A good application essay is comprised of both anecdote and analysis, the what and the why of your personal experiences. Telling a straight story (anecdote without analysis) will leave your essay flat, with no depth or insight into your character or motivations; on the other hand, an essay that rattles on about the why but omits the what will be boring and overly theoretical, lacking substance and voice.
Your goal: to create an essay that balances these two components, that tells an engaging story about what happened (your experience) AND why such things are important for an admissions committee to know.
Essay Component #1: Anecdote
The first component of a compelling essay is the retelling of what happened to you. This is the story element of your MBA essay. We frequently advise MBA applicants to launch their essays with an anecdote to draw in their readers. (For important storytelling tips, see our free admissions guide, From Example to Exemplary.)
What makes a good story? The experiences you write about should reflect all the following:
- An achievement that you’re proud of
- An experience that you would like the admissions committee to know about
- A story that illustrates the theme of your response
Keep in mind that any good story has to have some kind of tension or challenge, your response to the challenge, and an element of transformation. A good framework for telling your story is CAR or:
Essay Component #2: Analysis
For this second component, you’ll want to talk about why this experience is worth sharing. You can include the lessons learned as a result of the experience, its impact on others – an individual, your team, department, group, organization, or employer – and the impact it has on you.
Some of you may wonder how this analysis differs from “Results” (the R of CAR above). We’ve seen clients occasionally just think of results as impact on the organization or conversely just lessons learned. It should be both your impact on others and your personal growth that you include in your analysis.
The questions below will help you shape the analysis component of your essay. After thinking of a good anecdote or a key experience that you’d like to share, make sure your essay also addresses the following:
- Why is this experience one that you wanted to bring to the adcom’s attention?
- What makes you tick? Why did you make the decisions you made?
- How did this particular experience influence your later actions?
- What did you learn from this experience?
You’re applying to business school, so your quant skills are probably pretty good – so let’s put this in solid math terms: Anecdote + Analysis = Your Awesome Application Essay
Do you need help creating your awesome MBA application essay? Work one-on-one with an Accepted advisor to develop an anecdote and delve deep into the analysis so that you tell your story in the most compelling way possible. Check out our MBA Essay Services, write your awesome essay, and get ACCEPTED!
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.