University of Michigan (Ross) Essay Analysis, 2011–2012

1.      Introduce yourself to your future Ross classmates 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 could 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 an MBA from Ross help you to achieve those goals? What is your vision for how you can make a unique contribution to the Ross community?  (500 word maximum)

This is a pretty typical personal statement, with a slight twist in that Ross is also asking about your unique contribution to the school’s community. In answering this part of the question, keep in mind that your contribution need not be academic—it can be cultural, social, personal, etc. If you have some unique professional experience through which you could contribute in specific academic situations, then that is of course fair game. But if you happen to have been a stand-up comic and feel that you could use your sense of humor to facilitate better team interactions during the MAP project, for example, that should work quite well, too. The key to answering this question is not just explaining your capacity to contribute to the Ross community, but also revealing how and when you will contribute. Get specific and show that you truly know Ross.

All of that said, 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 the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

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

By specifying “in your career” here, the admissions committee is asking you to share an instance of professional disappointment/frustration. However, that moment need not be the disastrous collapse of a project you were working on (though that could definitely work); you could instead consider discussing a personal disappointment related to your work, such as your inability to foster a collegial community around you. For this essay, you do not need to have been culpable for the frustration or disappointment—note that the school is not asking you to admit to or explain a mistake—but you nevertheless need to be honest, which 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 involved 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 have noted in discussing other, similar questions pertaining to frustrations/disappointments, 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? (300 word maximum)

We are guessing that this essay may prove a bit frustrating for some MBA aspirants, because they will have already revealed some passion when they introduced themselves in essay one. Still, these two essay questions together offer candidates 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, as well as what unique interest you may have revealed in essay one, and be sure to consider a different theme, skill or experience to highlight here.

Once you have determined what it is that you are indeed most passionate about, take some time to reflect on the way in which you manifest that passion. Simply stating that you are enthusiastic about or devoted to something is not sufficient; you must 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., or, perhaps, your post-MBA goals involve starting or running a restaurant or other food-related business), our point is that the description of your actions with respect to your passion needs to truly convey and reveal your high level of dedication and interest. 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.

• Describe a personal challenge or obstacle and why you view it as such. How have you dealt with it? What have you learned from it? (300 word maximum)

This question will also likely frustrate some candidates, who will no doubt be wondering, “Didn’t I just offer something very similar in essay three?” Well, in short, yes, you did. As a result, many applicants may choose to avoid this question, considering that it is optional and assuming that the other option was not somehow even more challenging. In this case, though, the school is asking you to relate a personal challenge, rather than a career frustration or disappointment. Again, remember that a challenge or obstacle can be the catalyst for a powerful learning experience whether you were able to completely overcome it or not. So, you can discuss anything from a personal developmental need—a struggle (either ongoing or now behind you) to overcome shyness, for example—to an event that has befallen you, such as a serious illness (though we hope not!). Again, the vivid anecdotal details you include are what will effectively convey your challenge, and your description of the learnings you have gleaned from the obstacle—and the manner in which you dealt or are dealing with it—will reveal your character. In writing this essay, you must ensure that the reader fully grasps and experiences true struggle—without conveying a clear conflict, your essay will be meaningless.

5. Optional question: Is there anything else you think the Admissions Committee should know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (500 word maximum)

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.

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