Selecting Your Best MBA Application Essay Topics

Choosing Your Best MBA Application Essay Topics

When you first read the MBA application essay questions you are expected to answer, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out which topics to cover and which of your many personal or professional stories to tell. This article by MBA Prep School aims to help you decide what to write about by providing a step-by-step process you can use to discover your best essay topics and stories.


Review the Valued Qualities

When you are reading the MBA application essay questions and starting to consider what you will write about, it will help to keep clearly in mind the qualities that MBA programs hold in high esteem. If you need a refresher on those qualities, please refer back to our previous article in the MBA Prep School Essay Writing Boot Camp series, titled The Most Important Qualities to Feature in Your MBA Application Essays.

Categorize the Question

With the qualities you want to feature front-and-center in your essays clearly in mind, you should read each essay question carefully and try to categorize each according to the type of essays we told you about in our first three articles in this series on the most frequently asked MBA essay questions.

Is that first question a Leadership question, a Career Goals question, or a Contribution question?

Do your best to categorize all of the questions you are expected to answer across the applications of your target MBA programs. Categorizing each question for any given school will give you a much better idea of what the admissions committee is going to be looking for in your essay responses and what it will take to score top marks with your essays.

Brainstorm Topics/Stories

Your third step is to brainstorm potential topics and stories. Your essay brainstorming work is going to be at its most productive if you have undertaken self-assessment work long before you sit down to write your essays. At MBA Prep School, we refer to this self-assessment phase of the application process as an “application strategy.”

In short, you want to have a clear idea of the subset of qualities that you want to showcase in your application as a whole and in your essays in particular. If you try to feature every one of your skills, strengths, and traits in your essay(s), you’ll run the risk that admissions officers will finish reading your essays and have no clear takeaways about who you are and what you have to offer their program. It’s best to have three to five big-picture messages in mind as you brainstorm potential topics or stories.

A well-developed application strategy focuses your brainstorming in a way that is likely to lead to essay concepts that offer the most potential.

Choose a Topic or Story

Finally, you’re ready to choose a topic or story that looks the most promising. Here are a few questions you should ask to help determine which of your ideas have the most potential.

First, ask which essay topics or stories on your brainstorming list offer you the greatest opportunity to feature the qualities MBA programs value most.

Next, ask yourself if the topic or story will score top marks for this essay type. For example, if this is a Leadership essay, did you rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal? To winnow down your list, cross off any stories where you were working on your own, and circle the stories in which you made an impact by leading others.

Another important test is whether you think the essay can be written with a clear beginning, middle, and end within the word count provided. Given the tight word limits business schools allow, you need to choose stories that you can tell succinctly. For example, instead of writing about a trip around the world, perhaps you can focus on a portion of the trip that was particularly meaningful. A related question to ask yourself is whether the story will be easy to understand without a great deal of background or technical knowledge. Clearly, you don’t have the space to tell a story that requires an elaborate set-up, if you are limited to 500 words or fewer.

Next, you’ll want to make sure you are the central player in the stories on your shortlist. 99% of the time, you want to write stories where you play the starring role, as those are the stories that will help the admissions officers get to know you better.

Finally, try your best to write about situations that occurred relatively recently. It’s usually best to tell admissions committees stories that happened within the last three years. The more time that has elapsed since your story took place, the higher the bar for how powerful and defining that story needs to be in order to qualify as an effective story for an MBA application essay.

Learn from Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and the other top MBAs how they wrote essays that got them in!


Tyler Cormney is the co-founder of MBA Prep School, a full-service, boutique MBA admissions consulting firm that specializes in helping aspiring MBA candidates realize their dream of attending an elite business school. As a graduate of both Harvard Business School and USC’s Professional Writing Program, Tyler draws upon his unique blend of creative writing, strategic thinking, and coaching skills to help applicants stand out from the competition for a place in the most selective MBA programs, including Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.

MORE FROM MBA PREP SCHOOL: Career Progress And Goals Essays,  Why Our School And What Will You Contribute Essays Leadership, Past Decisions, And Setback Essays;  The Most Important Qualities To Feature In Your MBA Application Essays

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