Personal MBA Coach’s MBA Essay Writing 101

MBA essay writing 101

As the questions begin to roll out for 2019-2020 applicants (Harvard Business School and Columbia Business School have already released their questions, and more schools are expected to follow in the coming weeks), many of you may be putting pencil to paper (so to speak) on your application essays. Naturally, there are numerous factors to consider as you draft essays, but this week we are going back to the basics with MBA Essay Writing 101.

Essay Writing Process:

Personal MBA Coach advises our candidates to follow a 5-step process as they develop their application essays, leaving adequate time for each stage.

1. Brainstorm

Brainstorm each question one at a time. For those applying early decision, start with ED essays first. Otherwise, begin with the easiest essay as your writing will improve throughout the process. As you develop potential topics, consider relevant strengths, hobbies, passions, and experiences.

2. Outline

Before you begin to develop prose, outline the key points you hope to cover. Pay special attention to flow and length here. (Hint: a 250-word outline is too long for a 500-word essay).

3. Draft

Once you have a solid outline, begin to put together your first draft. At this stage, it is ok if your writing is not perfect and most first drafts should and will be a bit longer than the final product. For your early versions, be sure that your points flow well and are easy to follow. Do not worry about grammar, spelling, and other minor errors.

4. Edit Again & Again

This is the longest part of the essay writing process. Edit your essays as many times as it takes to get them right. Finalize general content and flow, then begin to focus on fine-tuning your writing. If your essay is not working, do not be afraid to start over. You may need to repeat steps 1-3 multiple times.

5. Proofread

Always ask someone unfamiliar with your work (and ideally your industry) to read over your essays. You will need a fresh set of eyes to catch all mistakes. Personal MBA Coach uses proofreaders for each MBA application for this reason.

Now that you have the overall writing process down, let’s look at some key tips to keep in mind as you develop your essays.

Essay Guiding Principles:

1. Answer the question ASKED

It is surprising how often candidates write beautiful essays but do not answer the question. Instead of writing what you think admissions committee members want to hear, answer the question. While thinking a bit outside of the box and considering the “why” behind an essay prompt is advised, first and foremost you must answer the question.

2. Write authentically

Do not write what you think admissions committee members want to read. There is no one perfect candidate profile. Instead, your uniqueness will be your greatest selling point. Your essays should paint a clear picture of who you are, what motivates you, and what you are passionate about. Do not feel compelled to show how you fit in the mold that seemingly makes up the “ideal” candidate. If you have no desire to run a non-profit, that is ok. If you are not motivated by improving the environment, do not pretend you are. Readers will see right through this and you could end up doing more harm than good

3. Be succinct and avoid repetition

Keep in mind that the essays are just one part of the application. In addition to submitting an MBA resume (unsure how to write an MBA resume? Check out these tips), most schools will have you fill out a detailed application. This means admissions committee members will read about everything you have accomplished, all roles you have held, and the awards that you have won. There is no need to try to fit this all into your essays. So instead of squeezing in as much as you can, focus on sharing a few key highlights and adding the details as well as your voice. This is your chance to explain your choices, show your accomplishments, and share your passions. The fewer things you try to cover in your essays, the more you will be able to achieve this objective.

4. Keep your language approachable

The terms you regularly discuss at the office may be foreign to others, including admissions committee members. When in doubt, do not assume the reader is familiar with everything about your job. Focus on language that is more general and easier to use to compare you to other applicants. Admissions committee members do not need or want all of the technical details anyway.

5. Limit flowery prose.

Similarly, I often read complex flowery prose. You are not submitting your essays for a Pulitzer prize or applying to become a professional writer. Instead, you are telling your story. While of course you want your essays to be well written and free from grammatical mistakes and typos, you also want them to be relatable and easy to follow. Everyone, from your grandmother to a professor of microfinance, should be able to understand your essays. They should also convey why you are someone others would want to study with, learn from, and eventually be inspired by. That type of person is human and down to earth. Your essays should show this.


Personal MBA Coach LogoScott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate and founded Personal MBA Coach over 11 years ago with the goal of providing customized one-on-one support. Scott also serves on the Board of Directors for AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants and is invited to speak at MBA
Admissions events globally. Our clients have been accepted to all top schools globally with a 96% success rate. They received $4.5M in total scholarships last year.