Georgetown Switches Out MBA Essay — Again

Georgetown McDonough School of Business has changed its MBA essay question for the second time in two admissions cycles. Last year the school went with “What matters to you?”; the new prompt is “Describe a defining moment when you were challenged and exceeded expectations”

For the second time in two years, Georgetown McDonough School of Business has changed its MBA admissions essay question — part of an evolving effort to better “assess the resilience of our applicants,” says Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions.

The question has gotten longer since the simple “Why you?” of the Class of 2018, growing to last year’s “What matters to you” and, beginning with those applying for the fall 2018 intake, the new prompt: “Describe a defining moment when you were challenged and exceeded expectations.” New applicants, Hubert says, are invited to describe either a professional or personal defining moment that connects to their professional development.

“The old question was general, so it posed a little bit of ambiguity and caused some confusion,” Hubert tells Poets&Quants. “We tried with this question to be a little bit more pointed, in terms of what we’re looking for. Hopefully the applicants find it a little bit easier to answer and not as nebulous.”


Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions at Georgetown McDonough

The new essay, with a 500-word limit, is part of a suite of components in prospective McDonough MBAs’ application materials, including a GMAT or GRE score, two optional essays, transcripts, and one recommendation. Among the others: a one-minute video, introduced as a requirement last year, which McDonough admissions urges applicants to use “to bring life to your application.” The video is weighted equally with every other piece of the application package.

In an interview with P&Q last year, Hubert said applicants should take the video essay seriously — but not too seriously. “We are looking for people who are polished, with an executive presence,” she said. “We are looking for people who are confident and enthusiastic.” She added that the video serves as a way for applicants to let their personalities show, with points for humor and upbeat energy.

“There will be challenging times during the MBA program, so it’s important for students to have resolve, confidence, and coping skills that enable them to exceed even their own expectations as they pursue their MBA and prepare to re-enter the workforce as principled leaders who will have an impact on both business and society,” Hubert says.

McDonough’s application deadlines for the Class of 2020 are, by round, October 10, January 5, April 2, and May 1.


Hubert says McDonough expects to publish its Class of 2019 profile this week; this story will be updated when that information becomes available. Meanwhile, the school’s Class of 2018 profile shows an enrollment of 287 out of 1,890 applications, including 30% women, 30% international students, and 28% U.S. minorities. The average age is 28, with the youngest 23 and the oldest 37. The mid-80% range of GMAT scores is 640 to 730, and the same range of GPAs 2.93 to 3.80.

The average amount of work experience in the McDonough Class of 2018 is 5.40 years, with the fewest years worked less than three. Twenty-four percent of the MBA candidates got their undergraduate degree in business, 17% government/international studies (a remarkable 76% lived, worked, or studied abroad before coming to McDonough), 14% engineering, and 12% economics. Those with degrees in math/physical sciences or computer science accounted for 13%, while social sciences and the humanities combined for 14%.

Unsurprisingly given McDonough’s location, the highest percentage of MBAs — 24% — hail from government and the defense industry, followed by consulting (14%), other (14%), not-for-profit and social impact (13%), financial services (9%), and technology & new media (5%).


Dan Bauer, chairman and founder of The MBA Exchange, called the new essay prompt a “significant departure” for McDonough, saying it shows a willingness by the school to signal rigorousness in the MBA program.

“In explaining the rationale for this new essay question,” Bauer tells Poets&Quants, “the McDonough adcom implies that their MBA program is particularly rigorous and demanding. With that in mind, the essay requires applicants to showcase their underlying leadership strength and potential under demanding circumstances. Clearly, the school expects candidates to go beyond merely describing responsibilities and accomplishments by also relating how a specific experience helped them grow and advance in their career.

“This is a significant departure for McDonough from last year’s broader, more introspective question, ‘What matters to you?’ that probed the applicant’s anticipated contribution to classmates if admitted.”

The exact wording for McDonough’s two essays:

Essay One: Please answer the following essay question in 500 words or less: “Describe a defining moment when you were challenged and exceeded expectations.” The moment can be a professional or personal one. If personal, then please also include how it had an impact on your professional development.”

Video Essay: We ask that you introduce yourself to your cohort in one minute or less. The Admissions Committee would like for you to appear in person during part of your video, and we strongly encourage you to speak outside of the experiences we can read on your resume. Use this video as an opportunity to bring life to your application. Please upload it to an accessible website (such as YouTube, Vimeo, Youku, or Tudou), and submit the direct video URL into your online application. Please note that we cannot accept private or password-protected videos. For more instructions, view our Video Guide.”