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

May 16, 2015

Which 2016 entry top MBA program essays to start with?

Now that the 2016 entry essays for Columbia, HBS, MIT, Stanford and Wharton (schools all link to my analysis for 2016 entry)  are known, I have an opinion about which school to start with, but the answer just really depends on the applicant.

Every year, my early bird clients always ask me which school to start with.  So here goes the advice I am going to start giving out:

I am assuming that  deadlines are not driving the decision because if they are, no reason to read this post.  If you perceive that you have limited time, apply to schools based on deadline order.

Since the HBS essay question for the Class of 2018 is no longer completely open ended and likely not to be particularly long, I see no inherent reason to start with HBS.

Start with HBS or Stanford? I will be recommending that my clients who apply to Stanford and HBS, start with Stanford this year because I think doing so will make it easier to get to HBS.

Wharton’s required Essay is also a fine place to start because it will help you with CBS Essays 1 and 2 and Stanford Essay B.  It may or may not be useful for HBS.  For those initially not wanting to take the deep dive into Stanford A,  Wharton’s required essay is a good starting place.  Wharton’s Optional (good stuff essay, not concerns essay) can either be written before doing the essays for other schools or after you have a portfolio of other school’s content to work with.

If you are applying to CBS for Early Decision,  it is a fine place to start because it will give you any goals content you need for other schools as well as rationale for attending a school, which could modified for subsequent schools.  CBS Essay Three (Surprise) could also be the same thing as or part of what you write for HBS.  The CBS essay content is likely to be easy to apply to Wharton’s required and possibly even the optional essay.  CBS Essay One and Two could also be helpful for writing Stanford B.

MIT remains the odd man out. It is really completely unclear whether MIT’s one required essay would overlap at all with any of these other school’s essays.  Maybe there will be some overlap between Wharton’s and MIT’s optional essays or HBS’ essay and MIT’s optional essay, but maybe not.

If you are applying to INSEAD for September 2016 entry and also to HBS, I would recommend starting with INSEAD because Job Essay 2 and Motivation Essay 1 are likely to provide you with content that can be reapplied, in shortened form, to HBS.

Of course you might be applying to other schools which could effect my remarks above, but those schools essays are not known at this time.

-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.

May 15, 2015

HBS MBA Admissions Essay for the Class of 2018

NOTE: An updated and expanded version of my analysis of the HBS essay and application for 2016 entry can be found here

While the Harvard Business School application for 2016 entry will not go live until mid-June,  the essay was released today, May 15th.   Until I see the online application form for the Class of 2018, which will be opened in mid-June,  I will have to hold off on commenting on the entire application and recommendation form.  For my analysis of the Class of 2017 application, please see here.  For my posts on recommendation, please see my Key Posts on recommendations.

My comprehensive service clients have been admitted to HBS for the Classes of  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005. My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help additional candidates with HBS interview preparation.  Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have worked with 27 successful applicants from Canada, Europe, India, the Middle East, Japan, other parts of Asia, and the United States on HBS application. I think that this range of experience has helped me understand the many possible ways of making an effective application to HBS.  For the Class of 2017, I worked with an exceptional group of clients and 10 of them will be going to HBS this fall.  All I can tell you is that HBS takes a truly diverse range of people. Some had high GPAs and great GMAT sc ores, others had GPAs and scores well below the 80% range for HBS, but what they all had in common were strong personal professional backgrounds that came out in their essays.

A NEW QUESTION THIS YEAR! From Direct from the Director

“Class of 2018 – The Essay Question

There is one essay question for the Class of 2018:
It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.
Introduce yourself.
Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.
We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.
Yes, it's "new"…but most of you are embarking on this business school application journey for the first time too!     
Why do we like it?
• It's just about as straightforward and practical as we can make it.   It gives you a chance to tell your story however you choose. Imagine simply saying it out loud. This is what we mean when we've been encouraging you to use your own "voice" when approaching this part of the application.  We have no pre-conceived ideas of what "good" looks like. We look forward to lots of variance.
• It's useful. You will actually be introducing yourself to classmates at HBS. 
Why did we drop the "optional" option?
• We were trying to signal that the essay wasn't The Most Important Element of the application so we thought saying "optional" might accomplish that. But, this season, every applicant submitted a response. We get it. You want to tell us things.
Tell us again what the essay is for?
• For you: an opportunity to pause and reflect. Business school is a big experience –  it's exciting, it's an unknown,it's a beginning, it's an investment in your future. Stopping to reflect and gather your thoughts in writing is a useful exercise. That's not just our opinion –  it's what we hear from students all the time.
• For us: a chance to get to know you beyond the elements of the application that feel fixed and stationary. Can also be a starting point for interview conversations.”
In addition to watching the case video, please refer to my prior post for a full analysis of HBS, the case method, and what admissions looks for.  I will update my whole analysis when the online application is updated. Here I am going to just focus on the new question.

HBS is far from the first school to ask applicants to introduce themselves to classmates.  In this case, the length seems unlimited (See below, I don’t recommend a very long essay)  and the classmates in question are the other 89 students in your section.

You need to think about what you would actually say to your future classmates. Since you will  need to introduce yourself,  think of one core requirement of this essay being how to make an effective introduction to people you are going to be working with for an entire year. First impressions matter a lot. You need to put significant time into thinking about the impression you will make.

Assume that the length is not unlimited even though it appears to be up to you.  How long of an introduction would you make? My suggestion is that whatever length of a text you write, read it out loud and ask yourself, how long you would actually speak. HBS suggests that you “Imagine simply saying it out loud.”  Suggestion: one to three minutes is good, five minutes is probably a max out.

Treat this like a transcription of what you would say.  In other words, this is spoken rather than written text. I know that when I start reviewing my client’s HBS essays for 2016 entry, I will be reading them out loud and testing the way they sound. I will be advising my clients to do that.

Make it easy to understand.  You are introducing yourself to strangers who you want to become your friends and colleagues. They will have very diverse backgrounds. Your job is to make this essay easy to understand. Think big picture, clear stories, and no extreme complications.

Make it believable. This should go without saying, but some applicants have a tendency to overstate their accomplishments.  This is not the place for it.  Be honest and show your authentic self.

Make it interesting. Your objective is to get your classmates to like you and become interested in you. You need to help HBS see why you deserve a shot to be in one of the 90 student sections.  You need to show your selling points and make it clear what differentiates you. Simultaneously, you can’t focus just on accomplishments, instead you want to reveal something positive and personal that will be perceived as attractive and memorable.

While I don’t necessarily suggest writing what you can contribute to your section in this essay, I do think that should be implied. In other words, someone reading this essay should have a clear sense of how you will be a positive addition to the section through the diversity of your experience, values, and or skills.

Also, keep in mind that the essay is not the whole application.   Your resume, application form, and recommendations all have an important role in the application process.  Don’t unnecessarily duplicate information found elsewhere in your application.  This is the place to come to life as an applicant, so that you are perceived as someone who can add value to your section and to HBS as a whole.
If you are trying to understand the diverse range of essays that gets someone admitted to HBS,  I do recommend  The Unofficial Harvard Business School Essay Book.  In fact,  one of my clients admitted to the Class of 2016 contributed his or her essay to it, which made me really happy.  I can’t tell you which one. I do highly recommend reading this book because it will give you a really good idea about the range of possible answers and dispel any myths about needing to submit something that is professionally written. I would also recommend the old book that contained HBS admits essays. That collection is still a good read for understanding how to put together an MBA essay though the specific questions are no longer being as ked by HBS. Combined, both books are really great guides for someone looking to see sample successful MBA essays. Beyond those essay books, a piece of absolutely required reading for HBS admissions is Poets & Quants' John Byrne's interview with Dee Leopold, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School. If you are looking for one article to give you overall insight into how HBS makes admissions decisions, John Byrne has done an exceptional job of asking Dee Leopold the right questions.

I will have more to say about this essay and the whole application next month.

-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.

May 14, 2015

INSEAD MBA Essay Questions for 2016 Admission

Please note this post has been updated to reflect changes (A CV is now required and the Job essays have changed)  made to the INSEAD application after this post was originally published on May 14, 2015. I will make further changes should information about the CV and the recommended length of the job essay content be further clarified. 
-Adam, June 18, 2015

Here I discuss INSEAD's essays for 2016. This post covers both January and September 2016 entry.  Since 2001, when I began doing MBA admissions counseling, I have had an opportunity to work with a large number of clients admitted to INSEAD. Since establishing my own consulting practice in 2007, I've worked with 35 clients admitted to INSEAD. Annual breakdowns and testimonials from clients admitted to INSEAD can be found here. My report on my 2011 visit to the Singapore campus is here.  The essays have not changed from last year.

As a matter of disclosure, I am attending INSEAD's Executive Masters in Consulting for Change, at the Singapore campus, which I have previously discussed on this blog.
While INSEAD does not ask a "Why INSEAD?" question, as with other schools, I strongly recommend becoming informed about INSEAD. Attending admission events, meeting alumni, and making full use of INSEAD's online resources are critical for making the strongest possible case for why your goals require an INSEAD education. You should most certainly look at INSEAD KNOWLEDGE and listen to some INSEAD Knowledgecasts. Finally, keep in mind that INSEAD is a fun school, so express your personality in terms of why you want to attend it. I would also suggest joining  https://www.facebook.com/insead  and
https://www.facebook.com/INSEAD.Degree.Programmes for the latest INSEAD news.

One big change since my last post on INSEAD essays is that the INSEAD application now requires  the upload of a resume (CV) for the MBA program.  The supporting documents page includes a place for uploading a Curriculum Vitae.  A CV is now a required document for the application.  At the moment, there are no other instructions regarding it. I understand that further instructions will be added.
2. Most important responsibility that lead to a result.
3-5. Subsequent responsibilities-results.
This  should be a growth story.  If it is not a story that shows how your career has positively evolved, it is unlikely to be very effective.  You might be unemployed at the moment, but what has been the trajectory so far?  Did you take a big risk along the way?  Point that out.  We each have our career ups and downs, especially anyone who has taken risks.  Don't shy away from discussing the risks, but the overall focus of this essay should be positive.  In my experience, INSEAD rewards those who take risks and does not look kindly on those that stay in the same position for five years or more. Change or become boring!  If you have been working in the same position for five years or more, you will need to really show how you have demonstrated growth in terms of results or responsibilities, which would have been primarily discussed in Job Essay 1.

In terms of organizing this answer, think about the key turning points in your career.  Help INSEAD understand how you have evolved professionally.  Assume that you are being judged critically and consider how to both effectively and honestly present your career.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than 2 months before the programme starts, please explain your activities and occupations between leaving your job and the start of the programme. (optional)
2. Language learning
3. Internships
4. Volunteer activities
5. Travel
The essays have not changed, but the word counts have because they are now all approximate, which makes things more relaxed.  What approximate usually means is 10-15% over the word count.
I find that many applicants resist writing about their own weaknesses, yet to do so reveals self-awareness and maturity. While I think it is necessary to practice good judgment when writing about weakness, I think it is also important that you provide something beyond the routine. One standard defensive strategy that many applicants seem drawn to is to write about knowledge or skill areas where they are weak, but this is not suitable for INSEAD's question because they want you to stress personal characteristics.
Compared to weaknesses, strengths are easier for most people to write about. Given the limited space here, you might find it helpful to write about a strength here that is discussed in greater detail in another essay. In other words, you might discuss the origins of one your key strengths and trace its connection to your personal or professional accomplishments.
Some questions to ask yourself:
1. Does the strength demonstrate one's potential for future academic and/or professional success? If so it is a probably a good topic. If not, why does INSEAD need to know about it?
2. Is a weakness fixable? If you are writing about a weakness that cannot be improved upon through your program at INSEAD, why do they need to know about it?
3. Is your strength or weakness being stated without any context or very context and not supported by other essays in your application? If so, you really need to provide enough support for the strength or weakness to make it meaningful.
Finally, if you are having difficulty thinking about your strengths and weaknesses in relation to your future academic and professional goals, please see my analysis of Essay 4 because in it I discuss how to think about strengths and weaknesses in relation to goals.
Some key things to keep in mind when answering this question:
-Achievements reveal your potential to succeed at  INSEAD and afterwords.
-Achievements reveal your potential for contributing to your classmates.
-Everyone has had achievements, so make your single most important achievement really stand out.
-What you consider to be an achievement is a real test of your self-awareness and judgment.

Think about which achievement to use
The first thing you need to do is brainstorm possible achievements to use here. Your achievement may relate to your professional experience, academics, volunteer activities, hobbies, community engagement, personal matters.  The possibilities are quite endless. Whatever it is, you should explain why it is so important.

Think about what skill(s), value(s), or unique experience is/are being showcased
Your achievement needs to reveal valuable thing(s) about you. Some will call these selling points, but more specifically they consist of skills, values, or unique experiences. One might use a specific achievement to emphasize one's leadership skills,  one's ethical values, and to explain a significant barrier that was overcome. If you breakdown the meaning of an achievement it might easily reveal multiple important things about you.

Think about what potential for success in the MBA program or afterwords is being demonstrated by your achievement
You may or may not be directly stating this in the essay, but you should think about what how your achievement  reveals in terms of your potential. INSEAD  will most certainly be considering how your achievement demonstrates your potential to succeed in their program and afterwords, so you should as well.

Think about how your achievement could become a contribution to others in the MBA program
Just as with potential, think about whether your achievement demonstrates your ability to add value to other students at INSEAD.

Think about why  INSEAD needs to know about this achievement
If your achievement has made it this far, chances are it is substantial. That said, I have three simple tests for determining whether achievement really belongs in this essay.
1. Does INSEAD really need to know about this achievement? After all, you might consider getting the love of your life to marry you to be one of your greatest achievement, but admissions care? If an achievement does not reveal (whether stated or implied) potential and/or contribution, chances are likely that it is not significant enough.
2. Is the story totally obvious from reviewing other parts of your application?
If the story is simply a very cause-effect based one such as "I studied hard to get a 4.0 in university " that could ber very dull and rather obvious.  On the other hand if you overcome great challenges to get such an academic result, you could have a great story.  Obvious stories are dull.  Reveal something important about yourself that goes beyond the surface level and could not be easily assumed from reviewing other aspects of your application.
3. Is the achievement really your most important one?
It is critical that you explain clearly why it is important. Is the importance because of its significance to you or to an impact you had or to both?   Really make sure the importance is stated clearly.
1. Clearly state what the objective was.
2. Clearly state your role.
3. Clearly state your failure.
One core characteristic of those who are admitted to INSEAD is that they are international in their perspective and experience: The INSEAD MBA equips our alumni to work anywhere in the world. Accordingly, we attract applicants with cross-cultural sensitivity and an international outlook. I have found that it is usually those with extensive international experience that have the greatest likelihood for admission.  That said, in my interview with Deborah Riger, I asked her about this issue:
"ADAM: Is it possible to be accepted to INSEAD without having international experience?
DEBORAH: Yes, it is possible to be admitted without significant experience outside of your home country. While it is important for all applicants to show their international motivations in their essays, it is especially critical for those who lack international exposure to do so. Applicants need to share how they are comfortable and confident in their own culture, why they are seeking out the international exposure in the MBA and sharing perhaps how the world has come to them at home."

Now to the essays, which I obtained from the online application on June 18th after changes had been made. 

There were previously two job description essays with specific word counts. These have been replaced by short answer questions (length not specified).  Applicants this year are lucky because the four required questions are much more straightforward.  The only ambiguity here is what the length is supposed to be.  I have asked INSEAD for clarification on that. 

One of these questions is about your post-MBA goals, so this goes beyond job description and is the only goals essay in the application. 

 As the questions are concerned with the applicant's professional experience, I think the following from my interview with Deborah Riger, who was the INSEAD MBA Programme's Assistant Director of Marketing at the time of the interview should be kept in mind:
"ADAM: Regarding professional experience, what to do you look for in younger (very early twenties) and older (late twenties or thirties) applicants?
DEBORAH: For all applicants we want to see a track record of professional accomplishments that sets them apart from their peers. For those with only 1-2 years of professional experience, they must demonstrate something distinctive in their profile, perhaps they have started their own company. I would suggest, it is in the benefit of all younger applicants to work for a minimum of two years before applying to business school as they will get more out of the programme if they have experiences to reflect back on. For older applicants, we are looking for a strong professional track record and clear goals toward career change or advancement. If an older applicant has been in the same role for five years that might not demonstrate potential for growth, overall ambition or success relative to his/her peers."

Based on my experience with INSEAD applicants, the above statement from Deborah is completely accurate. INSEAD is relatively forgiving of those with limited (1-2 years) of professional experience as long as there is something distinctive about their background, but for most applicants, INSEAD is expecting to see a clear pattern of career growth. While INSEAD can actually be quite flexible about the level of international experience that an applicant has, when it comes to those with 3-10+ years of experience, career growth really matters. Deborah's comment about applicants in the same position for five years is also really telling as it points to the fact that INSEAD is looking for applicants who are not complacent. Keep in mind that an INSEAD admission committee consists of faculty and alumni and the later, in particular, are likely to have clear expectations of what good career growth looks like.

I think it is also important to keep in mind that a business background is not a necessity for admission to INSEAD, but that good professional experience is. See here.  Based on my experience working with clients coming from a variety of professions, I can say that having a non-business, but solid professional career, can be a real advantage for being a distinct applicant.
In addition to the now mandatory CV,  you should consider that these essays will really provide INSEAD with their primary interpretation of your career.

Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/products and results achieved. (short answer) *

 You want to focus on both major responsibilities and major results. Since results (accomplishments) are likely to be specifically connected to responsibilities, I would prioritize them in your description. I think for many applicants, the easiest way to organize this essay will be in terms of discussing their 2-4 most important results and/or responsibilities.  For those who are unemployed, you should write about your last position held. Here is one possible organizational scheme.
1. Brief introduction indicating the nature of the position and employer. 

Since they will also have your resume, interpret your job, don't just summarize it. Explain why the work you do is significant.

 What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (short answer) *
 I would call this the "opportunity cost" question, in other words, by going to INSEAD, you will be sacrificing the opportunity to take the next step at your current employer. If you are unemployed, the way to handle this question is to discuss the kind of position you would obtain if you were not seeking an MBA. For everyone else, I think you should be realistic, but also present the best possible version of your next position, which will show that you are seeking an MBA to move beyond what would follow without it. I think INSEAD asks this question not  only to determine whether you have a clear sense of your career trajectory, but also to confirm that you have thought deeply about what you are sacrificing by pursuing an MBA.

Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. (short answer)
 I do hope some kind of length guidelines are provided here because the question itself would seem to require at least 150 words to answer and more comfortably about 200 words or so. 

Discuss your short and long term career aspirations with or without an MBA from INSEAD.
Given the intensive nature of the INSEAD experience, you need to go into the program with a clear idea of what you want to do after your MBA. Of course, these aspirations might change, but given the program length and the reality that you will need to begin recruiting/internship hunting soon after entry, you will need a clear plan for your future. The complication with this little question is that it asks for your goals with or without an MBA from INSEAD.  Whether your goals are achievable or would become very difficulty to achieve without an MBA from INSEAD is certainly something you can discuss.  The core content here, however, should focus on your career aspirations and not why you want an MBA.  If they wanted to know why you wanted an MBA or wanted to go to INSEAD, they would ask that.  They used to do so and are not anymore. 

If you are having difficulty articulating such a plan, you can use my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). I think GapSWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it.
(To best view the following table, click on it. )

How to use this table:

Step 1. Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?
Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER: WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Next, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your graduate degree. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3. If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4, then you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. If you know about INSEAD, you are ready to write about your goals, whether in Question 3-4 or elsewhere in the essay set.
The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals?

I think it is critical to provide a honest answer to the question and one that hopefully shows that you are using your time well. Possible topics to discuss:
1. Learning activities (NOT APPLICATION PREP PLEASE! That would be really weak)
6. Entrepreneurial activities

You need not be clever here, just clear and to the point. If your answer sounds like total bullshit, you risk trashing your application, so make sure what you have here is really plausible.

If you are unsure whether you will be leaving your employer two months before the program starts or don't want to actually discuss any plans, don't answer this question unless you think you will be unemployed by the time you would be interviewed for the school.  

The Motivation Essays

1. Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (approximately 500 words) 
This question has not changed substantially from previous years but the word count has now been reduced from 600 to 500 words though the 500 words is approximate, which means going over by a bit is no problem. Though they did slightly change the wording last time the questions were revised. With a question like this I think it is important to understand that you are actually being asked to think about your strengths and weaknesses in terms of your overall personality and development. What is important here is provide both an analysis about specific characteristics of yourself and to help admissions understand who you are. YOU NEED TO TELL A COMPELLING STORY ABOUT WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON!  I put this in uppercase because I get far too many essays from my clients that end up focusing on professional content, that don't focus on personality and personal background, or are otherwise not really effective portraits. Think of this essay as a highly focused portrait of yourself that will give admissions great insight into your life story and your characteristics (strengths and weaknesses). The most effective answers here consistently combine revealing parts of the applicant's personality and background while discussing strengths and weaknesses. Obviously the strengths and weaknesses should be ones that relate to your character, not to a skill set. Given the word count, I suggest focusing on no more than about two strengths and two weaknesses. I would try to give fairly equal consideration to both weaknesses and strengths.




2. Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (approximately 400 words) 
This is quite a bit to do in 400 words, but one positive change this year is that the total word count is no longer a maximum of 400 words, but approximately 400 words, so you can write a bit more if you need to. Expect to spend quite a bit of time editing this one down.  Get the right stories first before worrying too much about the tight word count.

Given that INSEAD is specifically asking you to discuss how a failure impacted your relationship with other people (Teams for example), writing about a leadership failure would surely be a good way to answer INSEAD"s question. That said, INSEAD"s question can apply to any type of failure.

To answer this question correctly, you need to do the following:

1Discuss an achievement. Explain how the achievement impacted your relationship with others. Explain what you learned from the achievement and/or the impact on the relations with others (Not really very clear which, so I will assume both.

2. Do the same thing for your failure.

Now, of course, you can try to combine your achievement and failure together so that they somehow have a common impact on others and/or learning obtained.  Some people will have such situations, but others will probably find it useful to treat each story separately.

An important part of this question is about your relationship to other people. This is a new aspect to the questions previously asked at INSEAD and clearly indicates their desire to gauge your understanding of the impact you have on others.  They are trying to measure your emotional intelligence, though not in in very much detail.  Make sure you address this part of the question.

Now lets look at achievements and failures in some more depth.


Failure essays require that you learned something meaningful. And your learning should be important, otherwise why tell admissions about it? Therefore the key constraint of this question is that whatever the failure is, you have learned something important from it. While not stated, you may very well find that one way of showing what you learned is to discuss how you applied your lesson to a new situation.
I would, in fact, argue that the heart of any sort of "failure question," whether it is an essay question or an interview is what you learned. Also depending on what your role was, how you reacted is also very important.
Since the failure here has to have an impact on others, it is important that you failed in some way that effected other people.
The basic components of an answer:
4. Explain what you learned.
The word count is limited, but, if you can, show how you applied what you learned to a new situation because the application of abstract learning to a new situation is a key indicator of real learning.

3. Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way. ( approximately 300 words) 
 One positive change this year is that the total word count is no longer a maximum of 300 words, but approximately 300 words, so you can write a bit more if you need to.

The nice thing about this question is that it does not require an applicant to have substantial international experience because diversity takes many forms.

Writing about a positive experience is likely to be what most applicants do because it is rather easy to focus on a positive accomplishment and less likely to involve some of the pitfalls associated with negative cultural diversity situations (See below).

Writing about something negative can work well, but likes culture shock questions, it is also a question with significant room for saying something stupid and potentially fatal to your application. Some topics to avoid:
1. Topics where you negatively stereotype another nation: All Martians are argumentative, so I was surprised to learn that some of them are not.
2. Topics where you are the victim: The Martians lied to me and as a result I lost the contract to a local provider.

There is a wide variety of possible topics, which makes this a great question  for really emphasizing something not covered well in other essays.  A key consideration is that whatever the topic, diversity impacted you significantly.  In other words, write about something important and not trivial. Write about something that will really help INSEAD understand why you belong in their diverse community because of your attitude and insight into diversity.

4. Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc). How are you enriched by these activities? ( approximately 300 words) 
One positive change this year is that the total word count is no longer a maximum of 300 words, but approximately 300 words, so you can write a bit more if you need to.
While you should feel free to include ALL TYPES OF ACTIVITIES, you should not try to write about ALL ACTIVITIES that you have been or are currently engaged in.  My suggestion is to focus on 2-4 topics because if you do much more than that, you will say very little.

The key to effectively answering this question is to make sure you are addressing the second part of the question: "How are you enriched by these activities?"  In other words, focus on those activities which have really impacted you.  You may want to mention specific accomplishments related to one or more activities, but whatever you do, make sure the activities are actually significant and communicate something important about you.

5. (optional)  Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee? (approximately 300 words) 
One positive change this year is that the total word count is no longer a maximum of 300 words, but approximately 300 words, so you can write a bit more if you need to.

While this question is optional, I have every client write about something here. Beyond any explanation for any negative issues, feel free to write about any extracurricular activities, professional experiences, personal experiences, and/or other matters that you can add here to provide another positive perspective about you.

Especially given that INSEAD does not take a resume and that the application form does not provide such a huge amount of space to discuss your background, most applicants will find at least a few key issues that they wish to elaborate on.

Don't necessarily conceive of this as an essay that must focus on a unitary topic, but rather as place to discuss anything not effectively communicated about elsewhere in the application.  It is fine to just have distinct paragraphs on completely unrelated topics.

This is a completely open question. While you might very well need to tell the Admissions Committee something negative, such as an explanation for a low GPA, I would suggest using at least part of it to tell them something positive about you. Feel free to write on any topic that will add another dimension to Admissions' perception of who you are. I would not treat it as optional unless you truly feel that the rest of your essays have fully expressed everything you want INSEAD to know about you. I don't suggest writing about something that would be obvious from reviewing your application, instead tell INSEAD that one or two additional key points that will give them another reason to admit you.

I know some applicants will want to write about "Why INSEAD?" here, but they cut that question, for this application,  so be careful with that.  I will be advising my own clients to only discuss INSEAD here if they have something really interesting to write or if they are reapplicants (see next paragraph).

Since there is no  reapplication question, I would recommend that reapplicants use the optional essay for the purpose of providing clearly stated updates that show growth since the last application. Whatever form(s) this growth takes, please provide a summary of it here, even if you have addressed the topic elsewhere in the application. In addition, I think it is especially useful to show what steps you have taken to learn more about INSEAD. For more about reapplication, please see A guide to my resources for reapplicants.

For my post on INSEAD interviews, please see 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.

May 11, 2015

MIT Sloan MBA Essays for Fall 2016 Admission

In this post I will discuss the Class of 2018 MBA application admissions essays for the MIT Sloan School of Management.   You can see the my client results and testimonials here.

On May 7, 2015, MIT Sloan’s Admissions Director, Dawna Levenson, announced the following:
By popular demand, I am happy to announce that we will have 3 application rounds this year!
Round 1:
Application deadline: September 17, 2015
Decisions released: December 16, 2015

Round 2:
Application deadline: January 14, 2016
Decisions released: April 4, 2016

Round 3:
Application Deadline: April 11, 2016
Decisions released: May 18, 2016.

We have one required essay at the time of submission (that is right, just one question this year!): Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer).
A second (short-answer) question will be asked of those invited to interview: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer).
We will also continue to ask an open-ended, optional question.
The application will go live in early July.
MIT made three big changes:
1. They introduced a Round Three. Creating a Round Three might not seem like a big deal because the chances to get in Round Three at similar schools like HBS,  Stanford, and Wharton is so small, but really it does make a difference. It means that some outstanding candidates who could not apply until late now have a shot at MIT.  On the other hand, I think it means that MIT will no longer be captive to its waitlist for filling the class, so I suspect getting waitlisted at MIT from next year will be less likely to result in admission.
2.  MIT now has only one required essay of 500 words. Compared, especially to last year’s particularly annoying (at least that is what my clients thought) write your own recommendation question, this will make applying to MIT very easy.  The one required essay is the kind of behavioral question that MIT has been asking for years and a question anyone can answer.
3. As far as I know, no school has ever required a new essay for those it invites for an interview. This is a new one.  The question itself is a modification of a question that MIT has asked previously.

The above changes are not necessarily good for applicants from the viewpoint of admissions chances: My predication is that MIT will see a significant increase in the number of applications it receives and become even harder to get into. What is positive for applicants is that the amount of specific effort (assuming someone is applying to multiple programs) that has to be put into an MIT application is less than in previous years.

Before analyzing MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Essays for Fall 2016, I think it is important to take a look at MIT Sloan’s motto:
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.

 ”Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer).”
This distinctive style of question that MIT asks is based on the behavioral interview method. 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 question 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 per son. It is obviously critical to be aware of your own message.

Now I will analyze each part of the required essay in some depth. 

 ”Tell us about a recent success you had”
This is very nice open ended question. Anyone really has to have had a success of some kind. Keep in mind that the success in question need not be professional.
Recent:  (Note: If MIT  changes the wording when they put the official application, I will alter if needed.) Previously MIT time limited stories to three years or less in the past, but the specific year requirement seems to have been eliminated in place of the more ambiguous word, “recent.”  Personally, I think recent does mean something that has happened in the last year or earlier. On the other hand, the success part could be a culmination of effort that took a number of years to accomplish. Ultimately the meaning of recent is left to your discretion (or at least until MIT says otherwise when they release the application).

Success you had:  This is an accomplishment story.  Whatever you did, resulted in a positive outcome. It might not be your greatest accomplishment if your greatest accomplishment was not recent. Given the subsequent part of the question, the success must have required your actions (not solely), the success should involve other people, involve challenges (“hurdles”), and have an impact. The subsequent part of  the question those does suggest that are certain limits on what MIT is looking for, which I will elaborate on below.

“How did you accomplish this?”
Just as discusses above with STAR, your actions must have contributed tangibly to the result. While you may have worked in a team or group, you must be able to isolate the specific actions that you took that contributed to the outcome. Watch out if your essay only involves what “we” did and does not show what “you” did.  Don’t overstate your role, but do focus on it and help the reader understand the value and meaning of your actions.
Who else was involved?
While not indicating that you write a group or team story here,  other people have to have been involved. In other words, the success can’t just be something solitary and that does not involve others.  MIT is looking to understand the way you work with, handle conflicts with, communicate with, and/or motivate other people. The people may be colleagues, clients, friends, family, classmates, etc. The point that the success should involve others.

What hurdles did you encounter?
MIT is not looking for an essay about something you did that did not challenge you in some way.  If you are about to write an essay about a success that happened easily without any difficulty, either change the topic or think more deeply about it to uncover what challenged you. The reason hurdles matter is that highlight abilities. After all, doing something that does not involve a hurdle is by definition easy and hence not a test of ability. Your actions should involve overcoming hurdles.
Here are some types of hurdles to get you brainstorming:
-Hurdles 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 hurdle involves a story about gaining or otherwise obtaining access to the necessary skill.
-Hurdles that relate to relationships with other people or groups, such as conflicts within a team. Overcoming such hurdles typically involves effective utilization of interpersonal skills.
-Hurdles  that relate to one's psychological condition, cultural understanding, or other deeper mental assumptions.  Overcoming such obstacles typically involves a change in mindset.
-Hurdles that relate to a challenging task. It is possible, even likely,  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.
When you are thinking about which success to write about, one key test for determining that is the extent to which your actions required overcoming hurdles.

What type of impact did this have?
Impact results to the “Result” in STAR.  Given MIT’s aforementioned mission, a success is only one if it has impact.  Be as specific as you be about the impact.  Make sure you connect your actions directly to the impact. Don’t overstate your role in the impact, but do make it clear for the reader.  If the success had multiple impacts indicate that.

Finally, 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 effect on an admissions’ reader.

We will also continue to ask an open-ended, optional question.
  I will edit this part if the wording changes when the application goes up. The wording last year for the question  was “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  third year that MIT has asked this question.  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 one required essay is 500 words.

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 the same kind of 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 essay, what would you tell someone about yourself to create a strong first impression?
4. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and
want to admit you, what is it?

5. Do you have a personal interest (painting, video, photography,  and poetry for example) that would work effectively?

6.  Is there some aspect of MIT Sloan that itself really relates to you? What about my career goals and what kinds of classes I want to take? My clients sometimes have the urge to tell MIT about career goals or why MIT,  but 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.

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.

 ”A second (short-answer) question will be asked of those invited to interview: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer).”
MIT used this question last year in a longer format which may have involved multiple examples. In this case, those fortunate enough to be called for an interview will only need to write about a single topic.
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 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Ideally it would be great to have a story that combines all three of the above aspects, but don’t worry if it does not. For example, if you find your story focuses on being principled rather than innovative, I would not necessarily abandon that story. The point is to give MIT an understanding of you as a person sufficient for them to understand why you fit at MIT Sloan.
Finally, given that this essay is being asked as part of your interview, assume that whatever you write about you may need to elaborate on in detail in the interviews. I could be wrong about this, but until I  read something from MIT admissions indicating otherwise or subsequently get interview reports from my clients or elsewhere indicating otherwise, I assuming that this essay is a part of the interview process.  Therefore only write about a topic that you will be comfortable discussing in detail.

Best of luck with your application.  If you do get to write on the interview invite essay, be sure to read my post on interviewing at MIT Sloan.

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.

May 09, 2015

Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2018

In this post, I analyze the essay questions for Wharton for Fall 2016 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 here.

While Wharton has not changed their website yet to indicate that the application essays from 2015 have not changed, John Bryne, at Poets & Quants, was told by a Wharton spokesman “that it plans to repeat last year's essay questions and expects its online application to go live in early August.”  Therefore I am going ahead with this post now.  If there are any modifications when the questions are officially published by Wharton admissions, I will alter this post.

For my most recent post on Wharton interviews, please see Preparing for Wharton Interviews for the Class of 2016.

Wharton has decided to go minimal with an essay topic that takes more thought about what you want from Wharton MBA. It is basically a very typical statement of degree purpose type question with the only twist being that you need to state personal and professional reasons for pursuing the degree. It is a future focused statement about what you want from the program and why.

An excellent answer to the Wharton essay question would identify those specific aspects of Wharton that you will most benefit from. A general characterization of Wharton- data driven, but also a place with a commitment to experiential learning, East Coast focused but with a San Francisco campus that is now become integrated into the MBA program, highly international, highly flexible with strengths in a large number of areas, including healthcare, finance, real estate, and marketing- is  helpful to keep in mind when writing this essay. Wharton has a lot to offer and, while  some have characterized it as a CFO school, a finance school, a Wall Street school, all too some extent true, this is not so helpful when you consider that, for example, Sundar Pichai, Google’s guy in charge of Chrome, Android, and Google Apps, is a Wharton alumnus. Wharton is a huge program with so many strengths that the point is not to think about some big overall image of the school, but to focus on what you want to get out of it. Which specific resources you want to use and why. Keep in mind that Wharton is much bigger than HBS because of the undergraduate program. The range of courses, research, and opportunities is huge. The point is to provide a specific game plan on how you will use Wharton for your professional and personal growth.

I think an effective essay here will do the following:
1.  Provide both personal and professional content. Personal content can be expressed in academic, personal, extracurricular, and even professional contexts. Personal means giving insight into who you are as person and not just what you know or what you can do.  Professional means providing Wharton with a clear understanding about your capabilities in a professional context, about your ability to work with others, show leadership, overcome challenges, and/or accomplish something.
2.  Be analytical, not merely descriptive. It is very important that you engage in a sufficient amount of interpretation of your actions and not merely a description of what you do.  Given the length, you really don’t have much space for highly descriptive writing or big stories told in significant detail. Your objective is to efficiently guide your reader’s interpretation of what you write, so that they perceive you in the way that you intend.
3. Think widely about what you want from a Wharton MBA.  The point is to give Wharton a sense of the best of who you are so don’t limit yourself too narrowly, but if you try to cover too much, you will end up not covering anything effectively.  Really consider what is best about you and is relevant to answering this question.
4.  Make sure you are stating things as briefly and effectively as possible.  Don’t waste your words. Use them carefully.

Think about the rest of the application when writing your essays.  The application form, your resume, and recommendations are other ways that your strengths as an applicant will be conveyed. Where possible, make sure that what admissions reads in your essays is both distinct from and complementary to what they read in the rest of your application.

If you are having difficulty determining what your goals are and/or why you need an MBA in general, please see my analysis of Stanford Essay B or Columbia Business School Essay 1. In that post I provide a detailed method for thinking about goals and need for an MBA.

Make the assumption that an MBA from Wharton will be a transformative experience for you.  If you don’t make this assumption, you will likely find it particularly hard to explain what you want from the experience personally and will also probably come across as rather dull.  Your job is to engage the admissions reader so that they understand what you want from Wharton for your future.

What are your aspirations?  You need to give Wharton admissions a very clear image of personal and professional objectives for attending the MBA program.  You might include a clear post-MBA career goal and a longer term vision/goal, but depending on how you answer the question, you might express what you want from Wharton more in terms of the kind of person and kind of professional you want to become. You might express it in terms of your present situation and how you hope to be transformed by your Wharton experience.  A purely abstract dream or visionary statement could easily come across as unrealistic or ungrounded if not handled carefully, so be careful to connect your aspirations to  your past actions and/or clearly defined goals. Career changers (those planning on  changing industry and/or function after MBA) should explain why they want to change their careers and how Wharton will enable that. Career enhancers should explain how an MBA will en hance their careers to continue along the pathway that thy are already on.

While you should be explaining why you need a Wharton MBA in  particular. You should  learn about the curriculumclusters / cohorts/ learning teamsLearning @ Whartoncommunity involvementclubs, and WGA in order to determine what aspects of Wharton really relate to your professional objectives. You need not mention the names of particular courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your aspirations align well with Wharton’s offerings. For example, it is really a waste of word count to mention the names of particular finance courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your finance skills. Every admissions officer at Wharton is well aware of the programs major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it might be worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning.
An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  ”I want to take Advanced Corporate Finance because I am interested in developing advanced corporate finance skills.” This kind of bad circular reasoning is so common in early drafts I see from my clients and in the failed essays of reapplicants that I am asked to review. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. These sentences actually convey nothing about the applicant. The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program. If you don’t explain what you need and why, you are not actually answering the question, you are just writing something dull, surface level, and without positive impact.

An example of an actual explanation:  ”While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I want to master at Wharton to succeed as a future leader of cross-border M&A.” By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, admissions will be learning about you and really be able to understand what you need from Wharton. Mentioning a course name is not important if the learning need is already something obviously obtainable at Wharton. A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Wharton.

Finally, remember that if you have something that you really want to discuss about what you contribute to Wharton or wish to mention particular classes, clubs, and events at Wharton that you could not fit into the essay, you can always discuss that in the optional essay.

IMPORTANT NOTE: WHARTON HAS TWO OPTIONAL ESSAYS. THE FIRST ONE IS FOR THE GOOD STUFF, THE SECOND ONE IS FOR ANY ISSUES OF CONCERN AND/OR REAPPLICANTS.  For 2015 entry applicants this was confusing. Actually I was confused too!  Maybe the new application for 2016 entry will do a better job of eliminating that confusion.  We will start with the Optional good stuff essay and then discuss the other one.

“(Optional): Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy (400 words).”
From my perspective and I think that of my clients who applied for 2015 admission, this question was really helpful and not necessarily so hard to answer.  Given the deadlines for top schools, most applicants will not be writing Wharton first and I would not advise doing that because this is a really easy application to handle if you have a couple of other schools done first.  Especially in regards to this Optional Question, you may easily have content from schools like CBS, HBS, MIT,  and MIT that can be repurposed here, but make sure it does not look like you are answering a question for another school.

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.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want  Wharton 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 or presented  to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?

3. Beyond what you have discussed in the Required Essay, what would you tell someone about yourself to create a strong first impression?
4. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and
want to admit you, what is it?

5.  Is there some aspect of Wharton that itself really relates to you and is different from what you might have mentioned in the Required Essay?

6. Is there a particular contribution you want to focus on?

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.

Optional Essay: This is the essay for those with concerns and for reapplicants. 

“First-time applicants can use this essay if you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, significant weaknesses in your application). (250 words)
All re-applicants (those who applied for Fall 2014 or 2013) are also required to complete the Optional Essay. Please use this space to explain how you have reflected on the previous decision on your application and to discuss any updates on your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extra curricular/volunteer engagements). You may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”

First for reapplicants, 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 Wharton is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”

Second, for addressing any extenuating circumstances: As with the school’s other optional question, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it. In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.

Best of luck with your Wharton application!
-Adam Markus

-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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