What To Do If You’re On The MBA Waitlist

How To Write A Compelling Personal Statement

What exactly does it take to nail the personal statement?

Robin Madell, of Business Insider, recently spoke to admissions experts on tips for how to make the personal statement more compelling.

“Business schools want to get to know the person behind the test scores and the transcript,” Barbara Coward, an MBA admissions consultant, tells Business Insider. “The essays personalize your application and communicate your values, interests, and character traits.”


Experts say it’s critical to first understand the format and requirements of the school prior to writing.

“It does vary quite a bit depending on the school, and they do tend to use the two terms ‘essays’ and ‘personal statement’ interchangeably,” Coward tells Business Insider. “If there is only one question, then it’s more likely to be a personal statement — but even Harvard Business School, which has only one essay, calls it an ‘essay.'”


What makes a compelling essay, Coward writes, is an applicant’s ability to seamlessly tie their past to their future goals.

“You can’t change the past such as the undergraduate university you attended or your work history, but you can explain the ‘why’ behind those decisions and provide insight into your critical thinking skills, values, and decision-making process,” Coward tells Business Insider.

If you’ve had downfalls in your past, experts say, it’s helpful to highlight those and explain your growth through your experiences.

“You have great strengths, and you also have growth areas — this is why you are pursuing a graduate management education,” Luke Anthony Peña, executive director of admissions and financial aid at the Tuck School of Business, tells P&Q. “It’s tempting to highlight the strengths and downplay the growth areas, but that reveals only a portion of the complete person. Show us that you acknowledge and own both.”


Admissions officers read several essays a day. To really stick out, it’s important to make your essay compelling.

“If six people are competing for the same seat in a highly selective program, would you admit you? You want to use the essays to answer the ‘why you’ question for the committee, showing how you will make the most of this golden opportunity and what ‘could be’ if you were in the program,” Coward tells Business Insider. “What would you be able to contribute that someone else couldn’t?”

Another tip Coward offers is framing yourself as a fit to what the school is seeking.

“Your essay has your name on it so that means it’s all about you, right? Wrong,” Coward tells Business Insider. “It’s about a potential relationship between you and the program.” She suggested thinking about what you would give to the program and how will you contribute to the business school community.”

Sources: Business Insider, Poets & Quants

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