University of Texas, Austin (McCombs) Essay Analysis, 2013–2014

By asking candidates to submit three essays of 250 words each, the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, has drastically streamlined its essay questions this year compared with last year—and in concert with what many other MBA programs are doing this season. Then, the length requirement for Essay 1 alone was 800 words, and applicants had roughly 600 words for the school’s three-part Essay 2.  Overall, McCombs’s questions appear to have taken a more personal tone, asking candidates to introduce themselves to the student community, explain what they can contribute to the program other than professional qualities and describe how they expect to develop during their two years in the MBA program. Gone are any explicit references to short- or long-term goals and one’s career history, so the applicant’s more internal aspects and soft skills are highlighted instead.

 UTAustin_business1. Imagine that you are at the Texas MBA Orientation for the Class of 2016. Please introduce yourself to your new classmates, and include any personal and/or professional aspects that you believe to be significant. Select only one communication method that you would like to use for your response.

Write an essay (250 words)

Share a video introduction (one minute)

Share your profile

The first step in responding to this question is choosing the format that is most compatible with your personality. If you are the quiet, thoughtful type, the essay or option may be best; if you are more often the life of the party or are better at speaking than writing, the video option will likely be the advisable choice. If you are someone with more of an artistic bent and are great at visuals and graphics, the option could be the optimal way to go.

As for determining what information to share, turn the mirror away from yourself to start and think about what you would like to know about your classmates and what you would find interesting. For example, do you consider a candidate’s age an important or interesting fact? Probably not, so you should probably skip including this in your introduction as well. More likely, you are curious about what they do in their spare time, what kind of skills or experience they bring to the table, whether they are approachable/funny/serious/etc., whether they have extensive experience in a certain area or have a more wide-ranging background and so on.

After determining what sort of information you believe would be compelling, turn the focus back to yourself. Think about the aspects of your personality and profile that you believe truly define you as an individual—not just what you do and have done, but who you are—and fully explore your background, hobbies, talents, experiences, quirks. Brainstorm a list of as many things as you can, and then go through the list to eliminate items that seem too common (e.g., a BA in finance) or basic (e.g., your age or hometown) until you have a handful of truly distinctive qualities you can weave into an engaging narrative.

Next, remember that you must bring energy and enthusiasm to your presentation. You are not filling out a job application—you are trying to connect with others, so charisma is key. For inspiration, consider listening to a few podcasts from The Moth, a not-for-profit program in which people tell personal stories live in front of an audience. You need only listen to the first few minutes of a number of stories to get a feel for how the storytellers manage to grab their audience’s attention right away. Then work to find an interesting way of beginning your introduction so that your reader/viewer is intrigued from the very first line.

As an example, let us consider a candidate who has worked as an investment banker for the past few years and as a hobby does stand-up at open mics on the weekends. He could open his essay with a statement such as “I have been an investment banker on Wall Street for the past two years, commuting to work very early in the mornings. I like to do stand up on the weekends, so I take that morning time to practice my bits.” Pretty boring, huh? Now consider a more intriguing opening for the same story: “I can tell you from experience, the rats in New York’s subway system make a lousy test audience, especially at 5:00 a.m.”

For more information on how to engage your reader/viewer from word one, see our blog post on “maintaining the mystery.” And before you submit your response to this essay prompt, have a trusted friend or colleague look it over to let you know if you have effectively crafted a compelling piece. As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so dedicate the work necessary to ensure that your introduction is both engaging and true to who you are.

2. In the Texas MBA program we value our tight-knit and highly collaborative culture. Outside of your professional goals, please discuss why you are a good fit with the Texas MBA program and how you intend to impact the Texas MBA community? (250 words)

In some ways, this content for this essay could overlap the content for Essay 1, so take care to not cannibalize your message there and repeat any information. We suggest making a plan for both Essay 1 and Essay 2 before you move ahead with either one to make sure you have distinct stories for each. If you have targeted McCombs because you feel it is the right program for you, you likely already have an idea of how it matches your personality and why you would fit in with its program. In addition to certain skills and experience, consider character traits, such as a sense of humor, honesty, dependability, optimism and the like. Although the 250-word limit is rather restrictive, and your primary focus should of course be on describing the relevant aspects of your profile, reinforce the connection with McCombs whenever possible by mentioning elements of the MBA program that align with your highlighted qualities, demonstrating that you can make unique contributions in specific classes, clubs, events, etc.

Note that the school specifies “why you are a good fit with the Texas MBA program,” rather than the other way around, so your approach should put the focus on you  first and the school second. By this we mean that rather than saying “The Drama Club is appealing to me because I have been working both on and behind the stage since I was 7 years old,” you should frame the sentiment more like “With almost 18 years of experience both on and behind the stage for school and community drama productions, I could bring a real depth of experience to McCombs’s Drama Club that would enhance the group’s offerings.”

Although we believe that keeping the focus outside the workplace is ideal—primarily to show a more rounded vision of yourself as someone with a vibrant personal life separate from your career—this does not mean that you must completely avoid any valid points that tie back to a professional experience. If you have gained through your work a particular skill or interest that clearly corresponds with an aspect of the McCombs program that interests you on a personal level and to which you feel you can bring a valuable and special contribution, feel free to use this in your essay, but be sure to keep the focus on how this trait will be a boon to the school’s community and/or highlights why you are a good fit. To comply with the school’s stipulation of “outside of your professional goals,” be sure not to discuss any connection between your chosen contribution and your post-MBA plans or desired career.

3. What do you hope to gain from your Texas MBA experience? How do you expect to develop, both personally and professionally, during the Texas MBA program? (250 words)

This essay prompt is essentially a “why MBA” question with an element of “why our school” mixed in. McCombs keeps the focus on what you anticipate your takeaways from the experience will be without explicitly asking which resources at the school will facilitate those takeaways. First, identify the skills, guidance, experience and/or other factors you need to achieve your short- and long-term goals and then briefly explain how gaining these will prepare you to succeed. Do not devote too much of the minimal allotted word count to detailing your professional career and accomplishments to date, but do include some general information about your past work experience to provide a framework for why you need an MBA education to attain your goals—you want the admissions committee to walk away with a solid understanding of where you are coming from in the context of where you are hoping to go. As with Essay 2, think beyond the classroom and career framework to determine what you believe a McCombs MBA experience would also provide on a personal level.

Because you have limited word count for this essay and the school does not ask specifically which of its offerings you will use to gain the skills and experiences you seek, you should not dedicate too much space to discussing the school’s resources. However, you will need to make sure your essay is not so devoid of McCombs-specific content that it could easily apply to any other MBA program. Work to make sure your essay clearly applies to McCombs but is still largely about what you hope to gain during your two years in the program, rather than a laundry list of classes, clubs, events, etc.

4. Optional Essay: Please provide any additional information to the Admissions Committee that you believe is important and/or will address any areas of concern that will be beneficial to the Admissions Committee in considering your application. (200 words)

For example, if your standardized test scores are not exactly what you would like them to be or if you have not had coursework in core business subjects (i.e. calculus, microeconomics, statistics, financial accounting, or finance), please tell us how you plan to prepare yourself for the quantitative rigor of the MBA curriculum.

Discuss any unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, academic performance, or any significant weaknesses in your application or extenuating personal circumstances that you think may impact your candidacy.

As we always caution in the case of optional essays, avoid the temptation to reuse an essay you wrote for another school here, just because you think you wrote a strong or interesting piece. That may indeed be the case, but that does not mean that you will be helping your candidacy by tacking it on to this application. As the school itself states in this prompt, the optional essay is an opportunity—if you need it—to address any lingering questions or concerns one might have about your profile or 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 (including multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

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