MBA Admissions—Putting The Puzzle Together

Dump the pieces of your MBA qualifications onto the table and start to put together your MBA application jigsaw puzzle. Your GPA, transcripts, GMAT/GRE, resume, letters of recommendation, short answers, perhaps a video, and your MBA application essays comprise the puzzle pieces. How you put these pieces together will lead to a unique portrait of you – your completed MBA application.

What makes your puzzle unique is that the completed picture presents a picture of you – and it’s this portrayal that you’ll use to introduce yourself to admissions committees. You need to be sure that all of the pieces fit together perfectly so that you make an accurate and impressive introduction.

You don’t want to send the adcoms a messy box of puzzle pieces for them to complete themselves. You want to give them a well-organized, integrated whole that makes sense, so as they look at each piece, they’re able to easily see how it fits into the completed picture. When they finish reading the last essay they should be able to understand you – your professional achievements and goals, non-professional passions and commitments, and your personality. After reviewing your application, they should want to find out more about you. This outcome will elevate you to the top of the pile of applicants being invited for interviews.

What Does Each Application Element Do?

At Accepted, we explain to our clients how each application element has its own special function:

  • Resume: A summary and overview of your professional qualifications
  • Transcript and test scores: Raw data of educational qualifications
  • Essays and short answers: Your story – your chance to add depth to the adcom’s understanding of your important life experiences and what makes you a unique individual
  • Letters of recommendation: Information and anecdotes drawn from what others think of you as a professional
  • Video: Your presence and poise

You now have all of the pieces, but what holds them together? All of the components of your application show important aspects of who you are, but the MBA essays will not only add color and multi-dimensionality to your application; they really hold the puzzle together. They fill in the gaps and add the depth that the other components lack.

Optimize Your MBA Essays

The following 5 tips will help you use your essays to glue your application together:

  1. Each application essay should focus on different abilities or incidents that you want to highlight.
  2. Keep stories distinct. Having too much overlap in your essays is like having two identical puzzle pieces in the box.
  3. Use the essays to tackle weaknesses in your record. Be sure that you don’t come across as defensive or apologetic – this will hurt, not help you. If possible, show how addressing the weakness has actually led to a strength (“After working to overcome my fear of public speaking, I am now one of the top speakers with Toastmasters”).
  4. Be sure to balance details and analysis in your essays. Details provide color and shading to your essays. They differentiate your essays and help you become a distinctive individual.
  5. Don’t just tell stories. Include analysis to flesh your stories out and reveal your “Why.” Make sure your reader knows why a particular detail is important enough to share.

When complete, your MBA application should create a solid, clear, comprehensive picture of you that showcases your most notable accomplishments and life events, as well as your scores and stats. It should be comprehensive, not full of holes and blanks. Even one missing piece will make your application puzzle look not only disorderly, but incomplete.

Ready to put it together? For more advice on submitting a compelling MBA application, including strategy, essays, and much more, download Accepted’s free guide – MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips.

Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached MBA applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Poets & Quants are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.