Smart Note Taking for Smart MBA Essays

You’re staring at a blank screen with a jumble of MBA essay questions dancing wildly in your head. With so many schools and so many essays, where do you start? How do you make sure that each essay works on its own, while simultaneously complementing the other essays in that same application?

Or maybe you are applying round 2. You’re not ready to start writing essays, but you can’t stop thinking about possible topics – leadership, goals, weaknesses – those thoughts need to be recorded and organized, or you can’t sleep!

We have one tip for you that will help you stay organized, ensure well-structured essays, and allow you to sleep: Take notes.

Begin by jotting down experiences that you’ve had – both in and out of the work force. Don’t worry about fully developed paragraphs, and certainly not about grammar or spelling. Simply focus on mining your experiences for nuggets that you’ll later spin into meaty essays.

Your notes should include:

  • The experience or situation.
  • Your actions.
  • The results or impact on others.
  • Lessons learned.
  • Traits revealed.

In fact, we have created a simple, public Google doc that you can use to organize your notes.

And if instead of having too many ideas swirling in your head, you have none, use these questions to start your creative juices flowing. For each answer, think of specific examples, as well as lessons you’ve learned and ways you’ve grown through each experience.

  • When have you made a significant impact?
  • Have any of your jobs or volunteer experiences been particularly influential?
  • In what ways have you demonstrated leadership or strength of character on and off the job?
  • What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
  • What inspires you?
  • Who are the influential people in your life? What have they done to inspire you?
  • What are your goals, passions, and hobbies?
  • Do you have any unique skills or achievements?

Think, take notes, and then start piecing together your answers to each specific essay question. With so many examples and experiences in front of you, you should have no trouble mixing and matching your material to fit the various essay questions and to presenting yourself as a compelling candidate.

Linda Abraham, founder of


By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of and co-author of the soon-to released book, MBA Admissions for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.  Linda has been helping MBA applicants gain acceptance to top MBA programs since 1994.