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September 20, 2012

MIT Sloan MBA Essays for Fall 2013 Admission

In this post I will discuss the Class of 2015 MBA application admissions essays for MIT Sloan. I have taken the essay topics from the online application for 2013 admission.  You can read testimonials from some of my clients admitted to MIT Sloan for the Classes of 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 here.  

Before analyzing MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Essays for Fall 2013, I think it is important to take a look at MIT Sloan's core values:
Mind and Hand
MIT is 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 http://ningsquared.hotcom-cafe.com/wordpress/ http://web.mit.edu/sloanjapan/101/index.html and Kaz's MIT MBA留学日記 blog. My English language interview with Kaz is here).   I also suggest looking at an interview I conducted with members of the Class of 2011 and Class of 2013.  For those interested in the LGO Program, I suggest taking a look at this blog by a member of the Class of 2012.

If you are able to, I suggest visiting campus or attending a Sloan-on-the-Road event. Click here for the full list of admissions events.

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. All questions are taken from the website.

Cover Letter
Please prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should describe your accomplishments, address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application, and conform to standard business correspondence. Your letter should be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions.
Keep in mind that great cover letters result in job interviews. The purpose of a cover letter is accompany a resume.  In MIT's case the cover letter does not only accompany the resume (The resume is limited to 1 page and 50 lines), but the whole MBA application.   Still, assume the point of this cover is to 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. Here are two good sites for that purpose:

If you have attended Sloan-on-the-Road event 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 out what they want to do after they start an MBA program, so they think the question is absurd.

Having seen what happens to my clients once they graduate, I can say that MIT is often right about this: Many 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 absolutely must be their real goals. Just as long they are comfortable with their goals as one possible future and can be convincing both on paper and in an interview, 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, a goals essay is simply the standard sort of essay that all kinds of graduate programs require. For other schools, think of them as a formal requirement that simply has to be met.

MIT specifically requires that you write a 500-word essay in the form of a cover letter that will convince them why you belong at MIT Sloan. I think it is critical that you really are well-informed about Sloan, so in addition to making full use of standard admissions information, please take a look at MIT Sloan Management Review and listen to the MIT Sloan Management School of Management Podcast (available on iTunes).

The essay should be focused on highlighting your accomplishments, but clearly you can't cover them in the space provided.  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 accomplishment while actually making an argument for why you belong at MIT Sloan, you will have done a good job.

Focus on your accomplishments, but also reveal how your passions, values, and interests 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? In other words how do your accomplishments show why you fit at MIT Sloan?
2. What do you want to learn at Sloan? Why? The more specific, the better.
3. What motivates you and how does this relate to what you can learn at and contribute to Sloan? Your contributions also relate to your accomplishments.
4. Can you briefly state what your values are? That is to say, what are your core beliefs that are likely to provide Rod Garcia and his colleagues with a better understanding about what kind of person you are?

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.  It should focus on why you want to go to Sloan.  Your goals should, if stated at all, be only part of an answer for why you want to go to Sloan. They should not be the central or primary topic. As I discussed above, MIT really is not primarily interested in your goals.  They are judging you based on what you have done as indicator of what you are likely to be capable of in the future. They are also judging you on your ability to effectively explain why you you belong at MIT Sloan.

Since MIT also wants you to address any extenuating circumstances in this cover letter, you should exercise very good judgment about doing so. Don't waste space merely to report that your GMAT is not as high as you wish it were. Use this space for example to explain any serious issues that require explanation and cannot be handled elsewhere in the application form. This essay is an opportunity to explain the strengths and/or weaknesses of your academic background. 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 why. 

These topics are not easy to get into 500 words, so you really need to think very carefully about the most important things you want Rod and his colleagues to know about you.

We are interested in learning more about 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. Please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.
This distinctive style of question that MIT asks is based on an interview method that I will discuss below. Before reading the rest of this post, I strongly suggest downloading a copy of MIT's excellent guide to behavioral interviews, The MIT Sloan Interview Guide, because reading it first will maximize the value of my comments below. In addition to the MIT SLOAN Guide, I suggest also taking a look at the  guide to the Star Technique that MIT Career Services provides. The behavioral essay questions that MIT (and now Stanford) ask have their origins in behavioral interviewing. “Bill Byham, CEO and founder of Development Dimensions International, originated the behavioral interviewing method in 1970.”

In fact, the STAR technique outlined in MIT’s career services guide was developed by Byham as THE WAY to answer behavioral questions:
The STAR technique is really the core method you need to use for answering behavioral questions in MIT essays. It is simply this:
• Situation: define the situation or “set the stage.”
• Task: identify the task/project performed.
• Action: describe the action you took.
• Result: summarize the outcome
Just keep in mind that you need to be introspective as well, so write what you thought as well as what you did. Don’t just present “the facts” but actively interpret your actions. There is really nothing overly complicated about this as long as you understand that you need to tell a DETAILED story. Pure abstractions disconnected from a concrete set of action steps are highly likely to result in a weak answer. Similarly, grand actions not told in any depth are also likely to be weak. Identify specific actions that contributed to the result so as to establish a clear link between cause and effect.
As when answering any kind of question, another important consideration is to think very critically about what your story selection, understanding of the task, actions taken, and results say about you. Keep in mind that the whole point of asking behavioral questions is to determine how someone acts and thinks as a basis for selecting or rejecting that person. It is obviously critical to be aware of your own message.

MIT Sloan 
specifically requires that these experiences come from the last three years. This time constraint is important to remember. Also keep in mind:

1. You need to show the capacity for analyzing and acting in different ways, so, while both essays should utilize STAR, don’t tell them in the same way. Make sure you are presenting different sides to who you are by telling your stories differently.

2. If at all possible discuss different situations in these essays, not two different stories from the same situation because you are trying present as wide a spectrum of events and qualities about yourself as you can.

3. You should ask yourself “What does this essay reveal about me?” If you can’t answer that clearly, you need to clarify your message. When asking this question, think about both what you intend the reader to think and what you might also be revealing. Control for the possibility of sending out unintended signals. One of the best ways of handling this issue is to have a very careful and intelligent reader review these essays. If you are working with an admissions consultant, they should be able to do this. Getting multiple perspectives on what you wrote will help you better understand your likely impact on an admissions' reader.

Essay 1: Please describe a time when you had to convince a person or a group of your idea. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
I consider this question very close to the heart of MIT as the subject matter really is about a very practical aspect of ideas: Convincing others to take your ideas seriously.  The idea might be large or small, those who are convinced might be an individual or a group.  It might be a team, it might be a client, it might be your friends, it might be senior management of your organization. What you want to do is explain what the idea was and then how you convinced the individual or group to accept it.
Provide a simple, clear, and concise explanation of the idea. Keep in mind that discussing the idea in too much detail is likely to interfere with focusing on the key point: Your ability to convince others about an idea.  Focus on the methods you use:  Did you convince others based solely on logic?  Did you appeal to them emotionally?
KEY QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF: Why was it hard to convince them?  If it was not hard to convince them, this essay will likely be very ineffective because it will be a poor test of your ability to convince other people.

Essay 2: Please describe a time when you overcame a personal setback. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

SETBACK: An unanticipated or sudden check in progress; a change from better to worse.

MIT IS NOT LOOKING FOR A FAILURE:  They are specifically asking you for a setback you overcame, not one you just learned from. This is important to keep in mind as this should be a situation where you actually succeeded.
This is a new essay topic for MIT, but certainly not a new one in general.
MIT is specifically asking for a personal setback here, which means whatever the setting, it should focus on yourself.  Most applicants will focus on non-work situations and in general I would recommend that, unless the setback merely happens in a work setting, but is really personal. The nice thing about setbacks is that everyone has them. That said, if your setback is terribly minor, it is unlikely to really to reveal anything significant. So focus on a big setback where you really learned something.

Pick a setback that you can be proud of because of what was involved in overcoming it. When you select the topic, think not only about the topic's significance, but also it's impact on overall balance within your essay set. Taking responsibility for a mistake, learning to communicate more effectively with others, gaining greater insight into how to influence others, and many other topics can be used effectively to highlight your leadership potential. Overcoming a psychological, economic, and/or interpersonal problem can also be a rich source of topics. This essay can be great place for really showcasing your problem solving skills.

Supplemental InformationThe Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us or your future classmates to know about you. This may be in written or multimedia format. Please do not use Flash Media Player, and include a URL where it can be accessed online. Written essays should be 300 words or fewer.
This question is new for this year. Actually it is a variation of a question that NYU Stern has been asking forever. It is the one that seems to have stopped many applicants from applying to Stern. Maybe MIT Sloan is trying to do that? Probably not since you can just write an essay and don't have to use the multimedia option.

In past years, I have had clients who have done slide presentations for NYU, but given that Chicago Booth now requires one, if you are applying to MIT and Chicago and/or Stern and state that on your MIT application, don't do a PowerPoint for MIT because the MIT admissions people will assume you are trying to cut corners. 

In general, anytime a school has a non-standard question, you should really keep in mind that they are looking for answers that demonstrate an applicant's willingness to put time into it. However I think MIT has not fully committed to the non-standard approach here because you can simply write an essay. I think they are testing out this question to see if they like it. 

One very common initial error with this essay is to focus on being creative at the exclusion of thinking about the purpose: to introduce yourself to your classmates. Keep in mind that your objective is to create a positive image of yourself that would make an excellent first impression on your classmates. It may be creative, but make sure that it also leaves admissions with a clear understanding of what positive impression of yourself you are communicating. It is your job to provide a sufficiently clear message regardless of the way you creatively present yourself.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want MIT Admissions to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were meeting people that would you be working closely with for two years and that you might want as a part of your lifetime professional network, what would you tell them about yourself to create a strong first impression?
4. Why do people like you?
5. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you, what is it?
6. Do you have a personal interest (painting and poetry for example) that would work effectively?

Bottom Line: Make Rod Garcia and his colleagues want to meet you!

My analysis of MIT interviews can be found here.  

-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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