University of California Los Angeles (Anderson) Essay Analysis, 2009-2010

GENERAL INSTRUCTONS: Please be introspective and authentic in your responses. We value the opportunity to learn about your life experiences, aspirations, and goals.

1) Describe the ways in which your family and/or community have helped shape your development. (750 words)

As UCLA Anderson notes in its general instructions, it is interested in learning about your “life experience, aspirations, and goals,” and what better place to start than with your upbringing? This definitely represents a contrast from the usual “personal statement” type of query that typically begins a business school application. This question is intended to reveal the key elements of your development, allowing you to recognize and give credit to others for where you now find yourself in the world, both personally and professionally, or perhaps even to spotlight your own strength and resiliency, if you had a difficult family dynamic or one that offered little or no support. Candidates should definitely avoid beginning their essay with a statement such as “I was born in St.Louis, Missouri, on April 1, 1979” and proceeding chronologically from there. This essay will need to be more thematic and conceptual, rather than a timeline.

In this essay, you can freely provide more information on your personal background than is typically acceptable or possible in MBA application essays. How you answer the question can give the school some insight as to where you feel you fit in the world as well as what kind of life you might create going forward. For example, if you experienced support, encouragement and positive challenge from your family and/or community, you may strive to recreate this kind of experience for others so that they may benefit as you have. Conversely, if your developmental years were trying and marked by negative input, you may be inspired to create a better atmosphere for others by forging a new and different path. These revelations in turn might help reveal what kind of a leader you would be both in the classroom at Anderson and later, in the “real world.” The key to success for this essay will be in honestly revealing yourself and your influences as fully as the word count will allow—and not trying to guess what the school might be looking for and bending your story to fit.

2) Describe the biggest risk you have ever taken, the outcome, and what you learned in the process. (500 words)

One thing to note about this question is that, below the surface, it is not just about the risk you undertook, whether you were successful in your efforts and how you reacted, though these will obviously be central elements of your essay. What will also be revealed in your answer is what kind of risk taker you are (Are you a slow and steady planner or an edgy, “out of the box” thinker who is ready to go for it?) as well as your level of risk tolerance (i.e., what you might consider a risk may be standard protocol for someone else, or vice versa). Stories of success are good for obvious reasons, but really plumb your past and examine all possibilities for this one to ensure that the story you tell reveals the most about yourself in all these different areas. It may be that an instance in which you took a huge risk and failed has since proven more influential on you and your development as a leader than one in which you were successful—perhaps you learned a valuable lesson or were subsequently inspired to try something new or different. Again, as Anderson’s intro to the suite of essay questions states, the school wants to know about you as an individual, beyond just the quantifiable aspects of your experiences thus far.

3) Describe your short-term and long-term career goals.  What is your motivation for pursuing an MBA now and how will UCLA Anderson help you to achieve your goals? (750 words)

This question represents a relatively standard Personal Statement essay question—short-term goals, long-term goals, why an MBA now and why UCLA—so we encourage candidates to consult our “mbaMission Personal Statement Guide,” which we offer free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today.

Do not use up precious word space here detailing your professional career and accomplishments to date, but do include some general reference to your past work experience to frame why you need an MBA education to attain your stated goals. You must then clearly explain what UCLA offers in particular that will help you. As always, avoid telling the school what it already knows about itself and instead strive to demonstrate links between specific offerings at the school and you and your aspirations. You will need to do your research to best identify direct ties between what Anderson offers and your professional goals, personal beliefs, study style, etc. The more in depth your knowledge of the school, the easier pinpointing specific resources will be in the context of your future success and thus the more effective your essay will be. Take time to go beyond the school’s view book and Web site and contact students, alumni and faculty members, and, ideally, visit the school and attend a class.

An important element of personal statement essays that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle is the “why now” aspect. Be sure to not gloss over or sacrifice this information, believing it is not as important as the other elements of your candidacy that you wish to express—the school asked for a reason, so commit yourself to developing a clear, fitting answer to this portion of the query.

4) Select and respond to one of the two following questions. We would like you to respond to the question by recording an audio or video response (up to 10Mb maximum) for upload in the online application. (The supported file types for audio files are:  .avi, .wav, .mp3, .wmv, .midi, .wma, .aiff, .au, .mp4; the supported file types for video files are:  .mov, .avi, .wmv, .mpeg) If you are unable to submit your response via audio or vido, then please prepare a written response, instead. (250 words) 

a) Entrepreneurship is a mindset that embraces innovation and risk-taking within both established and new organizations. Describe an instance in which you exhibited this mindset.

This first option is a slight revision of last year’s question, in which UCLA asked candidates about entrepreneurial “spirit” rather than “mindset.” As most MBA candidates likely already know, you do not have to have started a company (or be making plans to do so in the future) to exhibit the mindset (or spirit) of an entrepreneur, so those applicants who are not currently considering starting their own venture down the road need not—and perhaps should not—shy away from this question.

Start by defining for yourself what an entrepreneur is to you, beyond the most basic description (i.e., someone who starts a new venture). Identifying opportunities for advancement, fulfilling a need and putting a creative or innovative twist on something that is already available are all aspects of the entrepreneurial approach, for example. If you look at the question closely, you will note that it does not stress the need for an example of a new businesses or product that you spearheaded but rather for a description of a time when you “exhibited” the entrepreneurial “mindset.” So your story should focus primarily on the forces within you that inspired you to speak up or act. The central theme should be your demonstration and application of entrepreneurial qualities. Given that entrepreneurship is such a key topic at Anderson, take steps to understand the school’s attitude and approach to the subject before you begin writing and, wherever possible, show why or how the school will either help you further your entrepreneurial spirit or give you the opportunity to cultivate it.

b) What is something people will find surprising about you?

This question is the only one left over word-for-word from last year’s application. Generally, this option can be used to add “spice” to your profile and enable you to quickly differentiate yourself from others. For this essay to be effective, you need to draw a stark contrast between the “surprising” aspect and what is expected of you, and of course, the greater contrast, the better. If you are having difficulty measuring this, you may want to try out your ideas on friends and coworkers to see what they find most unexpected.

Once you have identified a possible topic, compare and contrast your obvious persona (e.g., entrepreneur, banker, philanthropist) with your proposed “surprising revelation” for this essay. If you can list as many, or more, similarities as dissimilarities between the two, you should likely keep brainstorming. As an example, for someone who works within a rigid structure for their job function, such as an accountant, having a hobby or other interest that is also highly structured, such as doing puzzles or assembling models, may not seem that surprising. By contrast, an accountant who loves to participate in improvisational poetry jams—which involve almost no preparation or structure and instead rely heavily on creativity and spontaneity—would catch the Admissions Committee’s attention much more readily. If possible, going one step further and revealing an accomplishment or recognition in this surprising area would be ideal.

(Essay #5: Optional) Are there any circumstances in your profile about which the Admissions Committee should be aware? (250 words)

The optional essay is for discussing unique circumstances in your candidacy, not for elaborating further on your career or an interesting personal accomplishment. If you feel you have something vital that must be discussed, we suggest you be as brief and direct as possible in doing so. Otherwise, approach the optional essay with caution.

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