How to Approach The Short MBA Essays

It’s like the beginning of a bad joke – how do you cram 10,000 elephants into an economy-class sedan? Answer: You don’t. When writing answers to short essay questions, you find yourself in a similar predicament: How do you cram all of your hundreds or thousands of pearls of wisdom into a mere 200-300 words?

There’s only one way to achieve such a feat – put those elephants on a diet, get rid of some of them, or somehow transform your 10,000 pet elephants into jellybeans.

Here are a few tips to help you say what you need to say in as few words as possible:

  1. Every essay should have a theme, a purpose, a point. Then stick to it. Throw out anything extraneous.
  2. Instead of using 16 examples that will support your answer, use only one or two. (In other words, instead of cramming 10,000 elephants into the car, cram only one or two – okay, I realize my comparison is not perfect here.) Draft a list of examples or possible topics and then choose the best to use in your short answer question.
  3. Don’t be redundant. If you already discussed “big-picture thinking” in an essay on leadership, then you should think of another example for your essay on overall strengths. Your essays should complement each other with few overlaps.
  4. Avoid the passive voice as much as possible. It’s terribly wordy and will simply bloat your essays.
  5. Use precise language. Use active, descriptive verbs and reduce your instances of “to be.” Instead of writing “I was the one who was to be organizing the event” write “I organized the event.”

Keep your essays focused. Write crisply. And you won’t have any elephants in your MBA essays.

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.

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