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. "Learning by doing" is fundamental to the MIT Sloan experience, as it allows you to fill the gap between what you know and how to apply that knowledge to make a powerful impact in your chosen field or career. In hands-on Action Learning Labs, student teams develop solutions to partner organizations' most pressing business challenges, and then go on-site to implement those solutions. This in-depth interaction — coupled with the application of knowledge and skills gained from the multitude of unique course offerings at MIT— exemplifies the School's motto.
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. 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. 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. 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.
ADAM'S NOTE OF AUGUST 25, 2013: MIT CHANGED THE INSTRUCTIONS AFTER THIS BLOG POST WAS WRITTEN. PLEASE IGNORE THE FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS:
THE NEW INSTRUCTIONS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
"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. For essay 2 only, please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.
In each of the essays, please describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did."
THEREFORE ONLY ESSAY 2 NEEDS TO BE LIMITED TO AN EXPERIENCE THAT TOOK PLACE 3 YEARS OR LESS IN THE PAST.
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 reviewing MIT Sloan’s guidelines for behavioral interviews because reading it first will maximize the value of my comments below. 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."
The STAR technique was developed by Byham as THE WAY to answer behavioral questions:
Byham calls an example of past behavior a STAR, because a complete example consists of a situation or task, the specific action you took and the result of your action. The result you describe doesn’t have to be positive; it could be that you learned a valuable lesson from doing something the wrong way. In his book “Landing the Job You Want: How to Have the Best Job Interview of Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, 1997), Byham tells candidates how to identify the skills for a job; explore their own “behavioral dimensions” (the behaviors they use every day to get things done); and recognize and present a STAR with positive impact in an interview.
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: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
This is a new question for MIT and replaces the cover letter that they used previously. They are looking for specific examples, so I would recommend writing about 2-4 specific examples that really show how you align with MIT Sloan’s mission.
Thinking about this essay from a behavioral perspective, we can break this into a number of possible topics that relate to MIT Sloan’s mission, which I will break into three categories:
1. Describe a time when you were innovative. Think of situations were you were creative, original, or otherwise made a positive impact by doing something new. Maybe you were innovative in your approach to solving a problem, but this could be about many possible topics. For example, describing a time when you improved something, invented something, established a new best practice, or formulated a new idea.
2. Describe a time when you showed leadership. Think of situations when you actively lead as a thought leader, team leader, supervisor, decider, and/or convincer. Leadership takes many forms. Leadership is no easy thing. Nor is it obvious. The worst possible thing is to conceive of leadership as simple formal responsibility or a title because this conveys nothing about the person in that position. While some applicants will have held formal leadership positions, many will not. Formal leadership positions are great to write about if they involve the applicant actually having significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility, but the same is true for those showing leadership without having a formal title. If you are having difficulty really understanding leadership,
find out what kind of leader you are by taking this quiz based on Lewin’s classic framework. I think leadership is more complicated than Lewin’s framework, but this quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively.
3. Describe a time when you were principled. While this might simply mean discussing a time when you were ethical in terms of a decision or action you took, it could also relate to a situation when you convinced others (a boss, a colleague, a team, an organization, etc.) based on position you held. Being principled might mean ethical, but also relates to ones professional ideas or even perceptions of the world. To be principled means to stand up for what you believe in.
I think it would be perfectly reasonable to tell one big story that focused on multiple aspects of why you align with MIT Sloan’s mission as long as it contains multiple examples. However I think most applicants will find that telling two or three discrete stories is a relatively easy to answer this question. The point is to give MIT an understanding of you as a person sufficient for them to understand why you fit at MIT Sloan.
What they are not looking for from this essay:
2. Career goals and what kinds of classes you want to take. They are not asking for these details here. Actually, except for some interviews, MIT never asks about career goals. Admissions is very clear about stating that they assume your goals will change and that you are going to MIT to figure out what you really want to do. That has always been their message when applicants asked in the past why there was no career goals essay. You need to align yourself with MIT, so you might find it necessary or useful to mention something specific there in this essay, but only do so if such content really helps to tell your story.
3. Don’t write about everything you have done
Essay 2: Describe a time when you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
Unlike the previous essay, you should focus on a single story here. The above question has been one that MIT has used in interviews. If you compare it to Stanford Essay 3 (Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established), you will see some overlap with that question. My analysis of the Stanford question is here. Going beyond ones comfort zone means a willingness to risk, to overcome one’s prior limits, to show courage, to go against the easy way and take a hard road, to risk failure, and/or to challenge one’s self. MIT is looking for people who have the necessary mental and emotional perspective to want to go beyond their present selves MIT Sloan is a change oriented prog ram and is looking for students who will become change agents. A willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone is necessary prerequisite to be such a person. Whether the situation is professional, academic, or personal, show your ability to take on something that was hard for you.
Optional Question The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format.
This is just a great question. It is not one of the two essays above and does not necessarily follow the three year requirement. Given the completely open ended nature of this question, I think the important thing to really consider first is what you think they need to know about you. Again don’t write a career goals essay or an essay totally focused on why you want to go to MIT Sloan. Instead tell them more about you in whatever format you want.
This is the second year that MIT has asked this question though they have made it even more open-ended than previously because there are no restrictions on format. One thing that is a bit interesting here is that they say they will take any format, but don’t actually indicate how to provide them with files in any format. All they have is a 7000 character box and no file uploader for the optional essay. I think this means if you do any sort of audio or visual or multimedia thing, you would need to take care of your own hosting externally and just provide a brief description and a link. I could not find any instructions regarding the optional essay that clarified this issue. 7000 characters is well over 1000 words, but I would not necessarily recommend giving MIT an essay nearly that long since the two required essays were 500 words each.
While it is surely possible to discuss problematic issues here as would be typical for the optional essay of another school, I would only do that if absolutely necessary and in conjunction with something more positive.
Here is advice for brainstorming your way through this. It is based on my analysis of New York University’s Personal Expression Question, which is actually potentially quite similar. The big difference is the NYU essay is focused on introducing yourself to your potential classmates, while the MIT question is much more open-ended?
To be honest, I have found a creative essay to be as effective as an “arts and crafts project,” which you could surely do with MIT’ essays. If you think you can answer the question most effectively by writing an essay, just do that.. A creative essay means one that does not appear to be an answer to another school’s question, but is uniquely made for MIT.
In past years, I have had clients who have done slide presentations for NYU, but given that Chicago Booth uses one, if you are applying to Chicago and 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.
Regarding time, try to give yourself significant time before the deadline if you are going to make anything from scratch. In my experience, most successful versions for answering this kind question take more time and drafts. Of course, some applicants can do it right quickly (or might have to do it quickly), but since you are trying to make a positive impact on MIT admissions by helping them understand more about you, you certainly want to put together something effective.
One very common initial error with this question is to focus on being creative at the exclusion of thinking about the purpose: to provide more information about you that MIT should know because you think it will increase your chance of admission. . It may be creative, but make sure that MIT admissions knows you better after they read/view/listen to your presentation. It is your job to provide a sufficiently clear message regardless of the way you 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 who you are have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. Beyond what you have discussed in the previous two essays, what would you tell someone about yourself to create a strong first impression?
4. Since you are not limited to the last three years only, what should MIT know about the rest of your life that would give them great insight into 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, video, photography, and poetry for example) that would work effectively?
7. Is there some aspect of MIT Sloan that itself really relates to you and is different from what you might have mentioned in Essay 1?
Given the open-ended nature of the question, I am sure my questions above don’t cover all possibilities, but I hope they are a good start to getting you thinking.
My analysis of MIT interviews can be found here.
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.