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The University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business has made some fairly notable changes from the single essay prompt it has used the past two application seasons. This year, the school poses two essay questions (required), and rather than asking candidates about their short- and long-term goals and how they expect Marshall to provide the necessary resources to help achieve them, it requests that applicants clearly outline just their immediate short-term aspiration, with no specific reference to the Marshall program and little room for further discussion. Candidates must focus on the Marshall program in the school’s second required essay but are tasked with addressing how they expect to contribute to the MBA experience, rather than what the school can do for them. Overall, the queries are largely straightforward, and applicants should be able to rather painlessly provide what the admissions committee is seeking. Read on for our further analysis of the program’s prompts for this season.
Essay 1: What is your specific, immediate short-term career goal upon completion of your MBA? Please include an intended position, function, and industry in your response. (word limit: 100)
Quite simply, Marshall wants to know that you have a plan in mind and are not just applying to business school with the expectation of figuring everything out later, once you are enrolled in the program. Many MBA applicants have a long-term vision for their career, of course, but with this prompt, Marshall is asking you to prove you have really given thought to the necessary steps in between. Your goal in this short essay is therefore to demonstrate that you do indeed have a plan, not just broad ambition. The school’s other key concern is whether it is truly the right one to help you attain your stated goal and that you have done the necessary research to discover and confirm this for yourself. Marshall has very little impetus to admit you—and you have very little to attend it—if you will not ultimately be equipped or positioned to pursue your intended goal once you graduate! For example, if you aspire to work in a field or position for which Marshall is not known to have particularly strong courses, professors, or other offerings, or if you want to work for a company that has no recruiting history with the program, it might not be the best choice to get you where you want to go right away.
At just 100 words maximum, your response needs to be fairly forthright. Avoid any generalities and vagueness. Do your research to ensure that Marshall can indeed position you to attain what you intend, and simply spell things out. Given that this essay involves at least one key element of a traditional personal statement, we encourage you to download your free copy of our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which provides further advice (with examples!) of how to effectively craft such essays.
Essay 2: At Marshall, we take pride in the fact that our students work collaboratively, both inside and outside the classroom, to create a culture, a community, and an environment that truly defines what we call the Trojan Family. Please describe the contributions you expect to make to your classmates during your time at USC. How will they benefit from your presence in the program? (word limit: 500)
First, before you begin writing or even brainstorming for this essay, familiarize yourself with the characteristics and vibe of Marshalls’ Trojan Family. As you do, pay special attention to the aspects and areas that speak to or connect with you personally in some way. And, as the prompt encourages, look beyond course work and academic offerings. Business school is meant to be a comprehensive environment and experience that enriches students in ways not just related directly to business in the conventional sense, and perhaps your greatest potential for contribution lies in one of these areas. If you are a quant wizard, you can of course help your fellow students with class work and projects. If you have a depth of knowledge in a particular business area or industry, you could serve as a kind of subject matter expert for those around you in the program. And if you are particularly funny or creative, you may be the ideal fit to lead an extracurricular group or play a significant role in a nonacademic project or event. Again, work to cultivate a true understanding of all aspects of the Marshall program and identify the areas that catch your attention most. Like all other application essay questions, this one has no “right” answer, so do not try to guess and deliver what you think the school wants to hear. Authenticity and enthusiasm are the keys to your success with this essay.
Optional Essay: Please provide any additional information that will enhance our understanding of your candidacy for the program. (word limit: 250)
In general, we believe candidates should use a school’s optional essay to explain confusing or problematic issues in their candidacy, which this prompt does indeed allow. So, if you need to, use this opportunity to address any questions the admissions committee might have about your profile—a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, a gap in your work experience, etc. Consider downloading our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice (and multiple examples) on how best to approach the optional essay to mitigate any problem areas in your application.
However, Marshall clearly leaves the door open for you to discuss any other information about your candidacy that you feel may be pivotal or particularly compelling—that you think the admissions committee truly needs to know to be able to evaluate you fully and effectively. We caution you against submitting a response to this prompt just because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you, though. Remember that with each additional essay you write, you are asking the admissions committee to do extra work on your behalf, so you must make sure that added time is warranted. If you decide to use this essay to impart information that you believe would render your application incomplete if omitted, strive to keep your submission brief and on point.