Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) Essay Analysis, 2011–2012

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, 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 minimally as possible. Similarly, explaining “why Sloan” is neither expected nor encouraged, but if you feel you absolutely must address this topic anyway, again, keep your statement(s) brief, relevant and specific.

Although the MIT Sloan cover letter differs in some ways from a typical Personal Statement, some fundamentals still apply. We therefore suggest that you consult our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide —which we offer free of charge via our online store—before writing this essay for Sloan. 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)

For this essay, candidates typically consider times when they possessed a bold vision and achieved ambitious goals, despite discouragement from others, or times when no one else had even realized an opportunity existed. Either circumstance is reasonable as a starting point, but we suggest that applicants also consider instances when they demonstrated themselves to be independent thinkers, capable of finding their own path and/or adhering to morals and principles they hold dear. No matter which event from your past you choose to discuss, 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)

We suspect that this essay is likely less about convincing than it is about persuading. The admissions committee wants to fully understand your people skills, and especially your level of diplomacy. The committee probably does not want to read about how you forced an opposing group or individual to accept defeat. So, you should focus on describing a time when you encountered a problem and explain how you maneuvered to gain consensus and solve the problem, or a time when you conceived of an idea, sharing how you advocated for it to achieve mutually beneficial ends. Describing a classic “win-win” situation is likely ideal, but you could just as successfully deviate from this approach and instead identify a complex situation in which you were able to persuade others to mitigate losses (though one could perhaps argue that such a situation would still be “win-win”). Regardless of the situation you choose to discuss, be sure to concentrate on describing your actions and the thought processes behind them, rather than the results.

Essay 3: Please describe a time when you had to make a decision without having all the information you needed. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

The only change to Sloan’s application questions from last year is this one for Essay 3. Although choosing a situation to discuss that appropriately fulfills the requirements of the question is of course important, the key in this essay will be showing your thought process and truly conveying the how element of your decision making. In the business world, one must regularly make judgment calls without the benefit of all the desired data, and even though this is a skill that candidates will have the opportunity to hone while in business school (and particularly at those schools that use the case method to a large degree), we suspect that the admissions committee wants to know that you already have good instincts in this respect and the willingness to make a decision and stand behind it. Sharing a story about a situation in which your decision proved to be the right one and resulted in positive outcomes would be ideal, but no matter what the final outcome was of the incident you choose to discuss, be sure to focus on demonstrating the thoroughness of your contemplation and outlining the reasons you made the decision you did. No one always makes the right choices in life or business, but showing that you seriously considered your options and made a reasoned, rational and well-founded final decision will indicate to the admissions committee that you took the responsibility seriously and put forth your best effort.

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 share in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might 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 provide detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay—and offer multiple examples—to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

For a thorough exploration of MIT 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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