Essays: Responding to Criticism

Next up in our series on major MBA application essay topics:  responding to criticism. A typical essay question in this category may be something like, “What is the toughest criticism/constructive feedback you have ever received, and what did you learn from it?”

Yes, you’d much rather write about your achievements and the great reviews you’ve gotten from your boss, but if the question asks for an example of past criticism, then that is what you must provide.

So why do they ask? The adcoms want to assess your ability to accept when you are wrong and respond constructively. They want to assess your maturity. The ability to react positively to criticism and grow is an important characteristic for an MBA student and future manager. Effective leaders and innovators are those who are willing and able to change their approach when introduced to a better one. Who cares if you can learn new methodologies or theories if you are unwilling to integrate such ideas into your own working style?

In answering such a question demonstrate that you possess self-awareness and resilience through examples in which you learned of your shortcomings and changed your ways. To demonstrate your ability to improve yourself, include the following topics:

  1. The circumstances: What actions did you take, and what were the results of that action?
  2. The feedback: What had been missing or lacking in your approach? What did you do wrong?
  3. Your response to the criticism: How did you change your approach? How did the results differ? What did you learn? Hint: This is the most important element.

A final thought– It’s OK to write you had to mull over the feedback a little before deciding to change your ways.  You don’t want to come across as a doormat or someone who lacks introspection or self-respect. Yes, you should change your ways if your ways were lacking, but only after thinking it through. Now that’s maturity.

By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of and co-author of the soon-to released book, MBA Admission 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.

Our Series On Perfecting Your MBA Essays: