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January 12, 2014

Oxford MBA 2014/15 Class Application Essays

In this post, I an analyze the essay questions for the Oxford MBA at the Saïd Business School for the 2014/15 class.   I have already had one client admitted to the program for this class of 2014/2015.  See here for my client’s results for Oxford as well as other schools. Oxford has six application rounds, so while this post is late, I trust it will be helpful to those making application in March, April, and May 2014.

If you are considering applying to Oxford, I would strongly suggest you take advantage of their pre-application assessment, CV review as discussed on their webpage. This is a great service to applicants as it really help you know whether it is worth making an application to the program. It also is a great way of getting the attention of the admissions office. I do recommend that you submit a great CV though. I regularly help my own clients with CVs, but even if you don’t use an admission consultant, make sure you put time into making a great CV. Here is one CV template.

Below are the essay questions. Keep in mind that Oxford also asks substantial questions in the application form that are in essence essays.  You can find my analysis of those application questions after the reapplication essay analysis.

1) What should Oxford expect from you? Maximum 500 words.*
Given that Essay 2 focuses on your goals and why you need an MBA, your focus here should be helping Oxford understand why they should admit you based on your background, values, and achievements.  I would recommend concentrating on 3-4 aspects of yourself that would best demonstrate your potential to contribute to and/or succeed at Oxford and subsequently.  I assume you will focus on how you will make positive impact at Oxford and subsequently.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:

1. What do you want Oxford 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.  What could you discuss about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you?

4.  Based on who you are, what will you contribute to your classmates and the wider Oxford community?

5. Is there anything in your background that be a positive indicator for what kind of alumnus  you  will be?

2) How do you hope to see your career developing over the next five years? How will the MBA and Oxford assist you in the development of these ambitions? Maximum 500 words.*
How do you hope to see your career developing over the next five years?”
Oxford Essay 1 is a completely practical question. Oxford is looking for something grounded and specific: A FIVE YEAR PLAN. Note the ambiguity in the question itself, the plan maybe written from the perspective of the present or from the perspective of after one finishes the MBA. I advise clients to treat it as as post-MBA five year plan as I think that is implied by the presence of the third part of the question (“How will the MBA and Oxford assist you in the development of these ambitions?“), but I would not insist on that. I think most applicants should treat it as a post-MBA five year plan, but if you prefer integrating the MBA directly into the plan, that is fine.

A plan is practical. It has details. It shows you have really thought about what you want to do. It shows you have done research about your intended future employers and/or future entrepreneurial venture. It shows you are realistic. That does not mean that it should be boring or lack ambition, but it does mean that it has to rise beyond a level of mere abstraction. Treat it as seriously as you would treat a memo to your boss on the future direction of your department, a proposal to a client on an expensive project, or a business plan. Make sure you show how an MBA and Oxford fits the plan. If you can’t establish a tight connection between your plan and Oxford, either apply somewhere else or change your plan. And remember as long as you can speak effectively about your plan in an interview, the second after you are admitted, you have no obligation to stick to that plan.

How will the MBA and Oxford assist you in the development of these ambitions?
In this part of the question you need to explain why you need an MBA from Said. To really answer this question you need to know about Oxford. Fullly investigate what the program offers and how it will best help you.  BIG HINT: Find one or more professors and/or research focus areas at Oxford that really meet your needs as well as discussing more general aspects of the MBA program.  Another Big Hint: Oxford means more than just Said, it means the entire university as well as your college experience.

If you are having difficulty explaining your plans or reasons for needing an MBA, please see my analysis of Stanford Essay 2.
3) Please chose and answer one of the two essays below:
Sport is pure competition. What does it teach us about companies, individuals, and markets? Maximum 500 words.
The business of business is business. Is this true? Maximum 500 words.*

Oxford is a school for people who can think. Both of these topics require you to express an opinion. There is no right or wrong, merely answers that are well argued and interesting to read and ones that are less analytically coherent and dull. Your job is to show your thinking at your best. Neither of these questions necessarily requires to bring your own experience into the topic.  A client who was admitted to Oxford in R1 wrote on one of these topics without specific to his or her experience. Instead that person’s answer was analytically sharp and revealed a unique way of addressing the question. That said, if your own experience fits here, feel free to bring it in.

Unlike with most questions, I analyze, I am not going to provide a detailed analysis of what these questions mean, but rather pose some questions that apply to thinking about each of these questions. Hopefully these questions will get you brainstorming. 

Sport is pure competition. What does it teach us about companies, individuals, and markets? 
-What is meant by pure competition? Does such a thing exist?
-How do you account for cheating in sports?
-Do you accept or reject the very notion that something as objectively ruled-based as a sport can be applied to much more complex systems (companies, individuals, markets)?
-Do you believe in free markets?
-What is the relationship between competition in sports and competition between individuals in general?
- In what ways do companies compete with each other in ways that are similar and different from competition in sports?

The business of business is business. Is this true? 
-Do businesses have responsibilities beyond the conduct of their business?
-Do you believe in corporate social responsibility?
-Can one do business without consideration for the society one is operating in?
-Is business an end in itself or does relate to something else/something greater?

Finally, my advice is to think about both essay options and writing on the topic that interests you more.  The more that you can show your active engagement with the topic, the better.

4) What improvements have you made in your candidacy since you last applied to the Oxford MBA programme? (for re-applicants only)Maximum 250 words.
This is a very standard reapplication question.
An effective answer here will do the following:
1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.
2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.
3. Make a better case for why Oxford  is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see "A guide to my resources for reapplicants."

Application Questions
On the “You at Work” page of the application,  there is the following:
Please list your main responsibilities, your most significant challenge and your greatest achievement  (5000 Characters including spaces, which means about 1000-1250 words maximum for answering all three of these).
These are three separate topics. You should address each of these topics.  In addition, given that Oxford application includes no place for any sort of additional information or explanation of issues about your application (test scores, gaps in employment, etc.), I suggest including that information here rather than using up your essay word count for it. 

The first topic, main responsibilities relates directly to current professional position and would simply be an extended version of what you have in your CV. I assume your CV emphasizes accomplishments, so here also mention your overall responsibilities as well as your accomplishments. 

For the next two topics, it is my understanding that you don’t have to focus on your most significant challenge and greatest achievement at your current position, but rather can discuss these topics more generally. You can, of course, discuss these topics in relationship to other jobs or even more generally.

Your most significant challenge
A challenge can certainly be a weakness, failure or setback, it is surely possible that a challenge could simply be a real test of your leadership and a great way to convey an accomplishment.
1. Clearly state what your challenge was.
2. Explain what actions you took. Think about what your actions reflect about your own skills and/or personality.
4. Explain what you learned and/or gained (a skill or a new opportunity, for example) from the experience.  It is critical that you learned or gained something, otherwise it will be difficult (probably impossible) to explain how this experience has helped you achieve success now and in the future.

Here are some types of challenges to get you brainstorming:
-Challenges that relate to lack of ability or skill. For instance having difficulty completing a task or being successful because of your limited capability.  Overcoming such a challenge involves a story about gaining or otherwise obtaining access to the necessary skill.
-Challenges that relate to relationships with other people or groups, such as conflicts within a team. Overcoming such challenges typically involves effective utilization of interpersonal skills.
-Challenges that relate to one's psychological condition, cultural understanding, or other deeper mental assumptions.  Overcoming such challenges typically involves a change in mindset.
-Challenges that relate to a really difficult task. It is possible that you write about a challenging situation which you use to highlight your abilities rather than a situation where you were initially deficient in some way.

Your greatest achievement
Please see my analysis of IMD’s Essay 1, What do you consider to be your single most important achievement and why? as that analysis fully applies here.

Best of luck with your Oxford application!

-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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