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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Sloan) Essay Analysis, 2016–2017

Friday Factoid: The MIT Sloan Application Review Process - mbaMissionMuch to most applicants’ chagrin, the MIT Sloan School of Management has resurrected its dreaded “cover letter” essay prompt. After requiring candidates to pen a letter to the school’s admission director for multiple years in a row, MIT Sloan suddenly branched out in 2013–2014 with respect to its essay questions and offered candidates somewhat broader queries that we imagine many people found more approachable. But this unusual requirement is now making a reappearance, and this year, applicants have just half as many words in which to express themselves as the last time we saw this prompt—a mere 250 versus the previous limit of 500. And complementing the cover letter is another unorthodox option, a wide-open opportunity to provide additional information of any sort. Plus, keep in mind that if you are lucky enough to be invited to interview, you will be required to submit yet another 250-word essay. We understand if you are feeling a bit perplexed or overwhelmed. Let us try to sort through this with you…

Cover Letter: Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words or fewer)

We strongly advise that you avoid starting your letter with a rote opening like “My name is Bob, and I am seeking a place in the MIT Sloan Class of 2019.” Your admissions reader will likely be asleep before he/she even finishes the sentence! Such information is obvious—we can assure you that the admissions reader is well aware of your desire to be admitted to the MIT Sloan program—and is therefore a waste of precious word count, not to mention that it is hardly the kind of gripping opening that will grab and hold someone’s attention.

Interestingly, the school has streamlined its essay prompt this time around by leaving the query rather open-ended. Guidance seen in past years such as “describe your accomplishments,” “include an example of how you had an impact on a group or organization,” and “address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application” are conspicuously absent, giving you much greater freedom to choose and share the information you believe is most important for your candidacy. The 250-word maximum gives you roughly three short paragraphs with which to make an impression. Informal guidance provided by Sloan’s admissions committee since the release of this essay question indicates that applicants should focus on sharing their personal experiences, accomplishments, values, viewpoints, and/or skills to demonstrate (1) what they can contribute to the school’s greater community as a result and (2) why Sloan’s MBA program in particular is the best one for them. The school does not ask you to outline your post-MBA goals, but if doing so allows you to better substantiate your need or desire for a Sloan MBA specifically, a (very) brief explanation of your aspirations could be appropriate and useful.

After discussing your accomplishments—being careful not to brag!—along with any other elements of your profile that you feel make you a great fit with the school, strive to relate these achievements and qualities to the MIT Sloan experience. Citing specific courses, experiential opportunities, or other relevant resources can help you make a compelling case for your spot in the next incoming class.

Optional: The Admissions Committee invites you to share additional information about yourself, in any format. If you choose a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us with the URL.

Suggested guidelines:

  • Please keep all videos and media limited to 2:00 minutes total in length.
  • Please keep all written essays to 500 words or less.
  • If hosting your submission on a website, please ensure you provide an unprotected link (no password required).  

We all just love a blank page, right?! (Note the sarcasm.) Submitting this optional essay is not absolutely necessary, but doing so is probably wise. How can you know for sure whether you need to? Before you start writing any essay for the school, brainstorm thoroughly and create a list of experiences you have had and aspects of your candidacy that you believe the admissions committee should know about you. Then, as you craft your cover letter essay, cross any ideas or stories you use off your list. If you feel strongly that the items that remain on your list are crucial to reveal to the school, you should most likely submit this additional “essay.”

Sloan’s prompt states that you may use any format for this submission. Perhaps expecting that many applicants will choose to create a video, the admissions committee has specified that such recordings be no longer than two minutes. (You can search YouTube for “MIT Optional Essay” to find numerous examples of how others have approached this option.) That said, do not feel that you must use some form of multimedia. Again, start by brainstorming to determine what you want to say as an applicant—what you feel the admissions committee really needs to understand about you—and then decide which vehicle most appropriately matches your personality and message. That vehicle just might be another conventional essay! The key is to effectively convey additional information that highlights your personality, not to win an Oscar. And be aware that Sloan itself has noted that a strong optional essay can help differentiate two similarly competitive applicants, but it alone cannot get a weak candidate in.

For a thorough exploration of the MIT Sloan academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment, and other important elements, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Those invited to interview will be asked to answer the following question: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer). Details for submitting your essay will be included in the interview invitation.

Allow us to offer a word to the wise: carefully consider this question as you craft your other essay(s). Should you be so fortunate as to receive an invitation to interview, you do not want to discover at that point that you have no compelling stories left to share with the school because you have already used them all in your required essay and perhaps even via the optional essay. Thinking optimistically, you will need to reserve some key information for this submission later. In short, you are applying to MIT Sloan with the intention of being accepted, so anticipate and plan for that interview invitation so that you are prepared to respond effectively when the time comes.

Now you may be thinking, “Can I really provide an anecdote that will convince someone I ‘improve the world’ or ‘generate ideas that advance management practice’?” We understand that this indeed sounds like a tall order, but it is not really as difficult as you may imagine, because the focus is on the future. MIT Sloan’s admissions committee is asking you to draw on past experience to show that you are prepared to support the school’s mission going forward. Rather than fretting about the latter part of that equation, concentrate on the first part, and provide examples of how you have already displayed principled or innovative leadership.

The phrasing of the question is broad enough that your examples can come from the professional, community, or personal sphere. All these areas are equally valid. What is important is that you offer a clear narrative, so that your reader is able to easily visualize your actions and motivations. The admissions committee wants to learn about you through your experiences, not hear platitudes about management. As you share your stories, be sure to show a connection between them and the school’s mission, clearly linking them to Sloan’s goal statement. If you take the time to really contemplate how your experiences relate to that mission before your hands even touch the keyboard, you should be able to craft an effective submission.



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