In 2014, the admissions committee at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan asked applicants to share—in two separate essays—their greatest points of pride in their professional life and in their personal life. Last year, Ross left the decision of whether to focus on a professional theme or a personal one up to the candidate. And now this year, the school is requesting that applicants discuss their proudest moment exclusively in their personal life. This prompt is rather paradoxical in that it is simultaneously narrow and broad. How so? The narrowness is in the word count. You are limited to just 400 words, which is challenging. Writing something that is both concise and powerful is difficult, but the result often has a much stronger impact than if you had had no limits. As the old saying goes, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” The broadness lies in the open-ended nature of the prompt, given that the only restriction on content is that you not discuss something from your career. Your professional aspirations are the focus of the school’s second essay question, though it allows you even less space in which to convey your points—only 250 words. If you are unsure about how to make the most of these limited opportunities to impress the Ross admissions committee, continue reading our essay analysis…
What are you most proud of outside of your professional life? How does it shape who you are today? (up to 400 words)
First, we should start with some semantics. We have already said that this essay is broad, but you may have read the prompt and thought, “Great, I can tell a single story using just 400 words. How broad is that?” Sure, if you are “most proud” of a stand-alone experience or accomplishment, you can definitely explore it in full in this essay, but you are not actually limited to one story. You might instead take a thematic approach, showing that you are most proud of a particular trait or value, which will enable you to present several anecdotes or experiences that relate to and illustrate that trait/value. So, maybe you are most proud of having had the audacity to put on a one-man play in a fringe festival, for example, or perhaps you are proud of your willingness to take personal risks, as indicated by your one-man play, your week-long solo camping excursion in the deep woods, and your many trips across the country to face off against other pit bosses in barbecue competitions. Either approach can work.
The specific example—or series of examples—you offer is not as important as truly owning the example(s) via your narrative. We strongly advise against starting your essay with a statement like “I am most proud of taking a week-long solo camping trip, because…” You must maintain some mystery to bring the reader into your experience and hold his/her attention. In this case, what spurred “you” to take this trip? How did you perceive the risks? How did the trip play out? Of course, this is a very specific example, but the point is that whatever your chosen story or theme, the admissions committee wants to learn about you through your actions and your thought process.
Remember, this question has two parts—the school also asks how what you are proud of shapes who you are today. To successfully discuss the “shaping” aspect of your selected topic, you need to show an element of before and after, illustrating the effect this part of your life has had on you. Do not merely throw out a hokey final line to summarize this element. You must truly explore the impact of the experience(s) and demonstrate that you can be thoughtful about your life and have a good sense of self-awareness. We recommend that you devote 75 words to this reflection, at a bare minimum.
If you are thinking of writing on a theme, you may be concerned about the originality of that theme, but as we always say, the admissions committee is not expecting you to have a fully unique angle that has never been conceived of before. Rather, the school wants you to share your authentic story of what you are “most proud” of in your own, individual way. Your words and your voice will imbue the essay with all the originality it needs.
What is your desired career path and why? (up to 250 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.
Optional Statement: This section should only be used to convey information not addressed elsewhere in your application, for example, completion of supplemental coursework, employment gaps, academic issues, etc. Feel free to use bullet points where appropriate.
The phrasing of this optional essay prompt 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 might 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 Essays 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 aspect of your profile.
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. We therefore offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Michigan Ross Interview Primer today.