Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) Essay Analysis, 2009-2010

MIT-Sloan takes a slightly different approach with its essays compared to most top schools.  The admissions committee has stated explicitly in various admissions chats that Sloan’s application is unique in that it focuses exclusively on examples of candidates’ past behaviors. The committee is more interested in the details of an applicant’s story and his/her actions and decision-making than in the results/conclusion or in fact the candidate’s ultimate success.

The committee also requests that applicants use fairly current examples, ideally from the past three years. A successful accomplishment that occurred more than five years ago is less appealing to the committee than one that may not have turned out the way the applicant had intended, but still took place more recently.

In writing your essays, you would be well served to keep in mind the phrase “past behavior is a predictor of future success.” 

Cover Letter:Prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Describe your accomplishments and include an example of how you had an impact on a group or organization. Your letter should conform to standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Director of MBA Admissions.

You will note that unlike most schools, Sloan does not ask for MBA candidates to discuss either future goals or “why Sloan.”  This is not an oversight!  In keeping with its conviction that past behavior is the best predictor of future success, Sloan wants applicants to emphasize past actions and thought processes rather than long-term aspirations.  Rather than paraphrasing what the admissions committee wants, we will let Admissions Director Rod Garcia (from an interview with the MIT-Sloan newspaper) tell you: “the admissions committee does not explicitly ask applicants for their future goals to prevent candidates from telling stories that they think the AdCom wants to hear.” According to Mr. Garcia, “That’s why we don’t ask the ‘Why Now?,’ ‘Why MBA,’ and ‘Why Sloan’ type of questions that every other business school asks because these questions are leading questions, i.e. they lead the interviewees to tell the interviewer what the interviewer wants to hear. So, to go around this trickery, we ask candidates to talk to us about past examples instead.”

Our advice?  If you believe it necessary to include your goals in order to provide context, do so, but limit them to the extent possible.  Similarly, mentioning Why Sloan is not expected nor encouraged, but if you feel a need to do so anyway, again, keep it brief, relevant and specific.

While the MIT cover letter differs from the typical personal statement, some “global” fundamentals still apply. Thus, we offer our “mbaMission Personal Statement Guide” to you, free of charge, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.


We are interested in learning more about you and how you work, think, and act. For each essay, please provide a brief overview of the situation followed by a detailed description of your response. Please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.

In each of the essays please describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did.

Essay 1: Please describe a time when you went beyond what was defined, expected, established, or popular. (500 words or less, limited to one page)

Typically, candidates consider times in which they possessed a bold vision and achieved ambitious goals, despite being discouraged by others, or times when no one had even realized an opportunity existed. While either circumstance is reasonable as a starting point, we suggest that candidates also consider instances when they revealed themselves to be independent thinkers, capable of finding their own path and/or adhering to morals and principles they hold dear. Regardless of which path you choose, by creating a clear picture of what was expected of you and then contrasting your choice—by describing your actions and outlining your reasoning and thoughts—you can present a compelling picture of yourself as a strong-minded and adventurous “hero.”

Essay 2: Please describe a time when you coached, trained, or mentored a person or group. (500 words or less, limited to one page)

Coaching, training and mentoring need not be considered exclusively in a formal context: “I was part of my company’s mentorship program and….” You can contemplate times when you were successful in an informal way, when you simply took the new hire under your wing or started and ran a few unsanctioned pre-work training sessions. The key to writing a strong essay is showing how you connected with your audience and, again, revealing your impact. Ideally, you would prove that there was a “before and after” and that your efforts led to a significant improvement in others’ abilities to contribute and in their confidence levels as well.

Essay 3: Please describe a time when you took responsibility for achieving an objective. (500 words or less, limited to one page)

This essay question is pretty open ended and will likely be a relief for those who felt constrained by the other two far more narrow questions above. Still, you should not simply paste in your favorite leadership story. You will need to be very clear about how you “took responsibility”—that you did not just lead but that you stated your intention to lead and thus created expectations for yourself. You can then explore how you achieved your goals and delivered on the expectations you created. (Note: You do not need to exclude instances in which you only partially achieved, or did not achieve, your goals, as long as you reveal the positive attributes of the experience.) At mbaMission, we recommend that candidates present their stories via a narrative structure. Do not just tell the reader what you accomplished, truly show the reader how you did it.

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