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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 26, 2007

MIT Sloan MBA Essays for Fall 2008 1st of 2 posts


This is the first in a series of two posts about MIT Sloan's MBA Essays for Fall 2008. In this post, I will review the entire set of essay questions and provide analysis for the cover letter and supplemental information. The second post is here.

MIT Sloan is very direct about its core values:

Mind and Hand

The moment you step onto the MIT Sloan campus, you feel the palpable sense of energy and opportunity that is fueled by MIT's credo of mens et manus — mind and hand. At MIT, we believe that you must understand foundational topics at a deep level (mens) and be able to execute the practical application of these concepts (manus).

The concept of mens et manus percolates through the MIT culture and inspires a shared ethic. It says: let's look at the problem, invent the solution, and do something about it. Mens et Manus is the core idea that powers everything we do at MIT Sloan. Generations of students, faculty, and alumni have built their careers on it.

MIT is a school well know for transforming theory into practice and this is certainly true of its business school. In my experience those who can effectively demonstrate how and why they share this "core idea" are most likely to be accepted. (For those who can read Japanese, I suggest looking at MIT MBA留学日記 to see the daily blog of one such successful applicant who is now in his first year.)

Sloan's application process is, in fact, very much focused on determining whether you share and can contribute based on your own unique background to their "core idea." This does not mean that there is only one way to write great essays for MIT Sloan. Nor does it mean that they are only looking for one type of student. That said, I think you can say that there are some right ways and wrong ways to approach their questions.

MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Essays for Fall 2008:

Cover Letter
Prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Please comment on your career goals and those factors which influenced you to pursue an MBA education at MIT Sloan. The cover letter provides a chance for you to discuss your passions, values, and interests. Through what you write we hope to discover whether you will thrive at MIT Sloan and how you will contribute to our diverse community. Address your cover letter to Mr. Rod Garcia, Director of MBA Admissions.

If you have attended SLOAN ON THE ROAD or visited the campus, you probably heard from admissions that MIT does not ask for the sort of standard goals essays that almost all other schools ask for. Honestly this one of the things I love about this school. Admissions knows applicants are going to figure what they want to do when they go to an MBA program, so they think the question is absurd.

Based my experience seeing what happens to my clients once they graduate, I can say that MIT is absolutely right about this: Most never do what they write in their essays. This is in no way intended as a criticism of my past clients. I tell this to all my clients so that they can relax and just simply concentrate on making sure that their goals are solid without having to think that these must be their goals. Just as long they are comfortable with their goals as one possible future, that is enough.

Still goals questions are useful if you are trying to determine someone's vision and their ability to actually put together a plan (think business plan). Of course, goals essays are simply the standard sort of essay that all kinds of graduate programs require. Think of them as a formal requirement that simply has to be met.

While I have written elsewhere about goals essays (see here, here, here, and here) and recognize their importance for some degrees, for a couple years, I have been wondering why other business schools don't simply copy MIT. Actually this year, HBS did. While an applicant to HBS would certainly need to say something about their motivations, they need not write a goals essay. Like MIT, HBS has recognized the standard short-term/long-term goals essay is simply a formal exercise that can be dispensed with unless someone has something really important to write about that topic.

Unlike HBS, MIT specifically requires that you write a 500 essay in the form of a cover letter that will convince them why you belong at MIT Sloan. Goals in some way need to be there, but it is clearly not the focus, instead focus on your passions, values, and interests to show why you belong at Sloan. If you can answer the following questions in a convincing manner you will be on the right track:
1. Why do you fit at Sloan?
2. What motivates you and how does this relate to what you can learn at and contribute to Sloan?
3. Can you briefly state what your values are? That is to say, what are your core beliefs that are likely to leave Rod Garcia and his colleagues with a better understanding about what kind of person you are?
4. What do you want to learn at Sloan? Why? The more specific, the better.

This is not easy to get into 500 words, so don't put too much emphasis on the professional goals aspect.

Keep in mind that great cover letters result in job interviews. Assume the same about this one. How will your cover letter standout? If you don't know how to do a US style cover letter, you need to learn. Here are two good sites for that purpose:

Keep in mind that a cover letter needs to be convincing. That does not mean making it into pure marketing copy, instead you need to come across as a highly motivated person ready to fully embrace what Sloan offers.

Use the essays to tell us more about you and how you work, think, and act. For each essay, please provide a brief overview of the situation followed by a detailed description of your response. Include what you thought, felt, said, and did.

More than that, the essays are a chance for you to discuss your passions, values, interests, and goals. Emphasize those experiences that were most important and meaningful for you — which may not necessarily be those that were most outwardly prestigious. Be sincere and be specific. There is no one “right” kind of MIT Sloan student; in fact, MIT Sloan deliberately builds each class to unite varied strengths and perspectives. Tell us what particular experiences and expertise you will bring to the mix. The essay instructions and questions are included below.

We are interested in learning more about you and how you work, think, and act. For each essay, please provide a brief overview of the situation followed by a detailed description of your response.

All applicants:
Essay 1: Please tell us about a time when you had an impact on a group or organization. Describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did. (500 words or less.)

Essay 2: Please tell us about a challenging interaction you had with a person or group. Describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did. (500 words or less.)

Essay 3: Please tell us about a time when you defended your idea. Describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did. (500 words or less.)

Essay 4: Please tell us about a time when you executed a plan. Describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did. (500 words or less.)

Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E&I) applicants only:
Essay 5: Tell us about a time when you shared your talents or expertise with a group or organization. (500 words or less.)

There are also essays for LFM, but I don't plan to cover them. E&I is obviously extremely popular with applicants, so I will cover it. My analysis for these behavioral questions as well as the MIT interview can be found here.
In addition to these essays and the cover letter, there are actually more essays:

Supplemental Information
You may provide additional information about any of the following topics that you consider relevant. Please tell us anything that will round out our impression of you as a unique individual.

1. List the leadership activities in which you have actively participated, including your responsibilities and positions held in the organization, and dates. Provide contact name(s) and contact information for each leadership activity.

2. List your academic and/or professional awards, including the basis for your selection and the date(s) of the honor(s).

3. List your hobbies, interests, and activities, including any significant accomplishments related to them.

4. Special circumstances related to your academic program which you would like to mention (up to 500 words).

5. Whatever else you would like the Admissions Committee to know (up to 500 words).

As far as the Supplemental Information goes, as with any application, take this part seriously because it really matters. Some applicants consider such information to be an afterthought. While questions 1-3 are certainly not essays, put some solid time into providing complete information and remember to proofread your answers!

Supplemental Essay 4 is an opportunity to explain the strengths and/or weaknesses of your academic record. You don't need a high GPA to get into MIT, but they are looking for applicants who have demonstrated intellectual curiosity, so utilize this space to help convince them of that. If you have to explain a weakness feel free to do so. It is better to provide an explanation for why you had a bad GPA in your second year of university than to make Rod Garcia and his team try to guess.

Supplemental Essay 5 is NOT AN OPTIONAL ESSAY. You should instead treat this essay as the same as I wrote for HBS 3f:
What else would you like the MBA Admissions Board to understand about you?
The mother of all choice questions! Here you can write about anything that you think the Board really needs to know. While I will discuss this one in greater detail, I would say that you should avoid using this as a typical optional question like Chicago GSB's optional question. Instead use this question as another way to help HBS understand you and to become convinced that you belong there.

This is a standard balance question. What part of you that Rod Garcia really should know about is missing from or not emphasized enough elsewhere? Use this essay to give him a more complete perspective on who you are. My suggestion is to make sure you are comfortable with the content for your other essays before deciding what should be discussed here.

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

-Adam Markus
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