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Last year, the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan asked applicants (in two separate questions) about their personal and professional pride. But perhaps too much pride is a bad thing? This year, Ross’s Essay 1 question asks you to explain what you are most proud of to date, either personal or professional. The admissions committee notes that the question is “intentionally broad.” That said, the school’s Essay 2 prompt is pretty darn specific—a standard career question that the admissions committee will use to evaluate your career goals. In a total of 800 words, you have one opportunity to reveal your personality and another to reveal your professional ambitions. Ross gives you a tough task; our essay analysis will no doubt be longer than your two Ross essays. You would be wise to follow the school’s advice about how to write effectively:
“A note about writing style: we like clear and succinct. ‘Up to 400 words’ means it can be less than 400 words. It’s not a word count test, nor is it a creative writing test. Don’t write two paragraphs of introduction before stating what you’re most proud of. You can even start with, ‘I am most proud of….’ Write as you would speak. To a real person. We, who read the essays, are real people.”
We repeatedly discuss the approach of skipping a formal introduction and launching right into your story when writing an essay. However, in this instance, we disagree with Ross—a few thousand essays that start with “I am most proud of…” will likely leave the admissions readers numb, so think of a different opening!
Here is our analysis…
Many applicants will assume that they must write about a single professional or personal experience. And for many, that may indeed be the best strategy—especially if you have one absolute standout accomplishment. However, you may possess a skill that transcends environments and fills you with pride, or perhaps you are great at fostering community or integrating feedback and improving, and maybe you have displayed these attributes in a diversity of environments, which will, in turn, enable you to showcase more than one accomplishment. You can definitely seize a theme to give yourself broader “access” to your own story.
“Fostering community” and “integrating feedback” may seem like clichéd themes, but for this essay, the theme is not nearly as important as the evidence, and the evidence comes via your story. Now, “evidence” is a loaded word—Ross will not be analyzing your stories to detect fraud. The admissions committee will read your essays to get a sense of who you are, and that sense comes from the rich details you incorporate into your essay. In the past, we have discussed the concept of “show, don’t tell.” By revealing your authentic experiences, you will captivate your admissions reader and truly drive your point home. Use your words to paint a picture so that your reader walks away with a rich and memorable sense of your personality.
Of course, if you want to delve into thoroughly describing a single accomplishment, that strategy can work. However, you cannot simply brag from start to finish. You will still need to discuss your achievement and explain how it was hard earned. After all, if you are most proud of this accomplishment, it cannot have come to you easily. Your story will need to present a core conflict to show why you are so proud—person versus person, person versus time, person versus resource constraints, etc. We use “conflict” in the nonviolent, literary manner, of course. The reader needs to hear your story of overcoming obstacles to understand why you feel so positively about this achievement.
Finally, do not get so wrapped up in your past that you forget about the present. Ross asks how you have been shaped by this experience—do not forget to answer that question! In addition, avoid reiterating the most obvious aspect of your essay. Sentences such as “I am proud to have built communities wherever I have gone. It is rewarding to leave my mark” will not do! You must delve deeper into your experiences and be sure that you are truly reflecting, rather than reiterating, your thesis.
Essay 2: What is your desired career path and why? (up to 400 words)
Because personal statements are similar from one business school application to the next, we have created the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Download your copy today!
For a thorough exploration of Ross’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment, and other valuable information, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.
The Next Step—Mastering Your Michigan Ross Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And, on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Michigan Ross Interview Primer today.