Carnegie-Mellon University (Tepper) Essay Analysis 2013–2014

To us at mbaMission, one of the most notable things about the essay questions Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business is posing this application season is that the program has changed its approach to length guidelines by shifting from “double-spaced page” requirements to specific word counts. Candidates who have surveyed the school’s past questions may notice that Tepper has reframed several of its queries. The short- and long-term goals prompts are separated both from one another and from the “why Tepper” query, and the previous question about an obstacle or ethical dilemma has been replaced by one with a more internal focus, asking candidates to share an instance that fundamentally influenced who they are today. And rather than requesting that applicants pinpoint something surprising about themselves or that makes them proud, the school wants a more general exploration of what the candidate might contribute to the Tepper community in the long and short term alike. We feel these broader prompts may allow you to provide a more rounded and personal picture of yourself to the admissions committee, so let us examine each one a little more closely…

Short Answer 1 (Maximum 250 words):  What is your professional goal immediately following graduation from the Tepper School?

Short Answer 2 (Maximum 250 words):  What are your long term career goals?

These two short answer questions cover the basic short- and long-term goals elements of a traditional personal statement. To help applicants write this style of essay for any school, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which we offer to candidates free of charge, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.

Essay 1 (Maximum 500 words): What transferrable skills have you developed that are related to your professional goals outlined in Short Answer 1?  Additionally, identify the skills that you will need to develop or enhance. Specifically, how will the Tepper MBA help you develop these skills?

With this question, the school takes a slightly unique approach to the usual “why an MBA” and “why our school” questions that most programs pose in one format or another. In addition to asking candidates to outline which skills they believe they will need to succeed after graduation, Tepper wants applicants to specify which ones they already possess. Essentially, to get from Point A to Point B, you will need to obtain/master certain abilities, and the school is interested in learning how far along this trajectory you have already progressed. This will allow the admissions committee to better evaluate how qualified you are (and may eventually be) for your chosen path and how effective the school may be in helping you move forward. By explaining how and why you see Tepper as the right program to provide the training you need, you will demonstrate how well you understand your current level of preparedness and how familiar you are with what Tepper has to offer. As always, framing this information using a narrative approach will make your essay more interesting to read, and likely more memorable as well.

Note that the school is focused specifically on skills. In similar questions from other programs (i.e. “why our school?”), candidates are typically asked to discuss which of the schools’ resources are expected to be valuable, in which case you could note that a particular club could provide you with a lifelong network or a speaker series could give you access to experts in your chosen field. These are not options for this Tepper essay, however. Clubs and speaker series are still valid resources to discuss, but you will need to pinpoint how these offerings will improve or impart skills rather than provide external assets like a peer network or access to experts. Identify which capabilities you feel you will absolutely need, as well as ones that may just be beneficial and ease your path, and then research the school thoroughly to uncover which resources align directly with what you seek. For example, a certain class could teach you to prepare intricate financial models that will help you better predict certain outcomes, while the school’s Public Speaking Club would allow to you practice and improve your oral presentation skills, and participating in one of Tepper’s exchange programs could help you improve your foreign language capabilities. If you have targeted Tepper because you feel it is the right program for you, you likely already have an idea of what it offers that appeals to you and fits your goals—this essay is where you get specific about what these aspects of the program are.

Note also that the school relates this question solely to Short Answer 1, your short-term goal for your immediate post-MBA role. Given this explicitness, we have to wonder if Tepper is not only seeking very specific information but is also hoping to see how well applicants pay attention to such details and provide what is asked. Make sure you do both.

Essay 2 (Maximum 300 words):  Describe a defining moment in your life and explain how it shaped you as a person.

This kind of essay prompt is meant to draw two types of information from you at the same time. The first is what kind of accomplishments or experiences you have had, and the second is how you perceive such events. In other words, the content or nature of your chosen “defining moment” is of course important, but so is your choice of that particular moment to share. To illustrate, imagine a candidate who could write about any of several very different, yet significant incidents—let us say, hiking to base camp on Mt. Everest, earning a coveted promotion and experiencing the unexpected death of a close friend. All can certainly be understood as defining moments, but which one the candidate ultimately chooses to  present in his essay will say a lot to the admissions committee about what he values and thus who he is as a person. So, do not focus solely on options that you think might be conventionally “impressive” to the admissions committee, and instead consider which event truly meant the most to you and really helped define who you are today. If that is a work-related moment, great—go ahead and write about it, but if it is something more personal, share that instead. The honesty and passion that will come through in your final essay is what will stand out to the admissions reader, and you will provide a much more personal view of yourself (you may even find that the essay is much easier to write than you had anticipated!).

Keep in mind that in addition to being either professional or personal, your “defining moment” could involve an impressive accomplishment, but it could just as easily involve a failure. Take the time to truly plumb your experiences and see which one really resonates with you the most. As always, do not try to pander to the school and attempt to guess what the admissions committee wants to hear. Honesty is always best in your essays—and especially so in this one.

Essay 3 (Maximum 300 words):  How will your presence in the Tepper MBA program benefit your fellow students? How will you contribute to the school as a student and as an alumnus?

Tepper—like all MBA programs, we imagine—is interested in creating an environment that is mutually beneficial to all involved. This means that in addition to identifying candidates who have strong capabilities and show great professional promise, the school wants to find applicants who will enrich the overall community in a special way. Keep in mind that even though Tepper’s admissions committee strives to assemble a certain kind of incoming class overall—meaning, for example, one that is diverse, mirrors the school’s values, is intelligent and accomplished and so on—it is not looking for individual candidates that fit a specific mold. There is no “right” contribution, in other words, so the key here is to be honest. Ask yourself what strengths you possess that would prove valuable in a business school setting. What is special about you or your background that could add a unique element to the Tepper community? In addition to skills and experience, consider character traits, such as a sense of humor, honesty, dependability, optimism and the like.

Most “contribution” essay questions focus exclusively on a candidate’s time in the program (as a student), but Tepper broadens the scope by asking how you foresee your contribution as an alumnus/alumna as well. To address this query (take care not to skip it!), first take a little time to explore how the school’s current alumni interact with the program and its students. If any existing options look especially interesting and appealing to you, be sure to mention them. But be honest—remember, never pander or try to predict the “right” answer, because those do not exist. If you have an idea for something you think you would like to do as a graduate that you do not see others doing yet, perhaps suggest that. Do not feel the need to overpromise, though. The school just wants to know that you see your relationship with your (desired) future alma mater as a long-term one that will extend beyond campus and beyond your two years of study. Just be genuine (the admissions committee can tell when you are not) and describe how you expect to feel and interact with the school after graduation, even if your preference is just attending reunion and writing a check now and then.

Optional Essay (Maximum 500 words):  Is there anything else that you think we should know as we evaluate your application?

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. Instead, the optional essay is an opportunity—if you need it—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer 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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