A Look Into The MBA Essay Process

A Look Into The MBA Essay Process

First impressions matter…especially in an MBA application essay. They frame a picture and set a tone. And they quickly reveal whether a candidate brings a unique perspective to the class and fit with the carefully-crafted culture of the school.

Every application goes through a rigorous vetting process, however. These processes can be as different as the schools themselves.  That’s why the Financial Times recently looked into how various MBA application committees review the thousands of application essays they receive each year.

Yuan Ding, dean of the Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School, admits that the school takes a hands-on approach. Each essay is read and scored by the admissions team at CEIBS. The essay, however, is just one element of the admissions process.

“[The essay] is where we learn about applicants’ career aspiration, understanding of China, and writing skills,” Ding tells Financial Times.

At UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, applicants must explain, in a 500-word essay, their career goals and how their time at business school will help their professional development.

The essay is then reviewed by two admissions officers who look for unique qualities and elements in a candidate—such as unusual or extraordinary work experience.

What does UCLA see as the key to writing a great essay that demonstrates your qualities? Be concise.

“If an applicant attempts to add too much supplemental information, chances are they are trying too hard,” Rob Weiler, associate dean for UCLA’s MBA program, says.

As the MBA admissions process becomes more competitive, schools are turning to alternative essay formats as a way to find unique applicants.

This year, NYU’s Stern School of Business posted its essay format on Instagram and asked candidates to select six visual items — photographs, charts and even emojis — and give each a caption.

NYU’s approach to the conventional prose essay format is a way for the admissions committee to seek creative applicants who can succinctly explain their career goals and how NYU would help them achieve these goals.

Similarly, Barcelona’s IESE business school has an open format for its essay. Creative essay formats, such as a video, are becoming increasingly common. But Franz Heukamp, dean of Barcelona’s IESE, says the most important element is still the content of an essay.

“The ones that grab our attention do so not because they say something we have never heard before, are wild or outrageous,” Heukamp points out in the Financial Times. “What makes a cover letter special is when it is very clear that the candidate knows what he or she wants to achieve professionally.”

Universities are increasingly incorporating multimedia elements to their application processes. SDA Bocconi School of Management was the first European school to add mandatory video interviews to its application. Giuseppe Soda, the school dean, says that the video interview requires candidates to answer a series of random questions on camera. This approach offers admissions committees a more authentic portrayal of the applicant that is often difficult to capture in a written essay.

“The problem was that they were always the same sort of essay,” Soda says. “Written pieces can be faked so a video seems a better way.”

For the most part, MBA admission processes are finding alternative ways for students to demonstrate their uniqueness outside of written essays. Despite this, one important aspect remains the same: the essay is simply one element of their application. It doesn’t guarantee admission, but it doesn’t necessarily doom a candidacy either.

Source: Financial Times

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