Many MBA applicants will be relieved to see that MIT Sloan has dropped its longstanding “essay” question that involved writing a cover letter to Senior Director of Admissions Rod Garcia, discussing a myriad of activities but not addressing “Why MIT” or any post-MBA goals. Without reaching too far into the past to explain what was previously required, we can say that this year’s essay prompts are far more straightforward—that is, except for the school’s “optional” essay question. Is that essay really optional? Well, we would recommend that if you have not provided a truly comprehensive picture of yourself by the time you have completed the first two required essays, you should strongly consider writing it. More on the optional essay later in our analysis…
We are interested in learning more about 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: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
You may look at this essay question and think, “Can I really provide examples that will lead someone to conclude that I ‘improve the world’ or ‘generate ideas that advance management practice’?” That may sound like a tall order, but it is not as daunting a task as it may seem, because it focuses on the future. The MBA admissions committee is asking you to draw on past experience to show that you are prepared to support this mission going forward. Rather than fretting about the latter part of the question, focus on the first part, and provide examples of how you have displayed principled or innovative leadership.
The phrasing of the question is broad enough that your examples can come from the professional, community or personal sphere. All of these areas are equally valid. What is important is that you offer a clear narrative, enabling the reader to truly visualize your actions and motivations. The admissions committee wants to learn about you through your stories, not hear platitudes about management. Note that the question explicitly asks you to “describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did.” You might share two different anecdotes and then connect them both to the school’s mission at the end of your essay. Or you could write two dissimilar anecdotes that each connect to the mission in their own way. Whatever your approach, you must not forget to connect your stories to the school’s goal statement. Before your hands even touch the keyboard, really think about how your experiences relate to that mission.
Essay 2: Describe a time when you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
This essay question is remarkably broad. Going “beyond your comfort zone” does not need to be narrowly interpreted as physically leaving your familiar surroundings and traveling to a new destination to experience a new culture or environment. You can push yourself out of your comfort zone by taking on a new project that requires you to rely on skills you have not yet tested or by assuming a role within a team that you are not accustomed to playing. The specific scenario is less important than revealing that you have taken a personal or professional risk. If you had never before led a team, asked for permission to do so and then executed flawlessly, you were probably quite comfortable in taking on that responsibility—which means you were actually still in your comfort zone. However, if you had never before led a team, asked for responsibility that was beyond what you and others thought you were capable of and then travelled down a rocky but ultimately successful path, you probably have an appropriate story to tell. That said, writing a compelling essay about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and failing to achieve objectives is also a feasible option, as long as you show that you learned and grew from the experience.
Optional Question: The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format.
Don’t we all just love a blank page?! (Note the sarcasm.) Answering this question is not absolutely necessary, but doing so is probably wise. How can you know for sure whether you need to? Before you start writing your response to any of the school’s essay questions, brainstorm thoroughly and create a list of experiences and aspects of your candidacy that you believe are important for the admissions committee to know about you. Then, as you contemplate and craft your essays for the first two questions, cross the ideas you choose off your list of potential stories and points. If a few items remain on your list that you believe are crucial to reveal to the admissions committee, then you should most likely write this “essay.”
The admissions committee states that you may use any format for this submission, but do not feel that you must use some form of multimedia—and certainly do not just copy and paste your creative essay for NYU Stern or your Chicago Booth PowerPoint. After you have brainstormed and determined what you want to say as an applicant—what you feel the admissions committee must understand about you—determine an appropriate vehicle that matches your personality and message. That vehicle just might be another conventional essay. The key is to effectively convey additional information that highlights your personality, not to win an Oscar.