University of Michigan (Ross) Essay Analysis, 2010–2011

Michigan Ross has overhauled its essay this year. Gone is a question about an alternative career path that perplexed many applicants in the past. Still, essay one will no doubt bedevil many others. Michigan Ross’s essays are open ended, which allows you to decide what you want to offer of yourself. You should feel that you have ample opportunity to present your best.

1. Introduce yourself in 100 words or less.

How many words is 100? This sentence alone accounts for ten percent of that allowance. Because this essay’s word count is so tight, many candidates will struggle with it. Still, in 100 words, you could write a brief vignette/story that broadly represents you—that stands for who you are. Or, you can offer several short/clever sentences that capture your personality. You might even present a theme or two with supporting anecdotes. In short, you still have plenty of room to be creative and reveal what makes you interesting. (We strongly recommend not offering a historical statement that summarizes your biography/resume.)

By the way, the paragraph above is exactly 100 words.

2. Describe your career goals. How will the Ross MBA help you to achieve your goals? (500-word maximum)

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.

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

3. Describe a time in your career when you were frustrated or disappointed. What did you learn from that experience? (500-word maximum)

In its essay questions, Ross tends to throw a lot of softballs your way—they allow you broad opportunities to write whatever you would like. This essay question, however, is far more narrow than any of the others, requiring you to explain a time when you faced an oppositional force and how you dealt with a minor or major setback. In this essay, you need not be culpable—they are not asking you to admit to or explain a mistake—but you nevertheless need to be honest, and this may require that you explain your responsibility for a frustrating situation. Regardless of the challenge that you choose to discuss in your essay, showing how you navigated the personalities and circumstances is important in optimizing your results. Even if you did not “turn lemons into lemonade,” as the saying goes, your story can still present you in a positive light, revealing your strengths in the areas of diplomacy, persuasion, maturity, ethics, creativity and more. As we noted in our analysis of Kellogg’s essay questions (Kellogg asks a similar question of applicants), the key to writing an effective essay is revealing a certain thoughtfulness and problem-solving ability as you overcame and did your best to advance.

4. Select one of the following questions:

What are you most passionate about and why? (300-word maximum)

We are guessing that because essay one has, to a large degree, already focused on the topic of the applicant’s personality, many will opt not to answer this question, but will defer to the next. Still, in either this “passionate” essay question or the “contribution” essay question that follows, candidates will have an open-ended opportunity to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Ross candidate pool. So, if you choose to answer this question, think carefully about what the admissions committee already knows about you from the other portions of your application package, and be sure to consider a new theme/skill/experience to highlight here.

Once you have determined what it is that you are indeed most passionate about, you should take some time to consider the manifestation of that passion. Simply stating that you are passionate about something will not be sufficient; you need to demonstrate evidence of this passion and truly illustrate how it plays a role in your life. Consider the following examples:

Example 1 (Bad): I love cooking and cook frequently for friends and family, often experimenting with new ingredients.

Example 2 (Good): After intensely searching throughout Chinatown for three hours, I finally found fresh Daikon and could not wait to get home to add it to my soup and be able to taste my newest recipe for the first time.

Although cooking may not be the most ideal/serious passion (unless it becomes a metaphor for a broader theme of spontaneity, creativity, etc.), our point is that your actions need to truly convey and reveal your passion. The reader cannot finish this essay and simply conclude, “nice hobby,” but must get a sense that you are in a comparatively inordinate pursuit and are thus quite purposeful.

We expect that Ross MBAs will not only be effective leaders, but also effective teachers. How will you contribute to the learning experience of your peers at Ross? (300-word maximum)

Candidates need not worry that they must possess proven teaching skills, but should focus on the second part of the essay question: “How will you contribute to the learning experience of your peers at Ross?” Ross is not expecting you to literally teach your fellow students (though if you can, that is great) but instead expects that you will have experiences from which others can learn via your contributions in class and possibly even in the broader community. As you write this essay, you can—and should—simultaneously exhibit your knowledge of the Ross environment by linking what you have to offer to specific aspects of the Ross MBA experience. For example, merely revealing that you possess nuanced knowledge of a particular region of the world would not be as compelling as explaining how you will apply this unique knowledge to contribute to a particular class, MAP Project or club. This essay allows you to distinguish yourself from other candidates and demonstrate connections between you and the school.

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