide comprehensive coverage on all five of these points when writing two 450-word essays, I would suggest making sure that each essay is at least fully addressing one of these topics and that you try make sure that your recommendations are covering the rest of the topics that you don’t have room to cover.

Peer Application Review at Kellogg
One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates and having 2nd year students on that committee is one way for a school to make sure that happens. The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Students members of the committee bring a peer’s perspective to the process. They are also are likely to be the first to read your file and will be looking to determine whether they want you in their community.  When writing essays for Kellogg, keep these student readers in mind.

Essay 1: “Kellogg's purpose is to educate, equip and inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face and what did you learn? (450 words)”
Think Bravely: The movie!  Kellogg has been be on the brave  for quite a while now.  This gem is from 2011 when the whole Brave motto was introduced by former Dean Blount.

(They even have a Brave Leader Speaker Series.)
This brave leadership question as been going through various forms for the past several years but the main point is the same: SHOW HIGH IMPACT LEADERSHIP!
I suggest focusing on a recent example where you go beyond a simply defined leadership role and add specific value.  You might question a plan, build something new, intervene in a situation where you didn't have to, take charge, or otherwise do what others didn't do. Show you have courage, an innovative spirit, a capacity for leading others beyond the previous limits of the organization, or otherwise going beyond the status quo.  Show Kellogg you fit their criteria.
For extensive discussion of ways to approach leadership essays, please see http://www.adammarkus.com/stanford-gsb-mba-essay-3-for-class-of-2016-admission/.  In that post I provide very detailed approaches to variety of core leadership topics that align well with Kellogg Essay 1.


Essay 2: “Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you and how have they influenced you? (450 words)”

For anyone writing essays for Stanford, HBS, or HBS, it should be easy to repurpose some of your content for writing Kellogg Essay 2 because those schools essays (such as Stanford’s What Matters Most? ) necessarily relate to values. For Booth, one has to write about choices made in one’s life, which also requires some consideration of this issue.  And for HBS, if you are not writing about what your values in some way, there is probably a real problem with your essay. Unlike all three aforementioned schools, which give copious word count, Kellogg does not.  There is no place here for a life story in detail.  There is room here to identify 1-3 values about yourself that show how you stand out and how you align with Kellogg.
Given that there is no Why Kellogg essay in this essay set and given the previously quoted instructions above about explaining why Kellogg is right for you, this is the essay where I would recommend making that very clear. I don’t mean that you should write 450 word essay on the theme of why you fit at Kellogg, but I would surely work Kellogg into this essay.
The key thing about values for this essay is that be ones you have acted on.  In other words, a value maybe important to you but unless it reflects actions you have taken, it is not a good topic.  Strong answers here will help the reader understand how your ideas/beliefs/perspectives have effected both your personal and private choices.  Be sure to write about something that is outside of work here as well as writing about something professional.
For a discussion of values, see my post on Stanford GSB, where I discuss this issue in terms of the what matters most question.
“Reapplicants: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250 words)”
Reapplicants should read my previous post on reapplication. Use this space to specifically explain what has improved about you since you last applied. You can certainly mention improved test scores, but I would not use very much of your word count for that. Typical topics include: development of a new skill, promotions that demonstrate your potential for future success, involvement in an extracurricular activity, learning significantly more about Kellogg, and why your goals discussed in Essay 1 now are better than the ones you presented last time.

“All applicants have the opportunity to provide explanations or clarification in Additional Information. Use this section if you think the person reviewing your application might have a few questions about one or more of your responses. This could include:
  • Unexplained gaps in work experience
  • Academic, GMAT or GRE performance
  • Extenuating circumstances that we should be aware of when reviewing your application”
As with other school’s optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.
In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Kellogg and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer “Yes!” to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.
For my most recent post on Kellogg interviews, see here.

Best of luck with your application to Kellogg!


-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

July 15, 2019

Columbia MBA Essays for August 2020 Admission

Columbia Business School has, as they do every year, modified their MBA application essay set for August 2020 Admission.
You can find testimonials from my clients admitted for Columbia August and January entry here.  Since 2007, when I established my own consultancy, (I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2001) I have been fortunate to work with 50 clients admitted to Columbia Business School.

Given Columbia’s overall rank as well as the unique nature of both January (J-Term) and Early Decision for August (ED), it has been very common for me to work with clients who apply only to that school. In this sense, the only school with the same level of sole applicant focus is INSEAD.  Columbia certainly rewards those who make it their first or sole choice as both J-Term and ED seem to be significantly easier to get admitted to than  Regular  Decision (RD).  Columbia is also one of the most reapplicant friendly schools both in terms of the reapplication process for those who reapply within one year of their initial application and in terms of acceptance rates. For my post on re-application to Columbia, see here. For my analysis of recommendations , please see here. For my analysis of Columbia Business School application interviews, please see here.


The Unique Admissions Process at Columbia Business School
The admissions process at Columbia Business is so unique, that Before discussing the essays for August 2020 entry, I will discuss who J-Term (January Entry) is for and differences between Early Decision and Regular Decision for August Entry.

Rolling Admission
The first thing to keep in mind about admission to both January Term and August Term (ED and RD) is that Columbia uses a rolling admissions system unlike the fixed deadline system used by most other schools.  While there are final deadlines, since applicants’ files are reviewed and decisions are being made as they apply (hence the rolling nature of the process), by the time that that the final deadlines for August Term have arrived most seats are already filled.  Rolling admissions works just like buying assigned seats for an airplane, movie, concert, etc.  When they are gone, they are gone. Columbia’s rolling admissions system is a differentiator from other top US MBA programs because only Columbia uses this system. Rolling admissions is commonly used by EMBA programs.

J-Term
The Accelerated MBA, J-Term, can be a great program for those who don’t need an internship.  J-term is not for career changers, it is those looking to enhance their position within their present career trajectory and/or entrepreneurs. The program is designed for those students who do not want or need an internship and don’t require merit fellowships. The principal advantage of the 16-month program is its accelerated format, which allows members of the smaller January class to network quickly and effectively and return to the workplace sooner. You need to make the case in Essay 1 (Goals essay) and/or the Optional Essay that you meet the special criteria for this program and that an internship is not something critical for you. For those who don’t need a summer internship, this is really a great program. Internships for J-Term? Based on what former clients tell me, it is common for J-Termers to do part-time internships in NYC while studying. � �Actually, this is often true for those attending August as well.   These are not the same as summer internships but can surely serve the same function.

Here are some common issues that arise when considering J-term:

Is J-term easier to get into than August entry?   I have always thought so.  The lack of merit fellowships, an internship, and the nature of who the program is designed for, clearly indicate that it is going to attract fewer applicants, so my assumption is that it is surely easier.  Happy to proven wrong if CBS admissions provides data showing otherwise.  All I know for sure is that relatively late application to J-term has not prevented my clients from being admitted, whereas late application to RD is a real problem simply from a seat availability perspective. In one way, J-term is clearly easier: Unlike an August entry RD and (and to a lesser extent ED) applicant, someone applying to Columbia J-term can really be assumed to prefer Columbia over all alternatives. This can make interviews a bit easier in the sense that August entry Columbia alumni interviewers are notorious for being particularly aggressive at determining whether the interviewee’s first choice is really Columbia. Since J-term has no real US rival, this topic can be easily dispensed with in an interview.

Program Alternatives to J-term: There are no US alternatives to J-term worth mentioning if someone wants a January start. Cornell, Cornell Tech, Kellogg and NYU Stern (Tech and Fashion & Luxury) offer one year MBAs, but none start their programs in January, Cornell Tech and NYU are specialized degrees, and both Cornell and Kellogg are accelerated programs in terms of the number of courses taken. Only J-term makes it possible to do two years of courses on such an expedited basis. In addition, the Kellogg program is extremely restrictive, since one has to have take n many core business courses to apply to it. Cornell is also restrictive (Graduate degree or specialized professional certification is required), while Columbia has no such  prior education restrictions.  I have had clients who apply to J-term and  INSEAD  and, less often, IMD, as both have January entry. Still J-term is an incredibly different program in terms of length and content from either of these top non-US programs. LBS, which does not have a January start, would also be another alternative to CBS in the sense that it can be completed on an accelerated basis, but it has no January start.

Can an August entry applicant reapply to J-term? Yes! You could be rejected from ED or RD for August 2019 entry and reapply for January 2020 entry. If you entered in January 2020, you would graduate in the Class of 2021 with those who entered in August 2019. I have worked with  a number of reapplicants who were admitted to J-term after being dinged from the August entry for the same graduating class. In that situation, the key issues for the reapplicant essay are explaining why J-term is now a better choice and you are a better candidate.


August Entry: ED Versus RD

Applying for Early Decision (ED) is ideal for anyone who considers Columbia to be their first choice and is ready by the application deadline. Columbia takes ED very seriously, so I suggest you do as well. CBS ED really is unique among top MBA programs and the decision to commit to it should not be taken lightly. Every year many applicants to Columbia Business School have to deeply consider whether to apply to the ED or RD round. First, keep the official statement from Columbia regarding ED in mind:
  • Candidates have decided that Columbia is their first choice and must sign the following statement of commitment within their applications: I am committed to attending Columbia Business School and will withdraw all applications and decline all offers from other schools upon admission to Columbia Business School.
  • Applicants must submit a nonrefundable $6,000 tuition deposit within two weeks of admission.

In my experience, there are two types of applicants for ED. The first are people who really consider Columbia as their first choice and sometimes make or hope to make no other applications. For this type of applicant, choosing ED is easy. The second type of applicant likes Columbia, but it is not necessarily their first choice. This type of applicant applies to ED because it is perceived as easier to get admitted to than to Regular Decision (RD). This type of applicant treats the $6000 deposit as an insurance policy in the event that they are not admitted to HBS, Stanford, and/or Wharton (I don’t know of any cases of applicants forfeiting $6000 to go to other top programs, but I suppose someone has done it). If they do get into HBS, Stanford, or Wharton and break their commitment to Columbia, they lose $6000 and potentially make Columbia admissions mad. Can Columbia do anything aside from keeping the money? No. For those who have no problem breaking oaths and losing $6000, treating ED as possible insurance is a rational decision through clearly not an ethical one. As an admissions consultant, my sole concern is helping my clients reach their admissions objectives, so I don’t pass judgment one way or another on this ethical issue.

I do recommend before the January Merit Fellowship deadline for RD.  While you can consider the Merit deadline to be kind of a “Round Two Deadline,” I recommend you apply as soon as you are ready to do so. I would especially encourage those coming from groups with large numbers of applicants ( Especially Asian American and White American males in finance and Indian males), to make their applications to RD early. That said, RD takes applications until April 10, 2020, so applications are still viable for some applicants until quite late in the admissions cycle. In general, applying late in RD is best for those with highly unusual backgrounds, stellar backgrounds, no need for merit scholarships (For example, those sponsored by their companies) and/or a love of gambling.  In other words, if you are not exceptional, applying late in RD to Columbia is a very high-risk activity.


How to leverage RD to your advantage when applying to other MBA programs in the First Round.  If you are applying in the first round, an ideal time to apply to Columbia is after you have completed all the applications that were due in September.  Assuming you are relatively freed up while you are waiting for your R1 invites, apply to Columbia. This means you will be considered early in RD and that is an advantage because there will be more seats available.

How to leverage RD to your advantage when applying to other MBA programs in the Second Round.  Since most R2 applications are due in January, applying to Columbia in November or December will still give you a relative advantage over those applicants that apply right before the Merit Deadline.  Again, the earlier, the better your chance for an available seat.


The Essay Questions and the Immediate Post-MBA Goals Statement
I have taken the essay questions from the website. If these change once the application is up, I will alter accordingly.

Immediate Post-MBA Goals Statement
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
Examples of possible responses:
"Work in business development for a media company."
"Join a strategy consulting firm."
"Launch a data-management start-up."

Remember this is 50 characters, not words! This would be about 5-10 words. The question itself, fortunately, includes the above examples to make it clear what Columbia is looking for here.

Given the length, you can’t possibly expect to explain what you want to do short-term.  That is what Essay 1 is for. In fact, it is best to simply write this little statement after you have a good working version of Essay 1.  

CBS is looking for a short, but a very clear statement of what you intend to do after your MBA. If you have difficulty explaining your immediate post-MBA plans in the space given, I think that is likely an indication that your plans are too complex, vague, or otherwise not well thought out. What you state here should be backed up by what you discuss in Essay 1 and 2 (or the reapplicant essay for reapplicants).

If you can be clever or catchy in formulating this response that is fine, but it is a completely secondary consideration to simply stating something that is very clear and that is completely consistent with what you write in Essay 1 and 2. Being clever is not critical here, being clear is.
Essay #1: 
Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

Since I have found it necessary to make this clear to clients:  THIS ESSAY IS COMPLETELY FUTURE FOCUSED. That is why they say they “have a clear sense of your professional path to date.”  This is actually one of the most basic types of MBA essays: What do you want in the future and how can the MBA program help you achieve THEM?  I have capitalized THEM because the point is that Columbia is looking for both your immediate post-MBA goal and your longer term goals.  Any statements you make about your past experience should be analytical rather than descriptive and for the sole purpose of explaining what you want to do in the future and why.

Be strategic and thoughtful about why you are wanting a Columbia MBA now:  Given the importance of being able to state your post-MBA goal clearly in 50 characters or less as well as the need in Essay 2 to explain why you want a Columbia MBA, it is critical that you be strategic and thoughtful in presenting your post-MBA plans  in Essay 1.
If you are having problems clearly articulating your goals either in Essay 1 or in the 50 character statement,  I think GapSWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it.


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(A Google Docs version of this matrix can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WobczFFLHBzQRxUeuwBRNmGQ3q-RKP_94iGHuLlXXEs/edit?usp=sharing)
Step 1. Begin by analyzing your “Present Career.” What roles and responsibilities have you had in clubs, part-time jobs, internships, volunteer activities, etc.? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?
Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
Next, analyze your situation in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?


Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your “Post-MBA” future after you have earned your graduate degree. If you cannot complete this step you need to do more research and need to think more about it. I frequently help clients with this issue through a process of brainstorming.


Step 3. If you could complete step 2, then you should see the “Gap” between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?  THIS IS WILL HELP YOU ANSWER ESSSAY 2


Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient “ROI” for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4, then you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.


The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals?

Be informed about your goals. Columbia Admissions needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for but about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.

Those  applicants who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Additionally, I suggest conducting informational interviews with at least one peer level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well. Don’t know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center. No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future.
The point is to come across to Columbia Adcom as someone who is not only well informed but has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge. Look at ideas@work,  and  Chazen Global Insights. Some other great general sources for learning what is hot: Harvard Working KnowledgeHarvard Business ReviewUniversity of Chicago GSB’s Working PapersThe University of Chicago’s Capital IdeasStanford Social Innovation ReviewKnowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review. You may also want to do a search on iTunes for podcasts: My favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant) Net Impact, Chicago GSB Podcast Series, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and Wharton also have podcasts. Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

If at the end of the above process you feel as though you are uncertain about whether you need an MBA, please see Do You Really Need an MBA?
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Essay 2:
Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)

Keep in mind that this question is focused on why Columbia Business School is the right MBA program for you. That is to say what does its curriculum, community, and network offer you that will help you reach the professional objectives you have mentioned in Essay 1.   For a more general discussion about the whole issue of academic fit, see here.
Balance and integrate Goals and Why Columbia?
A good version of Essay 2 will connect goals with Columbia. If you use the table above, Step 3 relates directly to the content of this essay. That is to say, the objective is not merely to explain why  Columbia fits you, but why it aligns with the goals discussed in Essay 1.  Your objective is to write an essay that shows Columbia why it is the best possible place for you to achieve your career goals. If your goals are not showing themselves to be particularly well supported by Columbia, you may need to either change your goals or decide to apply elsewhere.

Beyond  Goals
Beyond direct goals reasons for why Columbia is right for you, consider what aspects of its curriculum or community support your personal and professional interests. This might be a club or activity that you want to engage in. For more about CBS clubs, see here.
The resources available at CBS and Columbia University are vast, so figure out specifically what you want from the school as you will need to discuss that. The program is flexible, so identify your needs from Columbia as specifically as possible. After all, you want to show them you love and need them For learning about what is hot at Columbia, I suggest taking a look at their  Ideas and Insights Homepage.  You will likely want to write about taking a Master Class. I also recommend learning about theCluster system as it core part of the CBS experience.  Japanese applicants should most certainly visit https://www.jbacolumbia.com/.
Explaining your learning needs: 
WHAT NOT TO DO
An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  “I want to take Capital Markets & Investments because I am interested in learning about capital market investing.”
This kind of circular reasoning is so common. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. They actually convey nothing about the applicant.  They are just abstract needs and will have limited impact on your reader.  The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program.
WHAT TO DO
An example of an explanation for why:  “While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank of Joy, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of capital market investing that I will need to succeed as an investment analyst and I know I can gain at Columbia.”  A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Columbia.  By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, the admissions reader will be learning about you.

While in recent years, the school emphasized its New York City location in Essay 2, it no longer does. You need only discuss that if it is especially useful for making the best possible argument for why CBS fits you.


 Essay #3:
 Who is a leader you admire, and why? (250 words)
This old gem of an (MBA) interview question is one that been around for a good long time.  I recall it from the beginning of my now almost 18 years as an MBA admissions consultant.  It pops up in a number of my interview posts as an example of a leadership question.  CBS seems to change this essay topic every year.  The last one was on failure, so I think this is a more upbeat question.
On the other hand, this old gem can be so easily screwed up, so take my suggestions seriously. 🙂  I have Three Rules for answering this question
RULE 1: ANY QUESTION IS REALLY ABOUT YOU.
While this question certainly requires writing about someone else,  whoever you discuss and why you discuss them is a reflection on you.  Bad answers to this question take the form of mini-biographies that fail to connect the writer to the leader they admire.  Bring in your own values and/or experience to make this an effective answer.
RULE 2:  TRY TO COME UP WITH SOMEONE INTERESTING
The leader not be famous to be interesting. In fact, mention the obviously famous and frequently mentioned, (like CBS alumnus Warren Buffett or Steve Jobs) is BORING AND CLICHE. Your boss, a famous general from your country,  your great grandmother, the head of a political or other organization, living or dead, could make a good topic.  The key point is that whoever you select, you make it clear what aspect of their leadership you admire.
RULE 3: CLEARLY EXPLAIN WHY
The why aspect of this question is particularly important in this respect. Your admiration is based on something about this person.  What is it?    If relates to specific act they performed, briefly describe it and then explain why you admire it. If relates to their leadership style, define it (See my post on HBS for an extended discussion on leadership).  Whatever the case, focus your answer on the WHY and not on the leaders’ personal details.

Optional Essay:

Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)
As with other school’s optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example, if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other p ossible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Columbia and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer “Yes!” to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.

Columbia Loves to Be Loved
One thing that is consistent about Columbia Business School is that they want to know that their school is your first choice. If you have an alumni interview you can be expected to be asked about that very directly. See here for my advice on Columbia interviews. Best of luck for gaining admission to the Columbia Business School Class of 2022!


-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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