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

November 01, 2007

Fall 2008 MBA Contribution Questions: Kellogg, Duke, McCombs, Babson & LBS

In this post I analyze the contribution essay questions for Fall 2008 asked by Northwestern Kellogg, Duke Fuqua, University of Texas-Austin McCombs, Babson Olin, and the London Business School.

MBA programs are looking for students who will make a contribution. And this really makes sense because of the collaborative nature of MBA education. While professors play an important role in the classroom, students learn from each other on a continuous basis both inside and outside of class. It is no surprise that it is easy to find MBAs in record numbers on social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook because their education is very much one based on relationship building.

One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates. 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.

There are a number of ways of trying to determine whether someone really "fits" at a particular school, but certainly the most direct thing to do is just ask. One way they ask is by asking applicants why they want to attend. See for example, Chicago GSB Essay 1. It is clearly important that an applicant know what kind of ROI they are expecting from their MBA and they can show why a particular program can provide it. Another way is to ask applicants what they can contribute.

I would argue, in fact, that even if a school does not ask an applicant to tell them what he or she can contribute, the applicant should make that clear, directly if possible, in the essays. Interviews are usually a further opportunity to discuss how one will make a contribution.

Here we will look at essay questions that do in fact require applicants to state very clearly what kind of contributions they can make.

2.) Each of our applicants is unique. Describe how your background, values, academics, activities and/or leadership skills will enhance the experience of other Kellogg students. (One to two pages double spaced.)

Within the context of the Kellogg application, essay question 2 is really one of the important places to show why you will fit into this intensely social environment where both personal initiative and the ability to work with others are highly valued. While it would be possible to write on professional topics here, I would suggest not doing so because you can easily do that in Essay Questions 1,3, and 4. One way, I like to think about contribution questions is to use a matrix like the following:

CLICK ON THE ABOVE TO ENLARGE. For an excel version, please email me at adammarkus@gmail.com.
I use the above matrix for all types of contribution questions, modifying the categories to fit the question. When it comes to contribution questions, I think it is important to tell specific stories that highlight specific ways you will add value to your future classmates. Sometimes people write about contributions that don't have any really clear added value and these by definition are not contributions. Yes, you may love reading Science Fiction in your spare time, but it is only a contribution if your experience of reading Science Fiction can be shown to add value to your classmates (Financial forecasting?). Given that Kellogg gives you up to two pages, my suggestion is to actually use this space not simply focus on one thing. Focus on at least two and probably more like three or four. When you think about what to select here, closely consider what you are writing in the other essays and use this space to help Kellogg learn even more about you. Given that essay question 3 is focused on leadership experiences, only discuss leadership skills in essay question 2 if they are points in addition to what you cover in essay question 3.

Duke Fuqua
Short Answer Essay Question 2. How will your background, values, and non-work activities enhance the experience of other Duke MBA students and add value to Fuqua's diverse culture? (1 page)
Fuqua is very clear that this space is to be used for non-work activities. It really is quite similar to Kellogg in that respect, but is limited to a single page. What I like about the Fuqua version is that it is very clear that you need to focus on ways you will add value. It is a shorter version than Kellogg, but do keep in mind that you will also be writing Long Essay 2. which is also a kind of contribution question:
How has your personal history and family background influenced your intellectual and personal development? What unique personal qualities or life experiences distinguish you from other applicants? Note: The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (There is no restriction on the length of your response for the two long essay questions. Applicants typically use between 500 and 750 words for long essays one and two.)
I actually think it is somewhat easy to differentiate between these two essays because Short Answer 2 is really focused on specific ways that you will add value, while Long Answer 2 is focused simply on what makes you unique.

Some people really become perplexed, paralyzed or otherwise unhappy when asked to state what makes them unique, but if you follow Duke's question, you will see that there is no cause for alarm. The objective in Long Answer 2 is to really give admissions insight into who you are, not what you have done (you can do that in Short Answer 2 and in Long Answer 1). Think about what positive characteristics about yourself make you the kind of person that other people want to be around. Also keep in mind that while Duke really does want to understand your background, an overemphasis on the negative is not likely to be effective. That said, writing about obstacles that you have overcome in the past can be great way to show some really positive characteristics.

Keep in mind that for some schools like the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, MBA students are directly involved in admissions decisions, so explaining how you will contribute to your fellow students is no hypothetical issue.
At the McCombs School of Business, you will be part of an active and diverse community. Referencing your personal strengths and unique experience, how will you enrich the McCombs community during your two years in the program? Limit: 500 words
The question itself is not different from Kellogg, but given the limited size of the application you may find it useful to mention something professional that you could not express elsewhere. That said you should make every effort to include sufficient personal content so that the students at McCombs know why you should be part of their school. Japanese applicants (and anyone else who can read Japanese) should most certainly take a look at http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/ayustat9.

Taken from the pdf application:
(3) What unique contributions will you bring to the Babson community that will enhance the value of the classroom experience for your classmates?
Babson's question is not so different from McCombs, but there is a difference: Given the fact that Babson is focused primarily on entrepreneurship, you should make sure that at least some of the unique contributions you make based on either your personal or professional background clearly relate to entrepreneurship. Use this essay to help admissions understand the fit between you and an MBA program for future entrepreneurs.

London Business School
Taken from the word version of the questions:
Question 3 (500 words)
Please describe your experience of working in and leading teams, either in your professional or personal life. Given this experience, what role do you think you will play in your study group, and how do you intend to contribute to it?
This question is like Duke Short Answer A very focused on specific ways you will add value and more particularly based on your team experiences. In 500 words, you should try to cover two to three different aspects of your team experiences. One possible mix might be one recent professional team experience, one experience during your university years, and one relating to a current extracurricular activity. In addition to wanting to know about your team experiences and how they will add value to other students, London Business School wants to know how you will contribute to the school as a whole:

Question 4 (400 words)
Student involvement is an extremely important part of the London MBA experience and this is reflected in the character of students on campus. What type of student club or campus community event do you envisage yourself leading? How would you set about becoming involved in a leadership position and how would you align and communicate the goals and vision for the club to the wider School community?
This question is certainly not like the more standard contribution questions above because it is completely future focused, whereas the typical contribution question is about showing how the past will be utilized for the future. Here you should certainly explain why you would want to lead a particular club or event and while this may relate to the past, you should really use this essay to show what you want to gain from LBS. In fact, this question is both about what you will contribute and what you will learn/experience at LBS. Effective answers to this question require solid knowledge about LBS, so that you can think really practically about your answer to this question. Keep in mind that this question is not really very hypothetical because students are expected to get leadership experience through clubs and events.

Finally, London Business School clearly put a huge emphasis on teams and participation in the life of the school, so in both essays make sure that you are showing that you are the kind of person who will take initiative.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.

-Adam Markus
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