The University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business has released its application essay questions for the 2009–2010 season, with no changes from the previous year. Thus, we have made only slight updates to our original analysis of the questions, which follows.
Essay 1: Briefly describe your short-term and long-term career goals. Why is an MBA the best choice at this point in your career? What and/or who influenced your decision to apply to Ross? (500 words max)
The first two parts of this question cover elements that are standard for a Personal Statement essay (short- and long-term goals, why an MBA and wny now). Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the “mbaMission Personal Statement Guide,” which we offer to candidates free of charge, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.
An important element to note in this first question is Ross’s inclusion of the query “What and/or who influenced your decision.” Increasingly, MBA Admissions Committees (e.g., NYU, Haas) want to know that candidates have completed a priori research on their school and are not just applying to the program capriciously, based on rankings. In this essay, you should go a step beyond highlighting the resources Ross offers that appeal to you and also explain how your interest was generated—such as via interactions with alumni, faculty members, students, admissions officers and possibly even knowledgeable outside parties.
Essay 2: Describe your most significant professional accomplishment. Elaborate on the leadership skills you displayed, the actions you took and the impact you had on your organization. (500 words max)
This is a relatively straightforward essay, but you should take care to offer more than just the basic story of your accomplishment to the MBA Admissions Committee. Ross is seeking to understand the “leadership skills you displayed, the actions you took”; a solid essay will reveal your leadership skills via your actions. Thus, it is vital that you have a process orientation in your writing, as this will ensure that the committee will truly experience, and thus develop a more complete understanding of, your leadership style. If you take the time to tell the full story of your accomplishment by creating a narrative structure within your essay, the committee will have a window into your personality and recognize not just that you are effective, but how you are effective.
Essay 3: If you were not pursuing the career goals you described in Question 1, what profession would you pursue instead? (for example, teacher, musician, athlete, architect, etc.) How will this alternate interest contribute to your effectiveness in solving multidisciplinary problems? (300 words max)
Through this essay, Ross is attempting to understand alternative aspects of your character. Indeed, the examples in the question are telling because “teacher, musician, athlete” are not typical post-MBA careers. Thus, being creative in your response is important, but you must also ensure that you demonstrate a clear connection between your response (i.e., your proposed alternative) to personal and/or professional experience you already possess.
For example, if you have no background as a teacher or simply do not have the personality for it, you will have a much harder time convincing the Admissions Committee that this hypothetical career is an appropriate, or even attainable, one for you. Further, if you are not profoundly connected to this alternative career option, you will have difficulty explaining how you will use this interest to attack multidisciplinary problems. Moreover, when you write about your proposed career, make sure to strike a balance in your tone—you cannot afford to be too whimsical, yet you also cannot afford to be dull.
Essay 4: Describe your experience during a challenging time in your life. Explain how you grew personally, either despite this challenge or because of it. (300 words max)
With this question, Ross substantiates the point we made in our Monday Morning Essay tip entitled “Conflict is Good” that reading about someone’s smooth and easy road to success is not really all that interesting. Indeed, the school wants to hear that you have faced obstacles and that you possess the strength of character to overcome them. While you are free to draw from personal as well as professional experiences, take care to avoid “sympathy plays” and clichés about “learning resilience.” Write with candor and honesty, and discuss the abiding impact that a challenging experience has had on your life. A successful essay will show that the experience substantively changed your mentality or actions and had an enduring and positive effect.