Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

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

December 10, 2016

GMAT 8 Times Lifetime Limit

This is big news that was announced last month on the official website of the GMAT:
“Candidates can't exceed five GMAT exams within a 12-month period or the eight lifetime GMAT exams (lifetime limit updated November 2016).”

There was previously no lifetime limit.  Now there is.  I guess this means that GMAT prep instructors will not be able to keep on taking GMAT.   Most applicants never take it 5 times let alone 8 times. However, if someone applies for MBA programs and the comes back to it a few years later, they could easily take GMAT 8 times. Fortunately, there is the GRE!

-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.

August 18, 2016

MIT Sloan MBA Essays for Fall 2017 Admission

In this post I will discuss the Class of 2019 MBA application admissions essays for the MIT Sloan School of Management.   You can see the my client results and testimonials here.


Before analyzing MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Essays for Fall 2017 entry, 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.




MIT has one required essay (a cover letter) and an optional essay.  If you are invited for an interview, there will be another essay to write.  The cover letter is new this year but a return to a format that MIT asked for many years. The optional esssay and additional interview invite essay are the same as in previous years.


Cover Letters accompany resumes and it is reasonable that MIT’s website put the two together:

Cover Letter: Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (body of the letter should be 250 words or fewer)

Resume: Please submit a resume that includes your employment history and academic record in reverse chronological order. Other information appropriate to a business resume is welcomed and encouraged. (no more than 1 page in length)


Regarding the resume, like many schools, MIT only wants one page. Yes, you might have 10 years of experience, two or three degrees, great extracurriculars, publications, etc. but your job is communicate the best stuff in 1 page. Also note that the MIT application form does not provide additional space for discussing things in detail. Their application is one of the easiest to complete, which is the total opposite of HBS and Stanford. Anything you want MIT to know in order to determine whether to invite you for an interview really needs to be in the Cover Letter, Resume, or Optional Essay.


The Cover Letter to Rod Garcia: Back to Old Classic at 50% Length
Unitl removing the cover letter for 2014 entry, it had been a part of the application process for many years. Now it is back but instead of being 500 words is now 250.
Keep in mind that great cover letters result in job interviews. The purpose of a cover letter is accompany a resume.  In MIT’s case the cover letter does not only accompany the resume, but the whole MBA application.   Still, assume the point of this cover letter is to get you an interview!  How will your cover letter standout? If you don’t know how to do a US-style cover letter, you need to learn. Use Google!
MIT specifically requires that you write a 250-word maximum essay in the form of a cover letter that will convince them why you belong at MIT Sloan. I think it is critical that you really are well-informed about Sloan, so in addition to making full use of standard admissions information, please take a look at MIT Sloan Management Review and listen to the MIT Sloan Management School of Management Podcast (available on iTunes).

The essay should be focused on highlighting your accomplishments, but clearly you can’t cover them in any great detail in the space provided.  My suggestion is that you tell a story about yourself and why you fit at MIT Sloan that incorporates some of your key accomplishments. If you can touch on about 3-4 key selling points  while actually making an argument for why you belong at MIT Sloan, you will have done a good job.

Focus on your accomplishments, but also reveal how your passions, values, and interests show why you belong at Sloan. If you can answer the following questions in a convincing manner you will be on the right track:

1. Why do you fit at Sloan? In other words how do your accomplishments/values/experiences show why you fit at MIT Sloan?
2. What do you want to learn at Sloan? Why? The more specific, the better.
3. What motivates you and how does this relate to what you can learn at and contribute to Sloan? Your contributions also relate to your accomplishments.
4. Can you briefly state what your values are? That is to say, what are your core beliefs that are likely to provide Rod Garcia and his colleagues with a better understanding about what kind of person you are?
You will notice that I have specifically not included post-MBA career goals in the above questions.  That is because your cover letter should not focus on such goals.  It should focus on why you want to go to Sloan.  They are judging you based on what you have done as indicator of what you are likely to be capable of in the future. They are also judging you on your ability to effectively explain why you you belong at MIT Sloan. If you have attended Sloan-on-the-Road event or visited the campus, you probably heard from admissions that MIT does not ask for the sort of standard goals essays that almost all other schools ask for. Honestly this one of the things I love about this school. Admissions knows applicants are going to figure out what they want to do after they start an MBA program, so they think the question is absurd. Having seen what happens to my clients once they graduate, I ca n say that MIT is often right about this: Many never do what they write in their essays. This is in no way intended as a criticism of my past clients. I tell this to all my clients so that they can relax and just simply concentrate on making sure that their goals are solid without having to think that these absolutely must be their real goals. Just as long they are comfortable with their goals as one possible future and can be convincing both on paper and in an interview, that is enough. Still, goals questions are useful if you are trying to determine someone’s vision and their ability to actually put together a plan (think business plan). Of course, a goals essay is simply the standard sort of essay that all kinds of graduate programs require. For other schools, think of them as a formal requirement that simply has to be met.
Given that you have only 250 words, you really need to think very carefully about the most important things you want Rod and his colleagues to know about you.



The Admissions Committee invites you to share additional information about yourself, in any format. If you choose a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us with the URL.

Suggested guidelines:
Please keep all videos and media limited to 2:00 minutes total in length.
Please keep all written essays to 500 words or less.
If hosting your submission on a website, please ensure you provide an unprotected link (no password required).  

 Given the completely open ended nature of this additional information, 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.


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.



To be honest, I have found a creative essay to be as effective as a multimedia presentation, which you could surely do with this.  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.


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 cover letter, 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.




Those invited to interview will be asked to answer the following question: 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).  Details for submitting your essay will be included in the interview invitation.

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 to the Class of 2019!  If you do get to write on the interview invite essay, be sure to read my post on interviewing at MIT Sloan.





-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.

July 31, 2016

HLS Resume Template Collection for LL.M. Applicants

In addition to the resume template I make available, Harvard Law School has a great collection of CV templates useful for anyone pursuing graduate studies in law.


For LL.M., you can see other resume templates at the Harvard Law School site. This is a great collection of legal resumes for a variety of purposes. I don’t necessarily think these are better templates than one I suggest, but they do provide a great variety of legal related bullet points which applicants might find useful to review.  And as far as template goes, whatever works well is ultimately fine with me. Different formats work well for different applicants, which is the point of the HLS collection.

-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.

July 30, 2016

Chicago Booth 2016-2017 MBA Application Essays

This post is on the University of Chicago Booth’s MBA application essays for 2016-2017 admission to the Class of 2019. The University of Chicago is a very intellectually serious place.  Booth reflects that culture. Not everyone who goes there is an intellectual, but most are quite smart.  Your objective is to show you understand yourself, understand what you want to do in the future, and understand why Booth is right for the fight school for you now.  You can find testimonials from my 29 clients admitted to Booth here. I would suggest reading the Q&As I conducted with former clients who are members of the Classes of 20132012 2012, 2011, and 2010 as these interviews will provide you with Booth student perspectives on the program. If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, I would especially suggest reading my Q&A with LGBT member of the Class of 2013. I have also written a comparison of Booth and Kellogg in terms of their location and culture, which can be found here.

While Booth previously had longer short answers here, which amounted to the length of a full essay, they now provide 250 characters (NOT WORDS) each for the long and short term goals in the application. The questions don’t ask for why you want to go to Booth and there is no place for that here. Tell them in the essay.  You can also elaborate further on your goals in your essay if you need to, but depending on what you write about, you might not need to.
For more about writing goals that are both ambitious and visionary, see here. If you are having difficulty formulating your goals, please see my analysis of Columbia Essay 1 as it provides a framework for developing goals.
I have taken this content from the online application:
250 characters remaining
250 characters remaining

Where to Begin?
Start with non-essay goals content above, since whatever you write in the essay should have some connection to it.  In general, for any application, starting with the goals always makes sense because what you say in it will impact what you say elsewhere. After all, you want to show how other aspects of who you are will support your goals.

Next: This is really up to you, but I suggest really trying to figure out what specific topics you want to focus in on in the main essay.

Next: Write the Optional Essay and/or Reapplication Essays if you need to.

Finally: After you have written everything, make sure it works as part of your entire application strategy. Review your entire application and think about whether you have presented all aspects of yourself as clearly as possible. Specifically, think about your application meets Chicago Booth’s three central evaluation criteria: curriculum, community, and career.

I have taken the essay from the online application.
“Instructions: Please answer the Full-Time MBA Essay and any other essays that pertain to you.
Full-Time MBA Essay
The following is a collection of shared Booth moments. Choose the moment that best resonates with you and tell us why.
[Note, I am not including these 10 photos and accompanying descriptions but you can get on the online application or on the Booth website]
Check out these moments on social media: Instagram Facebook LinkedIn
Presentation/Essay Guidelines:
  • Choose the format that works for you. Want to illustrate your response visually? Submit a slide presentation. Like to express yourself with words? Write a traditional essay. Use the format that you feel best captures your response, the Admissions Committee has no preference.
  • Determine your own length. There is no prescribed minimum or maximum length. We trust that you will use your best judgment in determining how long your submission should be, but we recommend that you think strategically about how to best allocate the space.
Technical Guidelines:
  • File Size: Maximum file size is 16 MB.
  • Accepted Upload Formats: Acceptable formats are PDF, Word, and PowerPoint. We strongly recommend converting your piece to a PDF file prior to submitting.
  • Multimedia Restrictions: We will be viewing your submission electronically and in full color, but all submissions will be converted to PDF files, so animation, video, music, etc. will not translate over.
When Booth introduced this essay topic last year, I thought that they were making it much easier for applicants.  Previously the question had been open-ended. Now, applicants were being offered a bit of structure to play with and essentially told that they needed to relate themselves to Booth through the image.  This year, it is even easier because the 10 images are accompanied by descriptions. But does make it confining in some way?  I think not because the applicant can interpret the image and what means to him or her in any way that will prove effective. Effective means showing why you fit at Booth. For more about fit, see here. Based on what I saw last year, effective answers made an interpretation of the Booth moment that fits the applicant. In other words, think about what you really want to say about yourself that will best demonstrate why you fit at Booth. After you have thought about that then figure out what image of Booth you want to use.  So beyond looking at the ten lovely Booth moments, I do think you should first consider the overall issue of “Why Booth?” Given that Booth has great online sources available for this purpose, even if you don't visit, you can learn about it. Start here. In particular take a good look at Chicago Booth Dean’s Student Admissions Committee (DSAC) blog. To learn more about the GSB’s research, see University of Chicago Booth’s Working Papers and The University of Chicago’s Capital Ideas. I also strongly suggest listening to the Booth podcast series.</ a> This a great series of podcasts that should help get you thinking about business at the kind of intellectual level required for success at Chicago. Japanese applicants should most certainly visit the MBA J-Book.   Finally, remember that Booth is not just for finance! Just go explore Booth and you will see that goes way beyond finance. For instance, it is a great school for those with entrepreneurial goals. Use this essay to help show admissions your ability to be self-aware and to have impact. In other words, this essay is a test of your self-awareness both as a person and a leader.  LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Development) is the only required course at Booth and one that involves becoming aware of one's leadership style in an attempt to eventually improve it. You can conceive of this essay as a pre-LEAD exercise. You may also want to consider why your future goals  will fit with Booth’s mission: “We are the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Since 1898, we have produced ideas and leaders that shape the world of business. Our rigorous, discipline-based approach to business education transforms our students into confident, effective, respected business leaders prepared to face the toughest challenges.

What kind of answers seems to work best? There is no single style of  essay or presentation that has worked best in the past. Even very simple "show and tell" style presentations can work if they help admissions understand you and why you should be admitted. That said, I think that answers to this question that make choices about what to present and that are unified by a concept or theme tend to work best. The nature of the prompt this year actually takes the hard work out of that. I try to always get my clients to provide something that stands out and has a unique perspective, which is best conveyed when one takes a distinct point of view and has a clear focus. Some people try to jam everything in their lives onto slides or in an essay. I think this is a very bad idea.  Better to provide Booth with a set of clear messages, whether in slide or essay format.

A simple way to outline an answer to the Booth essay question regardless of  format.

Step 1: Begin by stating which moment resonates with you.  Don’t make the reader have to figure this out. It should be clear from the outset.
Step 2: Provide one reason why the moment selected resonates with you and explain it by referring to something about you in terms of your background, values, goals, skills, selling point, etc.
Step 3 to ?: Repeat Step 2 above for each subsequent step.

What this outline will do is generate a set of ways that you resonate with Booth.   I assume that will be more than one way, but hey if you have a great answer, one way might work.  That said, the successful versions of this essay I saw last year involved multiple reasons (usually 3-5 reasons).

General Advice
Tell them about you, but don’t focus on what they can find elsewhere in the application. I think they are looking for a meaningful assessment of your personality. I use the word “meaningful” because it does not necessarily require logic or analysis to do so. For example, an image with some kind of description may provide Chicago Booth with great insight into who you are. Since Chicago is specifically being “non-traditional,” you certainly can be also so long as you answer the question. On the other hand, you might find a typical interpretative structure better for you, in which case I suggest you think seriously about writing an essay.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want Chicago to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were going to tell admissions 3-5 things about you that would not be obvious from rest of the application, what would they be? Why should Booth care?
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 for example) that would work effectively in a PowerPoint?
6. If you have a sense of humor and/or creativity, how can you express it here?
7. Why did you want to apply to Booth to begin with? What do you like about the school?
8.  How can you reinterpret one or more of the Booth moments in a way that would be counter-intuitive and interesting?
As you can see, these questions would lead to very different kinds of responses. There is no one way to answer this question, but I believe there are right ways for every applicant to do so. Finally, think big and be creative. To answer this one effectively will take time unless you already have content from an another school that will work here, but if you want to get into Chicago Booth, put in the time.  Make sure your essay does not look like it was written for a different school.

Some Common Questions I Get Asked About Presentations
The content below specifically relates to making a slide presentation based answer.

1. If I make a presentation is this a test of PowerPoint Skills? No. I think it is a test of your ability to prepare a very simple presentation about yourself. Remember that you are preparing slides for a presentation and unlike a presentation that you would deliver, you are not able to take full advantage of what PowerPoint can do. In fact, for anyone who has actually is good at PowerPoint, they may find it necessary to compromise on their aesthetics and technical skills in order to most effectively answer the question. Especially those who believe in providing a minimal amount of content per slide will likely find it necessary to increase the amount of content they include. As someone who previously made the transition from text heavy slides to minimalist ones when delivering sales and marketing presentations, I know that if I had to answer this question, I would have to compromise on what I consider to be my own best practices for making PowerPoint slides.</ p>

2) In your opinion, should one use a minimalistic approach involving images to convey one’s ideas? I think this will really depend on you. The important thing is to effectively convey something important about who you are to the admissions committee. If that can be done effectively with more images that is great, if it can be done effectively with minimal or no images that is also great. The important thing is that your reader understands the significance of any images you use. Luckily, you have the notes for that purpose. Just as in “real” PowerPoints, images or any graphic element can be used effectively or badly. Always ask yourself, “Why am I using this image? Does it really help them understand me?” If it does, keep it. If it is mere decoration, think about eliminating it or replacing it with something that will have a positive impact on Chicago’s ability to understand who you are.

3) Would a little bit of humor do good e.g. a cartoon? I think humor can be used effectively. You must practice extremely good judgment when using humor for any application. Don’t make a joke simply to make one. Use humor if it is effective in conveying something that will compel admissions  to want to interview you.  I have had a number of clients who successfully used humor in their presentations for Chicago Booth.

Re-applicant Essay: Upon reflection, how has your perspective regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application? (300 words maximum)

Unlike some schools, the reapplicant essay and optional essay are different.  (Note: You will not see the Reapplicant Essay online on the essay page unless you have already clicked that you are a reapplicant on the “Chicago Booth and You” page).  Booth wants all reapplicants to write this essay regardless of the number of years ago that someone applied.  Use this space to specifically explain what has improved about you since you last applied. You can certainly mention improved test scores, but I would not use every much of your word count for that. Typical topics include the development of a new skill, promotions that demonstrate your potential for future success, involvement in an extracurricular activity, learning significantly more about Booth, and why your goals discussed in Essay 1 now are better than the ones you presented last time.
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 Booth is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”

Optional Essay: Is there any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? If so, please address in an optional essay. (300-word maximum)
This question is completely open-ended. I highly recommend using it discuss something positive as well as any concerns you may have that cannot be addressed in the application form. Your first priority should be to use it explain any problems or concerns you have. Your second priority should be to discuss that one additional story or specific facts  that Booth really needs to know about you. Use this answer to provide admissions with another reason to invite you to a Booth interview. Make sure your answer does not look like it was written for another school, but feel free to use this in any way that you need or want to.
For my post on Booth admissions interviews, 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.

July 28, 2016

Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2019

In this post, I analyze the essay questions for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for Fall 2017 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015  here. Unlike the trend in the last several years, where the number of essays or word count has been going down, Wharton has actually added a new essay.
My clients have been admitted to Wharton every year since 2002. Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have had 46 clients admitted to Wharton (39 admitted to Wharton and 7 admitted to Wharton Lauder), which is my biggest total for any school (INSEAD, HBS, Columbia and Booth follow, in that order, in terms of highest totals). For fall 2016 entry I had 9 admitted to Wharton and 1 admitted to Lauder, my highest total number of Wharton admits for a single year.  My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help additional candidates with Wharton interview preparation.

A few initial thoughts about Wharton
The thing I like most about Wharton is that they really do admit a very diverse class. The class size certainly helps in that respect. But beyond that, I have really found Wharton to be a school where applicants are evaluated holistically and one need not be perfect to gain admission.  Such factors as a less than stellar GPA, a less than super GMAT, an older age or work experience in companies that are not necessarily prestigious are not inherent barriers to admission to Wharton’s MBA program.  I have worked with clients who had such issues, but also other amazing strengths which helped them gain admission. This could  also happen at HBS or, more rarely, at Stanford, but it happens more at Wharton.

The school’s diversity is also shown through the range of courses offered and the many international programs.  Some people think of Wharton narrowly as a finance school, but to do so is to ignore the course catalog.

The thing I like the least about Wharton is the location. I wish it were just me but I know I am not alone. Philadelphia was a great American city in the 18th century. The location of the University of Pennsylvania is certainly not ideal as the neighborhood is not particularly safe and crime is relatively high.  Wharton is as much as commuter school as Booth (the commute for the Wharton students is shorter, but the Booth students have a better city to be in).  Its primary advantage location wise is that one can get to New York City quickly and with no classes on Fridays,  it is even possible to go intern in NYC. The location is ideal for those who want to work in the pharmaceutical industry given that industries’ presence in the area.  On the other hand, if Wharton ’s location were better it would likely be a harder school to get into.

Wharton has added a new essay and still has two optional essays.  
I have taken this from the website:
Questions, Class of 2019:
1. (Required) What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
2. (Required) Teamwork is at the core of the Wharton MBA experience with each student contributing unique elements to our collaborative culture. How will you contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)
3. (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)
Additional Question for Reapplicants:
All reapplicants to Wharton are required to complete this essay. Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)
All applicants, including reapplicants can also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)

Essay 1 is somewhat modified from last year but the core part of the question is the same.  Essay 2 is new and is one of the most standard types of questions that B-schools ask. The two optional essays are not changed. The second optional question on the website is not well labeled above. 

The Required Essays
An excellent answer to the Wharton essay question would identify those specific aspects of Wharton that you will most benefit from.It is a future focused question. Use Essay 2 and Optional Essay 3 to discuss the past.  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 stren gths 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.   Professional means providing Wharton with a clear understanding about what you want from your professional future.  In other words,  what do you want to do and/or how do you want grow as a professional?
2.   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. Focus on specific factors that will help you achieve your professional objectives.
If you are having difficulty determining what your goals are and/or why you need an MBA in general, please see my analysis of Columbia Business School Essay 1. In that post I provide a detailed method for thinking about goals and need for an MBA. Except for length and the fact that CBS specifically asks for goals, there is little difference between CBS Essay 1 and Wharton Essay 1. Actually anyone applying to both schools will find significant overlap between the essays sets as a whole.

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 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 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 enhance their c areers to continue along the pathway that thy are already on.
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 pa rticular 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.

2. (Required) Teamwork is at the core of the Wharton MBA experience with each student contributing unique elements to our collaborative culture. How will you contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)
For me this question is like an old friend. I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2001 and the contribution question is one that I could explain to a client in my sleep.  I have done it on this blog many times before. Here is one of my old (2008) favorites, which includes a table that you can easily modify based on what I have written below (Sorry I am too busy to do that). I think one of the easiest ways to brainstorm this question is to break it down into three key considerations:

1. Distinct Contributions. The first thing to consider here is that you need to discuss distinct ways you will contribute to the Wharton Community. You can focus on one story if you like, but typically applicants will likely focus on two to four distinct contributions. It maybe that a single story contains multiple contributions or, and this more likely, each story will focus on one key major contribution.  These are selling points based on a skill, value, or unique experience. Contributions are, at their heart, selling points based on something. It might be a professional or interpersonal skill, a value (ethics, morality, belief about how to interact with others, etc.),  or a unique experience (First person in family to go to college, experience on the battlefield, acting in a movie, etc.).  You will need to tell a story related to this in order to convince the reader that you have something to contribute.  Some appli cants will write more detailed stories and others mere anecdotes.  In general, the longer the story, the less contributions you will cover in the essay.  Less is not bad. Be convincing is good so 1-3  contributions that are distinct and interesting is better than 5 that are purely surface level.

2. How will this distinct contribution contribute to the Wharton community? One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will add value to the community.  The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Your contributions need to clearly connected to the community. Maybe it will be through the way you work with others, the knowledge you share, or the activities you organize but make sure the reader can fully understand how this be a contribution at Wharton.

3. Have you demonstrated that fit Wharton’s collaborative culture? There are a number of ways of trying to determine whether someone really “fits” at a particular school, but certainly the most direct thing to do is just ask. Since the prompt is telling that Wharton values teamwork and collaboration, your contributions should highlight how you fit that.  They are not asking for just any contribution but rather contributions that will contribute to a collaborative culture. This does not mean you can’t discuss some  knowledge area that you have, but that you need to relate it to collaborating with others. For example, you might be highly experienced in sales and discuss how you will share this with your classmates who lack such experience in a particular professional club you are interested in where the sales function typically becomes important in later stages of a career (tManagement consulting for example).

Finally, remember that you have the Optional to discuss anything that really does not fit in the above or even for overflow contributions.


3. (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 and 2016 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  essay, you may easily have content from schools like CBS, HBS, MIT,  and Stanford 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.  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 the essays and other parts of the application?

3. Beyond what you have discussed in the Required Essays, 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 Essays?

6. Is there a particular contribution you want to focus on that does not really fit into Essay 2 due to the nature of the topic or for lack of space?

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.

Additional Question for Reapplicants:
All reapplicants to Wharton are required to complete this essay. Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)
All applicants, including reapplicants can 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! For my most recent post on Wharton interviews, please see Preparing for Wharton Interviews for the Class of 2016. I will update that post as information for Class of 2019 interviews becomes available in the fall.
-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.

July 21, 2016

INSEAD MBA Essay Questions for September 2017 Admission

Here I discuss INSEAD’s essays for September 2017 Entry (Class of July 2018).  The application has been updated and now there is a video component.  As the details of what the video component is are not fully available at this time, I will update this post soon (July 21, 2016). 
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 40 clients admitted to INSEAD. Annual breakdowns and testimonials from clients admitted to INSEAD can be found here.

As a matter of disclosure, I attended INSEAD’s Executive Masters in Consulting for Change (EMCCC 16J Wave 18), at the Singapore campus, which I have previously discussed on this blog. I will be graduating in October 2016. Therefore, unlike other Business Schools that I write about, I am part of the INSEAD community. I attend alumni events, have taken modules with some of the same faculty who teach in the MBA program, and have spent a significant amount of time on-campus. My program was held on the Singapore campus, but I have also been on the Fontainebleau campus as well in April of this year, when some of my classmates and I travelled went there to meet with our thesis advisor.

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.  Additionally, some Alumni chapters have events where prospective applicants can attend. For example, here in Japan (See https://www.facebook.com/groups/inseadjapan/), the bimonthly drinks event held in Tokyo is open to prospective students.  Reaching out to alumni and current students is always one of the best ways to learn about a school.  Of course, if you can visit INSEAD, I recommend doing so.

While somewhat hidden in comparison to the way other schools mention in the application and instructions, INSEAD requires the upload of a Curriculum Vitae (resume) for the MBA program. This practice only started a year ago, so there is still a bit of confusion about it, especially because of the Job Description content (see below).  The supporting documents page includes a place for uploading a Curriculum Vitae, which is a required document.  The instructions for the CV are here and state: “Your curriculum vitae can either be on a free format or follow the format of the INSEAD official CV e-book - click here to view the template.” If you are applying to INSEAD and it is your top choice I recommend usin g their CV. It is not my favorite format but it is the one they suggest using. It does include some content that would not be part of a US MBA application program resume, in particular, the photo. So if you apply to other schools, do use a format more appropriate to that school. You can find my suggested general resume template here.

Now to the essays.

The application requires four short answers (and one optional) of unspecified length to some very important questions. I have asked before about the length and for whatever reason they don’t provide instructions or a guideline. Since the previous length was 300 words or less, that is what I have told my clients so far. Since they have been admitted writing answers of that length, that is what I will continue to tell clients until INSEAD states otherwise.

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.
2. Most important responsibility that led to a result.
3-5. Subsequent responsibilities-results.

Since they will also have your CV, 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)

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 the job description above.
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.

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.
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?
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?

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)

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)
2. Language learning
3. Internships
4. Volunteer activities
5. Travel
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

The three required and one optional essays that are asked for have not changed. However, a question related to cross-cultural experiences was removed. As internationality is an important factor in INSEAD’s admissions criteria, that will need to come out elsewhere in the application. Your job descriptions, CV, recommendations, or the four essays below are all good places to showcase why you fit at “The Business School for the World. ”

Note regarding length: What approximate usually means is 10-15% over the word count.

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) 
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.

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.

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) 
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. Even submitting something that is say 440-460 words can be challenging because you are being asked to cover two different stories.

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.

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.

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:
1. Clearly state what the objective was.
2. Clearly state your role.
3. Clearly state your failure.
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. 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) 
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.
Also, make sure that  what you are mentioning here is giving INSEAD further reasons to invite you for an interview and admit you! Not all activities are of the same relevance. How do these activities fit into the rest of what you say about yourself? How do they showcase your intellectual abilities, leadership potential, internationality, and/or ability to contribute to the program?

4. (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) 
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. 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.
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