Personal MBA Coach started with the premise that everyone has a personal story and that the most successful candidates tell unique and compelling stories in their MBA application essays. This continues to be a cornerstone of our support. It is also the area where our clients need the most guidance.
In fact, the personal story can be one of the most crucial components of the MBA application. This is particularly true for applicants from overrepresented industries or demographics. Admissions committee members each year turn down countless qualified candidates with strong academic records, high test scores, and impressive professional experience. Your personal story is what will set you apart from other applicants.
The good news? Everyone has a personal story; you may just need help to figure out how to make yours shine in your MBA application essays.
So, what should you include in your personal story?
This answer will differ for every candidate but across the board, the answer is – NOT EVERYTHING! No one wants to read MBA application essays with a long explanation detailing a chronological flow of your life. Instead, you must be focused, logical and unique.
Keep in Mind: This is not the time to tell the admissions committee what you think they want to hear. As an Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) Board Member and Committee Chair, Personal MBA Coach is fortunate to attend an annual conference with Admissions Directors from 25+ top MBA programs including HBS, Stanford, Booth, Kellogg, Wharton, Ross, Sloan, Yale, Darden, Fuqua and many others. Authenticity is often a key point of discussion.
No candidate is perfect; instead, you chart the best course you can with the hand you are dealt. The best personal statements show this.
The first step to crafting your authentic MBA story is finding yourself. This self-discovery process is often the hardest part of developing your MBA application essays.
When Personal MBA Coach meets with a new candidate, we start by asking a lot of questions. We talk about everything the applicant has done, often starting from childhood. You should start with a similar process.
Step 1: Self-Discovery
Make a list of everything you have done in your life. Include jobs, travel, extracurricular activities, and hobbies. Be sure to WRITE it all down so you have it in front of you as you reflect.
- Think carefully about the decisions you have made and—even more important—why you made those choices.
- Ask yourself what you are truly passionate about.
- Think about your future goals. What do you want to do after you earn your MBA and, again, why? Having clearly defined goals is a crucial part of the MBA application process. Personal MBA Coach has written extensively on developing your goals and this process is key to your personal story development as well.
Step 2: Developing a “Theme”
- After you have finished the self-discovery process, look for a theme. What single idea connects the items on your list? This is the hard part, so give it time.
- The most successful candidates do not always write essays about overcoming a horrible tragedy or solving world hunger. Sure, if you have done something impressive or triumphed over a difficult situation, include it—if it fits with your story. But you also can write compelling MBA application essays without this.
- Themes can come from many places but here a few examples of broad theme categories:
- Hobbies: Hobbies can be a great place to start; for some candidates an early hobby sets the stage for their professional and extracurricular path.
- Volunteer Work: Volunteer or extracurricular experiences can lead to a unique personal story, particularly if you have had multiple roles working toward a similar cause or passion.
- Professional Pursuits: It is also possible to craft your story around your professional pursuits, especially if they are unique or personally motivated.
- Background/Heritage: If you have a unique family background or heritage, this can be the root of a strong personal story.
- Travel: In some cases, living in or traveling to a different country might have uniquely shaped your goals and aspirations. If so, this can make a great theme.
- Personal Loss/Challenges: Personal loss or challenges can also shape your personal story. Remember, using such experiences as the core of your story works best if they truly shaped your path and aspirations.
In many cases, you can develop a compelling theme from one of the areas above. However, if this does not work, do not be afraid to dig deeper and consider your values and what truly drives you.
Below is an example of how Personal MBA Coach helped a recent client develop a theme to include in her MBA application essays.
- GPA: 3.6
- GMAT: 710
- Years of Experience: 6
- Previous Industry: Public Policy, Political Consulting, Tech
- Gender: Female
- Undergrad: Major State College
We began our process by looking at some more common theme areas while we explored a number of opportunities. We discussed extracurricular passions, travel, career pursuits, and family background. However, we did not find a compelling theme so we dug deeper.
In this case, we recognized a unique theme, Embracing Change, and weaved it throughout the clients’ MBA application essays.
We discussed the client’s family history of embracing change, her openness to new careers, her willingness to drive change at work, and the importance of driving change in her future career and industry.
By discussing seemingly disparate aspects of her story under this overall theme, we successfully positioned this client as a change-maker and she was accepted into Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, and Kellogg (with a sizable scholarship).
As you can see from this discussion, crafting a personal statement is not easy—but Personal MBA Coach is here to help!
About Personal MBA Coach:
Founded by a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan graduate who sits on the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants Board of Directors, Personal MBA Coach has been guiding clients for 14 years and is consistently ranked #1 or #2, currently holding the #1 ranking in the US on Poets&Quants.
We help clients with all aspects of the MBA application process including early planning, GMAT/GRE/EA tutoring, application strategy, school selection, essay editing and mock interviews. Our team includes a former M7 admissions director and former M7 admissions interviewers.
Last year, our clients earned more than $6M in scholarships!
Scott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate and founded Personal MBA Coach 13 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 $5.5M in total scholarships last year.