MBA Essays Are Getting More Creative
“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”
These are the words Ernest Hemingway chose to use for his six-word story when challenged by his fellow writers. Hemingway penned the six-word piece on a bar napkin and won $10 from each challenger in the wager. Now, UC Berkeley’s Haas is using the six-word challenge as this year’s essay question: “Tell us a six-word story that reflects a memorable experience in your life-to-date.”
Matt Symonds, co-director of Fortuna Admissions and contributor at Forbes, reports that applicants will be able to write 250 words to elaborate on why the story is meaningful. Last year, Berkeley’s essay questions asked applicants to “choose one song that expresses who you are.”
Pete Johnson is the Associate Dean for the Full-time MBA Program and Admissions at Haas. He tells Forbes that the best way to go about these types of questions is to be confident.
“The worst thing that you can do it be afraid and try to give the safe answer,” Johnson says. “Be courageous and tell us who you really are and what you want out of business school, and I think that you will find that strategy will take you all the way.”
Sharon Joyce is the former Associate Director of Admissions at Haas. Joyce says the essay is an opportunity for applicants to convey an authentic portrayal of themselves.
“The six-word essay prompt allows the admissions team to understand “what makes you tick” up and beyond what they’ve already gleaned from your academic record and work history,” she says. “Write not what you think sounds so very b-school, but rather share your authentic self and sense of purpose. This might be an opportunity to share an experience where you went beyond yourself to succeed, or grew in confidence from a lesson in failure.”
Symonds reports that the most notable new essays among top schools are from MIT Sloan, Columbia Business School, Northwestern Kellogg, and Cornell Johnson.
This year, MIT Sloan requires a video statement component—a new norm in many MBA applications. The video component asks candidates to briefly introduce themselves on camera. The new requirement is a way for MBA application committees to get a more authentic portrayal of candidates that cannot be conveyed in written essays. “MIT is looking for how well you express yourself towards assessing program fit,” Symonds says. “Remember that the admissions committee will also be gauging confidence, language skills, your ability to think on your feet, and, of course, how well you present yourself.”
At Columbia, the most creative question asked applicants to “Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life” or “If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?” These questions, Symonds says, allow applicants to expand on their influences and inspirations. Applicants should have fun in answering these creative questions. “When you allow yourself to have fun writing it, you increase the chances of your audience’s enjoyment in reading it,” Symonds says.
For Cornell, the admissions committee is asking applicants to complete a “Goals Statement” that has candidates fill in the blanks.
Immediately post-MBA, my goal is to work as a(n) ____[Role]____ at ___[Company]___within___[Industry]___.
In 5 – 10 years post-MBA, my goal is to work as a(n) ____[Role]____ at ___[Company]___within___[Industry]___.
Randall Sawyer is the former Assistant Dean of Admissions at the school. He says the goals statement is a way for the admissions committee to know more specifically about your post-MBA career plans.
“Like all business schools programs, Cornell thinks the MBA should be a transformative experience,” Sawyer says. “Your ability to forecast the future with coherent and realistic specifics underscores your understanding of where the degree can take you. The final destination may change along the journey, and admissions officers understand that.”
At Northwestern Kellogg, the application committee is asking candidates to describe “… a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn?”
The prompt, Symonds says, is a way for the school to attract students that align with Kellogg’s purpose: “to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value.”
As with the other aspects of your MBA application, it’s important to note that the essay will take time for revision and editing. “Don’t expect – or even aspire –to one-shot your essays in a moment of inspired genius,” Symonds says. Hemingway, who redefined American literature, purportedly rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms more than 50 times.