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Each year, the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin tweaks the wording of its application essay questions just a bit, though the core of what the program hopes to learn from its applicants seems to stay largely the same. For its first essay, McCombs has continued to narrow the scope of the implied intended audience, shifting from one’s entire class (in 2013 and 2014) to one’s cohort of approximately 65 students (in 2015) to one’s study group of four to six classmates. For its second essay, the school has also simplified the query but thankfully retained the essay’s 500-word length. If needed, applicants also have an opportunity to submit an additional essay to share key information not included elsewhere or to explain any sticky issues in their profile. Altogether, candidates should be able to create a multidimensional impression of themselves for the McCombs admissions committee, and with our analysis, we hope to make doing so just a little easier.
Essay 1: The University of Texas at Austin values unique perspectives and cultivates a collaborative environment of distinct individual contributions. It is the first day of orientation. You are meeting your study group, comprised of five of your classmates from various backgrounds. Please introduce yourself to your new team, highlighting what drives you in your personal and professional life. Select only one communication method that you would like to use for your response.
Write an essay (250 words) OR Share a video introduction (one minute)
One of the things that stands out immediately to us when we read this prompt is that McCombs no longer offers the option of submitting an about.me profile as a response, as it has done for at least the past three application seasons. We could find no explanation from the school as to why, though we suspect that the about.me submissions—while no doubt interesting and dynamic in many cases—were not providing the admissions committee with the same level or kind of information it was getting from the other two options, which likely offer more opportunity to cover multiple aspects of a person’s profile within the MBA context. At first glance, the prompt seems to be a simple invitation to “introduce yourself,” but a closer inspection reveals some leading phrases not included in previous years’ questions and that you should definitely consider as you brainstorm for and plan your response: “collaborative environment,” “distinct individual contributions,” and “classmates from various backgrounds.” To us, these variations indicate the admissions committee’s interest in learning what is distinct or special about you that you believe will enable you to assist your fellow students and enhance the McCombs MBA experience for all. So, you need to convey not only your personality and motivations in just 250 words, but also the value you can bring. But do not be intimidated! You can absolutely accomplish this.
First, determine the format that is more compatible with your personality. If you are the quiet, thoughtful type, an essay may be the better choice; if you are typically the life of the party or a better speaker than writer, you should probably select the video option. Next, start identifying the kind of information you might share by thinking about what you would like to know about your future study group members and would find interesting, helpful, or intriguing. For example, would you consider a classmate’s age or undergraduate institution particularly important or compelling? Probably not, so you should skip mentioning such facts in your own introduction. More likely, you are curious about what your future fellow students do in their spare time, what skills they bring to the table, whether they are approachable/funny/hyperorganized/a risk taker/etc., whether they have extensive experience in a certain area or a more wide-ranging background, and so on.
So think about the aspects of your personality and profile that you believe truly define you as an individual—not just what you do and have done, but who you are—and fully explore your background, hobbies, talents, experiences, values, goals, and quirks. Brainstorm an extensive list and then eliminate any items that seem too common (e.g., a BA in finance) or basic (e.g., your hometown) until you have a collection of truly distinctive qualities you can weave into your response. Your goal is to provide a well-rounded picture of yourself that draws from multiple areas and shows that you possess characteristics and/or knowledge that would make you a positive addition to McCombs’ diverse community.
Remember to bring energy and enthusiasm to your submission. You are not filling out a job application—you are trying to connect with others, so charisma is key, and a less rigid and traditionally “professional” demeanor is okay. Truly imagine yourself in the situation described. If you were meeting a small group of peers, how would you start that conversation? Forego any fancy essay-writing or dramatic tactics (e.g., starting with a quotation, launching into an anecdote) and just be as natural and authentic as possible. Do not pitch your candidacy, detail your career goals, or express your admiration for the program. As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so dedicate the time and work necessary to ensure that your introduction is engaging, substantive, and true to who you are.
If you choose to submit a video, think beyond what you will say and also 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 other similar 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 filming your video while you are actively riding. If you are a dedicated musician, perhaps incorporate your instrument into your message by playing it while you speak (if you are especially confident, you might 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. And definitely do not try to read from an off-camera script or notes (trust us—they will be able to tell!). You want to come across as genuine and natural.
Essay 2: Based on your post-MBA goals and what drives you in your personal and professional life, why is the Texas MBA the ideal program for you and how do you plan to engage in our community? (500 words)
McCombs has actually streamlined this essay question a bit from the versions seen in recent years, which is a good thing, in that this might give candidates a little more room in which to present their messages. Still, this prompt includes some implied questions that you will need to address in addition to the overt queries of “why McCombs?” and “how will you engage with our community?,” namely, “what are your post-MBA goals?” and “what drives you in your personal and professional life?”
The school is seeking to understand on several levels why you have selected the McCombs programs in particular. Why is it the most appropriate school for your goals, and why/how does it fit you personally? The assumption is that something you have learned about McCombs makes you feel that the school could provide the experience, knowledge, skills, exposure, and/or other element you feel you need for your long-term aspirations and chosen career. Likewise, something you have discovered leads you to believe that you would fit into the McCombs environment and be comfortable there, that you would be able to be and express the “real” you. So what are those things? All the top MBA programs want to know that the candidates they admit have not applied to them simply because of reputation or ranking; they want to be confident that the applicant is truly excited to be a part of their community and to benefit from their specific learning experience. McCombs is not just looking for warm bodies to fill seats in its classrooms; it is striving to add to a long history of effective global business leaders and a network of alumni dedicated to the school and each other. Demonstrating your authentic interest in the program by offering concrete examples and drawing clear connections between what it offers, what you need, and who you are is key to crafting a compelling essay response here.
If you have targeted McCombs because you feel it is the right program for you, you likely already have an idea of why that is true and how you would function as part of its community. If you do not yet have a handle on these points, you definitely need to start researching the school thoroughly, including interacting directly with students and/or alumni. Identify at least one (ideally more) resource, offering, or quality that McCombs offers that is unique or that it excels in that directly relates to what you need to attain your goals. And you cannot simply offer a list—you must explain how the identified element(s) will fulfill particular needs for you.
At the same time, you must show how you will give back, based on your experience, knowledge, and passion (either professional or personal). Recognize that the school asks why it is “the ideal program for you” rather than the other way around, so your approach should put the focus on the school first and yourself second. By this we mean that rather than saying “With almost 18 years of experience both on and behind the stage for school and community drama productions, I could bring a real depth of experience to McCombs’s Drama Club that would enhance the group’s offerings,” you should frame the sentiment more like “The Drama Club is appealing to me because I have been working both on and behind the stage since I was 7 years old.”
In some ways, the content for this essay could overlap the content for Essay 1—especially given that the school uses the exact same phrasing of “what drives you in your personal and professional life” in both prompts—so take care to not cannibalize your message there and repeat any information. We suggest making a plan for Essay 1 and Essay 2 before you move ahead with either one to make sure you have your messages clear for both and that they complement each other effectively.
Optional Statement: Please provide any additional information you believe is important and/or address any areas of concern that will be beneficial to the Admissions Committee in considering your application (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, academic performance, or extenuating personal circumstances). (250 words)
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 McCombs does not stipulate that you can only discuss a problem area in this essay, you have some leeway to share anything 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.
Because the question can be interpreted rather broadly, however, the door is technically open 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 against trying to fill this space simply 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.