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.
THE COVER LETTER
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 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:
2. What do you want to learn at Sloan? Why? The more specific, the better.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (OPTIONAL
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.
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.
IF YOU ARE INVITED FOR AN INTERVIEW
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.