When most business school candidates read an essay question, they interpret it quite literally. For example, when the Yale School of Management asks applicants “What will you contribute to the Yale SOM community, and how will being part of it help you extend your professional vision?” many applicants assume that they must answer each subquestion within the broader question in the exact order in which they were asked. However, this is not true. Such questions are indeed quite flexible, and at times, by pursuing your own structure, you can better engage your reader.
We have found that with regard to overrepresented candidates who have unique professional goals, one strategy that can be quite helpful is leading with goals instead of professional history. After all, “typical” experience is not as captivating as unusual (but realistic!) ambitions. So, the Indian technologist who plans to open a boutique hotel or the male investment banker who aspires to start a competitive windsurfing circuit can use these bold goals to stand out from the start.
We must emphasize, though, that such candidates need to have (and show!) a compelling connection to their goals, and we do not suggest that overrepresented candidates strive to imagine or create “wild” goals just to catch the admissions committee’s attention. However, if you have a profound connection to an unusual goal, then responding to a school’s questions in a differing order and ensuring that your goals are out front could make a difference.