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The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan has refashioned its essay questions, going “smaller” with its requirements, as have several other schools this application season. Ross’s broadly worded essay prompts give you ample breadth—if not an overabundance of words—in which to tell your story. As always, think carefully about what you want to say and the impression you want to make before you start writing, because more opportunity lurks here than you might realize at first.
Many applicants who read this essay prompt will conclude that they have an opportunity here to share just one anecdote. However, you actually have another option. You could, of course, take a “task-oriented” approach, showing how you did one thing remarkably well, or you might consider taking a thematic approach, presenting instead a consistent record of achievement in one area. For example, you could discuss how you tamed your firm’s most feared client as a single clear accomplishment, or you could integrate this incident as one example supporting a theme of how you have developed your skills as a diplomat.
Any reader of our essay analyses or attendee of our essay writing seminars knows that we have an avowed preference for narrative-style writing. We strongly advocate getting right to the important details and describing your actions and results. Starting your essay with a bland declaration like “I am most proud of how I tamed our most difficult client and learned that I am a diplomat…” would be an essay killer!
As you are writing, be careful not to get carried away and forget to explain what you learned—the essay question very clearly asks, “What did you learn from the experience?” This information may be largely implied in your narrative, but your reflection on what you learned should not just repeat your key theme: “Clearly, I learned to be a diplomat in taming our toughest client, and I look forward to greater challenges going forward!” Just to be 100% clear, let us stress again that such a statement simply will not work. Contemplate your growth and development through the experience or series of experiences and use the theme of your essay as a starting point, but take the reflective piece further and reveal the self-awareness or skills that developed therein.
Essay 2: What are you most proud of personally and why? How does it shape who you are today? (400 words)
Clearly, this essay is a fraternal twin of Essay 1. So again, you can focus on a single accomplishment (task) or a series of accomplishments that reveal a trait (theme). And revealing your chosen task or theme through a narrative will allow your actions and their impact to shine through.
Applicants are often flustered by the word “personal,” puzzling over why an admissions committee would want to learn anything about their personal life. Well, the reason is that the admissions committee want to get to know the entire you, and you are not just a series of professional accomplishments. We would define personal as “anything outside of work,” so your community service activities should be fair game here. But if you are so inclined, do not be afraid to discuss an aspect of your life that is truly personal, such as making a significant impact on a family member, pushing yourself to try something that is a radical personal departure, teaching yourself a new skill or committing to learning something interesting. The list of personal topics is vast, because you are living, changing and growing every day.
One thing you do not need to worry about is “scale”—no one expects you to be changing the world in your spare time. Admissions officers want to experience the intensity of your passion and commitment, but they also recognize that you are mortal, so you are not likely scaling the world’s ten highest peaks or curing a disease outside of work. You just need to show that you are doing your thing in a way that is spirited and determined.
As with Essay 1, do not neglect to reflect on the impact of your chosen task or theme: the admissions committee wants to hear how your personal accomplishment “shapes” the you you are today. The same rules apply—do not just offer a summary statement. Truly explore your development and elucidate what affects you today and how.
Essay 3: Optional question: Is there anything not addressed elsewhere in the application that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (300 words)
The phrasing of this optional essay question is broader than most in that Ross does not specifically limit you to discussing problem areas in your candidacy. That said, in most cases, this is still your opportunity to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your profile—if you need to—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, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your application.
However, because the question can be interpreted rather broadly, it does open the door for you to discuss a strength or attribute that has not yet been highlighted elsewhere in your application and that you think may be pivotal or particularly compelling. We caution you about simply trying to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. You must have a crucial aspect of your background/experience/profile that you would be bringing to light—remember, by submitting an additional essay, you are asking the admissions committee to do extra work on your behalf, so you need to make sure that time is warranted. If you are using the essay to emphasize something that if omitted would render your application incomplete, take this opportunity to write a very brief narrative that reveals this key new side of your profile.