Outlining Techniques for Better MBA Application Essays

An outlining framework for story MBA application essays

Somewhere along the way, a well-meaning writing teacher told you that a great essay starts with a great outline. In our experience, MBA essays are no exception! Outlining your topics and stories before you start writing your MBA application essays will not only save you time, but will also help you to design an essay that is crisp, cohesive, and content-rich. While providing an outline framework for every type of essay is beyond the scope of a short article, MBA Prep School shares a powerful outlining framework that will help you to write excellent story essays: it’s called the STAR framework.

STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

MBA Prep School’s final article in the Essay Writing Boot Camp series will help you understand how to use the STAR outlining framework. We’ll also show you an example of how Stephanie, a fictional MBA applicant, used the STAR framework to outline a Leadership essay for one of the business schools to which she was applying.


The S in STAR stands for Situation. This is the time and place and context of the story — you can think of it as the setting, but it might also include the broader challenge or conflict that you or your organization faced. In essence, this is the set-up of your story.

In our example essay, Stephanie’s story is about a fundraising event benefiting a not-for-profit organization for which she served as the donations chair.

For the Situation in her STAR outline, Stephanie wrote:

Last year, I volunteered to chair the donations committee of Literacy Now’s annual fundraiser.

Next up in your outline, you will concisely describe the Task that you or your team had to accomplish.


The Task relates to your role in this particular situation and story, and frequently takes the form of a goal or objective statement.

For example, Stephanie summarized her Task as the donations chair for the event in the following way:

To lead the fundraising team to raise a minimum of $10,000 for the organization, I would need to assign specific jobs to committee members, track their progress toward obtaining donations, help teammates make agreed-upon deadlines, and offer individual assistance to make sure each person fulfilled their responsibilities. 


The Action of the story is of greatest interest to MBA admissions officers because they are reading the essay to see your strengths and qualities in action.

While it won’t be necessary in your outlining stage to write down every action you took, you’ll want to jot down the highlights.

In this example, Stephanie summarizes her Action as follows:

Motivated team by having them meet Literacy Now children. Assigned tasks and checked in regularly. Successfully mediated team dispute. Visited 20 restaurants and called 12 wineries. Ensured deadlines were met.


The best stories for MBA application essays are those in which you actually surpassed expectations. For the purposes of your outline, the Results are the impact of your actions and/or the final resolution of the complication you set up at the beginning of the story.

Evidence of Results is almost as important as is Action when you’re trying to choose one story over another for an MBA application – a positive outcome and happy ending will make the story that much more powerful.

Specific details count here, as we will see in Stephanie’s case. Stephanie quantifies her Results, which is a very good idea because this specificity makes the impact of her efforts vivid for the reader:

Convinced 10 restaurants, 3 wineries, 20 businesses to donate, directly helping to raise $15,000 for the organization, ensuring the event’s success.

Your STAR Story

While your actual STAR outline will likely include more details than in this sample, you can see by looking at Stephanie’s complete STAR outline how this technique will help you tell a succinct story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

You may not have listened to that old English teacher of yours when she urged you to create an outline before you start writing an essay, but it’s not too late to make him or her proud. The STAR outline framework we provided will also help you select your strongest stories before putting hours and hours of effort into writing them. Once you’ve selected the story that you believe has the most potential, you will be ready to start the drafting process. When you are admitted to a great business school, feel free to call up your English teacher to thank him or her for preparing you to tackle one of the most challenging writing assignments of your career!


Congratulations on completing MBA Prep School’s Essay Writing Boot Camp for Poets&Quants readers!  This series of articles covered the steps you can take to write outstanding MBA application essays:

MBA Prep School hopes you’ve benefited from MBA Prep School’s Essay Writing Boot Camp, and I look forward to your comments and questions about the articles in this series.

MBA Prep School

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.

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