This Year’s Essays Demand Authenticity

essay-writing-2‘Tis the season, MBA hopefuls.

One by one, top business schools are releasing essay questions for the 2013-2014 application cycle. Thus far, the length, tone and style of the questions has varied widely. Harvard Business School, Darden and Anderson opted to keep things simple by requiring only one essay; Columbia even asked for a tweet-sized response. Some questions were a little whimsical (see: “Questions That Sound Like Creative Writing Prompts”). Still, most schools asked three or more traditional questions, many of which included multiple parts.

Variation aside, nearly all schools have made one thing clear: they want applicants to be genuine. Stanford practically demanded it: “What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?” Most likely, schools’ desire for authenticity stems from the prevalence of admissions consultants and blogs (and perhaps by boredom among admission committee members). Though these resources have their uses, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, you’re going to be the one standing behind your application. Would it feel better to be rejected because of the truth or because of a canned essay?

We’ve examined essay questions from the top 25 business schools to come up with lists of the toughest questions, that questions that most sound like creative writing prompts, and questions that could just as easily be used as a recruitment pitch.


1. Harvard Business School: You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? (No word limit.)

2. New York (Stern): Describe two different and distinct paths you could see your career taking long term. How do you see your two paths unfolding? How do your paths tie to the mission of NYU Stern? What factors will most determine which path you will take? (500 words.)

3. UNC (Kenan-Flagler): What personal qualities or life experiences distinguish you from other applicants? How do these qualities or experiences equip you to contribute to UNC Kenan-Flagler? (500 words.)


1. UC-Berkeley: If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words.)

2. Emory (Goizueta): Complete one of the following statements.

I am unique because…

My most memorable cross-cultural experience…

I am passionate about…

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is…

(250 words.)

3. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper): Describe a defining moment in your life and explain how it shaped you as a person. (300 words.)


1. Emory (Goizueta): The Business School is named for Roberto C. Goizueta, former Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, who led the organization for 16 years, extending its global reach, quadrupling consumption, building brand responsibility, and creating unprecedented shareholder wealth. It is his legacy and the strength of his character that gives rise to our vision: Principled Leaders for Global Enterprise. We encourage you to watch this short video for inspiration in answering the question. The transcript of the video can be found here. How will you contribute to and make a lasting impact on the Goizueta Business School community as a student or alumnus? (300 words.)

2. Columbia: Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital—Manhattan. How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? (250 words.)

3. Yale: The Yale School of Management provides leadership education for broad-minded, rigorous, and intellectually curious students with diverse backgrounds; a distinctive integrated curriculum; connections to one of the great research universities in the world; and the broad reach of an innovative and expanding global network of top business schools. What motivates you to apply to the Yale School of Management for your MBA? What will you contribute to Yale and Yale SOM? (450 words.)

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