Some applicants may be happy to learn that Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business has dropped its rather intimidating “Why you?” essay prompt that we imagine gave some candidates trouble last application season. However, that relief may be short-lived when they learn that the school has added a video essay component, not to mention that the scope of the school’s first essay question is almost as broad as last year’s. Still, we appreciate the (relative) freedom that McDonough offers candidates to really share who they are beyond the statistics and other facts presented in the rest of their application and encourage you to embrace this opportunity to stand out to the admissions committee. We offer our ideas and advice for how to accomplish this—and to respond to the school’s optional essays—in our analysis that follows.
We want to hear your story. When responding to our required essays, be authentic and take time to reflect on your goals and past experiences. Craft a response that explains how these experiences led you to pursue an MBA.
Essay One: We would like to learn more about you. Please answer the following essay question in 500 words or less: What matters to you? Please share an experience from your past that illustrates why this matters to you and how it will enable you to contribute during your MBA Program (note: this does not necessarily need to be related to your professional goals).
We take for granted that most people who choose to pursue an MBA have big goals for themselves on the career front, but we also assume that such ambitious, dedicated, and focused individuals have passions that drive and inspire them outside the workplace as well. McDonough obviously does, too, and is offering candidates this prompt as a way to share this aspect of their personality, whether it is rooted in their personal life or tied directly to their career. Start brainstorming for this essay by asking yourself the school’s core question here: What does matter most to you? This might sound obvious, of course, but we have seen many applicants get flustered by the question, believing that an actual “right” answer exists that they must identify to satisfy the admissions committee. As a result, they do not take the time to truly consider what their most sincere response would be. Start by really contemplating this question in depth and identifying what you believe are the most significant moments and achievements in your life. Then, explore the psychological and philosophical motivations both behind and resulting from these moments. You will likely begin to see some kind of theme or commonality emerge. This could be the crux of your essay.
You need to accomplish three things in this essay in not a lot of space: identify what is important (e.g., a belief, issue, place, person, cause, activity), support this claim with a meaningful example, and explain how it equips you to be a valuable member of the McDonough community either inside or outside the classroom. So, once you have identified your main theme, choose which of the incidents you pinpointed during your brainstorming session best illustrates or substantiates that theme. Your presentation of this story must intrinsically convey the reason your selected topic is so significant in your life. Avoid explicitly declaring, “The reason this matters most to me is…” and instead ensure that your description of your actions, motivations, feelings, and thoughts impart that message more organically.
Do not overlook that the school also asks you to elucidate how this aspect of your character has prepared you to add value in some way to the McDonough MBA experience. To effectively address this element of the essay prompt, you must develop a thorough understanding of the program and community—well beyond what you can readily find on the school’s Web site. Connect with students and alumni, visit the campus if you can, read through blogs and news stories, and evaluate the school’s special events, offerings, and resources until you find a related opportunity or avenue that speaks to you and ignites your enthusiasm. The authenticity inherent in this portion of your submission will ensure that your essay not only has a stronger impact but is also easier to write.
Video Essay: We ask that you prepare a one-minute video, upload it to an accessible website (such as Youtube, Vimeo, Youku, or Tudou), and submit the direct video URL into your online application. Please introduce yourself to your future Georgetown MBA cohort. Use this video as an opportunity to bring life to your application. For more instructions, view our Video Essay Guide.
McDonough’s new video essay is yet another opportunity for you to offer the school a glimpse into your character and personality. As the prompt says, this is a chance to “bring life to your application,” so your focus should be on ensuring that it as authentic and natural as possible. This is not a job interview, and the school specifically states that you should consider your future cohort—your fellow students—as your intended audience, which certainly implies that a less rigid and traditionally “professional” demeanor is okay, though we of course caution you to always be appropriate and inoffensive. Do not use the video as an opportunity to pitch your candidacy or to pander to the school. This is not the time to detail your career goals or express your admiration for the program. You have only one minute in which to make an impression, and even without knowing you personally, we are confident in our belief that you have more to your character than can be conveyed in a mere 60 seconds—so do not waste any of them!
Given that this is a video, you will obviously need to think beyond what you will say and consider the clothing you will wear, the setting or background of your video, your tone of voice, your language style, whether you will include music, and a host of other details. Brainstorm ways of nonverbally communicating some of your strongest attributes and key aspects of your life to help permeate your submission with as much information as possible. For example, if you are an avid biker, consider using a GoPro or similar camera to film your video while you are actively riding. If you are a dedicated guitar player, perhaps strum your guitar as you speak (or, if you are especially confident, you could even sing about yourself!). Think about what makes you who you are today, decide what you most want to share with your future classmates, and then let your creativity flow.
On a practical note, be sure to speak clearly in your video. You naturally do not want any part of your message to be lost or misunderstood, and the admissions committee may view your communication skills and style as indicators of how you might interact with your classmates and/or speak in the classroom. Spend some time practicing in front of a mirror or a friend, but do not overrehearse. You still want to come across as genuine and natural.
Optional Essay One: If you are not currently employed full-time, use this essay to provide information about your current activities. (250 words or fewer)
With this question, McDonough wants to know that you are actively engaged in your life—that you are a do-er who seeks out and seizes opportunities. You do not necessarily need to be working in the traditional sense to have an effective answer to this prompt (note that the school asks about your current “activities”). Perhaps you are taking classes to gain or improve skills in an area important to you professionally or personally. You could be performing community service in your area or volunteering for a cause that is meaningful to you. Maybe you are taking advantage of the break to enjoy extra personal time with friends or family members, possibly in anticipation of how busy you will be once you are enrolled in business school or because of a medical issue. Perhaps you are traveling to improve your foreign language skills in an immersive environment or simply to better familiarize yourself with other cultures and environments. You might be arranging informational interviews, job-shadowing opportunities, and/or unpaid internships, which could help later with recruiting and job selection.
The bottom line is that you want to show the school that you are not merely sitting idle, waiting for things to come to you, and that you understand the kinds of opportunities that appeal to and/or are beneficial for you. This is a chance to demonstrate your interest in ongoing self-improvement, knowledge or experience collection, and/or giving back. Whatever your longer-term goals and plans may be, use this essay to convey how you anticipate your experience(s) to contribute to your character, enhance your skill set, and/or increase your understanding of yourself or others—all of which are valuable in business school.
Optional Essay Two: Please provide any information you would like to add to your application that you have not otherwise included. (500 words or fewer)
We tend to believe that the best use of the optional essay is to explain confusing or problematic issues in your candidacy, and this prompt offers an opportunity to do just that. However, because McDonough does not stipulate that you can only discuss a problem area in this essay, you have some leeway to share anything you feel is that you think may be pivotal or particularly compelling. So, if you need to, this is your chance to address any questions an admissions officer might have about your profile—a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, we offer detailed advice on how best 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 anything that is not addressed elsewhere in your application and that you feel is truly critical for the admissions committee to know to be able to evaluate you fully and effectively. We caution you about simply trying to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. 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 candidacy.
Re-Applicant Essay: Required for re-applicants. How have you strengthened your candidacy since your last application? We are particularly interested in hearing about how you have grown professionally and personally. (500 words or fewer)
Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. McDonough wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a McDonough MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.