Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) Essay Analysis, 2010–2011

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

The committee also requests that applicants use fairly current examples in their essays, 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 that took place more recently.

In short, when writing your essays for Sloan, you would be well served to keep in mind the phrase “past behavior is the best 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 its applicants 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 candidates to emphasize their past actions and thought processes in their essays, rather than their long-term aspirations. In fact, in an interview with Fifteen, the MIT Sloan newspaper, Director of MBA Admissions Rod Garcia explained that the “admissions committee does not explicitly ask applicants for their future goals to prevent candidates from telling stories that they think the admissions committee wants to hear.” Garcia added, “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 that you absolutely must outline your goals in your cover letter to provide context for your stories, do so, but discuss them as little as possible. Similarly, explaining “why Sloan” is neither expected nor encouraged, but if you feel the need to address this topic anyway, again, keep it brief, relevant and specific.

Although 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 fewer, limited to one page)

Typically for this essay, candidates consider times when they possessed a bold vision and achieved ambitious goals, despite discouragement from others, or times when no one had even realized an opportunity existed. Although 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 event from your past you choose to offer, 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 convinced an individual or group to accept one of your ideas. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

This essay is likely less about convincing and more about persuading. The admissions committee wants to gain a profound understanding of your people skills, with an emphasis on diplomacy. Most likely, the committee does not want to read about how you forced an opposing group to accept defeat. So, you will want to focus on describing how you encountered a problem and maneuvered to gain consensus and solve the problem, or how you conceived of an idea and advocated for it to achieve mutually beneficial ends. The classic “win-win” situation is probably the kind you should attempt to reveal, but you might deviate and identify a complex situation in which you were able to persuade others to mitigate losses (still, arguably “win-win”). Regardless of the situation you elect to present, as the admissions committee emphasizes, you should concentrate on describing your actions and the thought processes behind them, rather than the results.

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

This essay question is pretty open ended with respect to experiences from which you can choose, which will likely be a relief for those who felt constrained by essay questions one and two, which are far more narrow. However, you should not simply default to recounting your favorite leadership story. In fact, although you have the option here of drawing from many different types of experiences, the admissions committee is looking for something specific with regard to your actions, as a member of the committee stated in an online chat: “(In essay three,) … we’re looking for an example of how well you are able to set a goal and achieve it. How do you do it? What type of plan do you put in place? How do you motivate others to help you achieve that goal too?” So, you will need to be very clear about how you “took responsibility”—that you did not just lead but that you also communicated 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 failed to achieve, your goals, as long as you reveal the positive attributes of the experience.) As always, we recommend that candidates present their chosen experience narratively. In other words, do not simply tell the reader what you accomplished, truly show the reader how you were able to do so.

Supplemental Information (Optional)

You may use this section to address whatever else you want the Admissions Committee to know. (250 words or fewer, limited to one page)

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay from another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, available through our online store, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

For a thorough exploration of Sloan’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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