Overused MBA Essay Topics To Avoid

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Stacy Blacklman, founder of Stacy Blackman ConsultingMY BIGGEST WEAKNESS IS BEING A PERFECTIONIST.”

  • MY BIGGEST WEAKNESS IS BEING A PERFECTIONIST.” False modesty will get you nowhere and can make for a really boring read. Remember, the admissions committee has thousands of application essays to read. At minimum, your goal should be to keep them awake. No boss has ever fired an employee for “being too perfect” and anyone who uses this essay topic knows full well they’re dodging the question and replacing it with a humble-brag.  Two strikes against you for: 1) writing a boring essay and 2) not answering the question.  See, not that perfect after all.
  • “I WANT TO GO INTO CONSULTING AND THEN LAUNCH A “START-UP.”  MBA’s who want to launch start-ups are about as common as actors in Hollywood.  It’s not that it’s a bad goal, but what exactly is a “start-up”?  Show the admissions committee specifically how you will use the knowledge gained in business school, instead of generically sharing a dream that makes you seem a-dime-a-dozen, when you are anything but.
  • “I EXPERIENCED GREAT CULTURE SHOCK MOVING TO THE US AND HAD TO LEARN ENGLISH.”  Chances are you are not the first person to experience culture shock in coming to another country. And if learning a new language is the most defining/difficult moment to date, you’ve led a pretty good life. The goal of an MBA essay is to share your own personal uniqueness and help the reader get to know you better. Everyone can relate to feeling like a fish out of water.  So how did that experience help shape the person that you are, and the leader you will become? Now, we’re interested.
  • “I SPENT THE LAST 3 YEARS WORKING AS A PART OF A TEAM DEVELOPING XYZ AND WE CAME IN ON TIME AND UNDER BUDGET.”  Great, so what do you need business school for?  Instead of making yourself sound like the world’s most successful CEO, how ‘bout talking about what you took away from the experience and how business school can only help you become the kind of leader you were inspired by while working there.
  • “HELPING OTHERS IS WHAT MATTERS MOST TO ME.”  That’s lovely, but if that is really what drives you, you will need a track record to back it up.  Of course, great leaders do help others, but you don’t need to be a mogul to do this.  Tell what you have done so far and how an MBA can help more – and we’ll want to read more.
  • “I WANT TO GO TO YOUR SCHOOL BECAUSE OF THE PHENOMENAL CURRICULUM, DIVERSE STUDENT BODY AND ACCESS TO TOP NOTCH PROFESSORS.” Yes, you and everybody else. Don’t waste the word count of your essay by giving information that is assumed. If you didn’t think the curriculum phenomenal and the professors top notch, you wouldn’t be applying.  So give them some insight into what you add to the school and be very specific about what you can take away.
  • “MY GREATEST STRENGTH IS MY LEADERSHIP SKILLS.”  A perfect example of “Show, don’t tell.” By choosing a more unique and specific essay topic, the reader should come away thinking, “What a great leader.” It’s much more interesting for you to show us, through your own experiences, rather than tell us what we can read on your resume. Admissions officers are looking for well-rounded future leaders.  This is your chance to show them how you are just that.

Remember, your application is in a pile amongst thousands.  Use your application essay as an opportunity to share who you are. The reader wants to know what’s special about you and how you made the choices you did to get to where you are now. The essay is your chance!

This is the fourth post in a new series: B-School Admissions Tips You Can’t Live Without

Week One: Be a Heat-Seeking Missile
Week Two: Top Application Mistakes 

Week Three: Don’t Be A Delusional MBA Candidate

An MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a BS from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Stacy Blackman founded Stacy Blackman Consulting in 2001 and has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. 


  • Cliche

    don’t listen and prove these buggers wrong! I think Pru gave some decent advice. Don’t let anything stop you!

  • Cliche

    Blackman! You’re too expensive mate!

  • YesMan11


  • Pru

    I went through this thought process last year. As long as your GMAT is above 700 and balanced, there really is no need to re take (unless maybe you have a less than optimal GPA). In the beginning, I was very concerned about my immediate competition and this concern translated into the ‘How can I make myself stand out from the crowd?’ obsession.

    ‘Standing out’ and ‘presenting a strong case for admission’ are two different things. Because let’s face it, in the MBA applications game, we’re not that unique. People have climbed mountains, started NGOs, brought in million dollar accounts, claimed that they want to start a company, used the MBA to go from the shitty IT life to I banking, had cultural shock and traveled internationally.

    Bottom line? Your story is important. How you bring together the experiences in your life to make a case for admission is important. That is the ONLY way, IMHO where you can come off as unique, thoughtful and mature. These experiences don’t all have to be planned. Sometimes the best opportunities just drop in when least expected. Don’t worry about coming off as cliched. Just tell your story.

    I’m no admissions expert, so take these with lots of salt. But I’d say you’re starting out well. You’ll need to deepen your introspection. And by the looks of it, you have nice writing skills. Good luck!

  • MBA Admin Consultant

    If you are not IIT or working at name brand company, M7 is near I’m probable especially with only a 710 GMAT. You would need at leat a 750.

  • guest

    yeah…don’t listen to this guy. if you have a decent GPA, m7 might be a stretch but the next set of schools aren’t, even if you are from an over-represented group.

    not really sure what you were asking – as you were kind of all over the place, but in order to differentiate yourself you have to dig deep. dig really deep. the deeper you go, the more unique your essays will be.

  • YouAreNotGoodEnoughForM7

    I don’t know what pack is and you seem boring. Expect to get into a tier 3 school who just wants your GMAT score amid the 550-600 GMATs they usually get.

  • Reddevil

    I have a personal question.Kindly excuse me if this annoys the forum readers any way. I belong to the most over represented category of Indian IT male. 5 years of work ex as a business analyst/consultant. Career almost at a standstill. A very familiar story so far? I bet.
    Moreover, I belong to a typical middle class family, where survival has always been the primary concern like in every other case. Similar values were passed on to me as I grew up. The day I got a job from campus, my parents were convinced I had achieved all that there was to. I would not deny that I myself didn’t have much ground to differ with them at that point. After that, all that I did was do my work sincerely, learn as much as could in the process, and hope for good results.
    However, the script was not to go as I expected. I wasn’t happy being a part of the pack, where the pack could progress only as fast as the slowest one, everyone in the pack had to keep moving in the same direction in order to survive and ultimately, all that a pack does is survive. I was not happy with that. I felt that I could move much faster, reach where no one else from the pack has ever, and be a special creature. I could see myself imagining solutions to business situations much better and faster than everyone around. I wanted to follow my own path, do my own thing. Hell, I could even imagine what the website would look like whenever I start my own endeavor. I had the details figured out to that level.
    Fast forward to May 2013, I plan to go for an MBA to take a step towards my dream, get a GMAT score of 710. Thinking the journey so far was good enough, I start with the essays. But when I sit down to think, I am thoroughly disappointed. Although I have the basic pointers right, like a work experience which is sound both qualitatively and quantitatively, a good GMAT score, and good deal of clarity on career goals, I have never ‘planned’ my actions so that I could put some of them as my biggest achievements in an MBA essay. In spite of having done all that I could to enhance my admission chances, after deciding to go for an MBA, I’m still a very cliched story. Although I feel that coming from a kind of background I come from, awakening to bigger dreams than those I have been taught to dream of, itself is a big personal achievement, adcom might not find this to be exactly an achievement, a differentiating factor. May be, the awakening is bit too late.
    Can you please comment on how do I honestly put this journey into the essays, and still be an appealing case?

  • JohnAByrne

    We want you to contribute! If you’re an MBA applicant strategizing your essays, let us know what you think.