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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.
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