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Last year, one of our observations about the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan’s main essay question was that the 400-word limit did not offer a lot of room to expound on the topic. Thankfully, applicants also had a second essay (albeit also quite short, at just 250 words) in which to address their professional aspirations. This season, Michigan Ross has tightened the reins even more, asking applicants to provide 100-word responses (or shorter) to three “complete the sentence” prompts and to write a 300-word-maximum essay answering three career-related questions that actually encompass four topics. The scope of the main essay prompt has also been drastically narrowed, from a discussion of a personal event or attribute of which the applicant was proud to a rather prescribed rundown of the candidate’s career goals and plans to attain them.
This clear shift from a more touchy-feely focus to an inarguably pragmatic one seems to indicate a desire on the part of Admissions Director Soojin Kwon and her team to get straight to the heart of what makes the school’s applicants tick, without a lot of extraneous fluff (or any, for that matter). With more than a decade of experience as the head of admissions at Michigan Ross, Kwon undoubtedly has a handle on what to look for in candidates, and this new approach was likely engineered to elicit this information more efficiently. In a recent blog post, Kwon stated that the impetus behind the changes was a desire to “get to know more about you than we would in a traditional essay where you’d talk at length about one topic.” Our advice on how to ensure you deliver what the admissions committee wants follows…
Select one prompt from each group. Respond to your selected prompts using 100 words or fewer (<100 words each; 300 words total).
I want people to know that I:
I turned an idea into action when I:
I made a difference when I:
I showed my resilience when I:
I was humbled when:
I am out of my comfort zone when:
I was aware that I am different when:
I find it challenging when people:
A valuable thing I have taught someone is:
Although these prompts are presented as short-answer questions on the Michigan Ross application, they are unquestionably mini essays, with each one offering you approximately four to five sentences in which to present your selected story. We recommend starting by reading through all the options for the three groups and considering each one thoroughly in turn. Do not simply pick the first three that catch your eye—you may have a much more compelling answer possible for a prompt you might not initially be drawn to, so you could do yourself a disservice by dismissing any out of hand, without proper contemplation. Naturally, you will be able to think of a fitting response to certain prompts much more easily than to others, but again, do not let this be the primary reason behind your final choice of which ones to complete. Take time to devise an answer—however meager in some cases—to each one, and then step back and look at all your options.
Hearken back to Kwon’s statement about wanting to “get to know more about you” and think about which response in each group feels most authentic to and revelatory of who you are as an individual. You want to be able to “own” your answer—as we like to say—meaning that no other applicant could write the same thing you do. Using the second prompt of the first group as an example (“I turned an idea into action when I…”), writing something like “dabble with different ideas and test hypotheses in my efforts to make an impact” would be far too general a response and could easily be stated by a large number of applicants. Instead, something much more specific like “knew no one wanted to launch yet another charity walk, but I was confident that a charity pie-eating contest would draw an enthusiastic market” would stand out for its originality and paint a clearer picture of the candidate who wrote it.
Next, look at your top three choices thus far and see if they are complementary of one another. If you feel that any two seem repetitive or focus on the same general idea, story, or area of your life, you may want to replace one. Your goal is to have each of your three responses reveal something new and interesting about you. Another factor to consider is everything the admissions committee will learn about you through the other portions of your application; you do not want to waste this opportunity to paint a well-rounded picture of yourself by repeating something the school will already know. So, to recap, strive to make sure that your three responses (1) genuinely reflect who you are as a candidate and are as specific to you alone as possible; (2) are complementary of each other, meaning that each one reveals something different about you; and (3) do not discuss a part of your profile that is already well explained or represented elsewhere in your application.
Please share your short-term and long-term career goals. What skills/strengths do you have that will be relevant to your career goals? How will Ross prepare you for your goals? (300 words)
As we noted earlier, Michigan Ross has refined its career-related essay query a bit by narrowing the scope from “what is your desired career path and why” to these more direct questions. Obviously, the admissions committee wants specific information and has adjusted its prompt to remove any ambiguity. Explained Kwon in the aforementioned blog post, “In previous years, some applicants wrote about their long-term career goals. Others wrote about their immediate plans after B-school. We want to learn about both. So, we thought we’d ask you to spell it out.” With just 300 words, you do not have any space to waste, so focus on presenting your answers as clearly and thoroughly as possible, and give the admissions committee what it wants!
To craft a successful essay response to this prompt, you will need to accomplish a few things (though not necessarily in the order we are about to present them). One, clearly present both your immediate post-MBA goal and your longer-term aspiration. Two, ensure that the connection between these two objectives is clear, and if not, provide appropriate context or explanation to reveal the connection and why the transition from one to the other is reasonable and attainable for you. Three, describe the skills and background you already possess that position you for success in your desired roles and industry, along with those you still need to attain via an MBA education (thereby demonstrating your understanding of what is required to reach your stated positions and thrive there). And four, identify the resources and experiences Michigan Ross offers (and, ideally, that other top business schools do not) that will allow you to gain the abilities and exposure you currently lack. We explain these concepts and how to achieve them in more detail in our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which is available free of charge. Download your complimentary copy today!
And for a thorough exploration of Michigan Ross’s academic program/merits, social life, unique offerings, and other key characteristics, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, which is also available for free.
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.
This optional essay prompt may start out sounding like an invitation to discuss anything more you wish to share with the admissions committee, but a closer look—paying particular attention to the word “only” and the nature of the examples offered—seems to restrict the possible topics to problem areas and auxiliary elements of your profile that may not be readily conveyed elsewhere in your application. The additional directive about bullet points seems to be a not-too-veiled implication that the school wants you to focus on imparting key information rather than offering a detailed and longwinded explanation of the issue in question. This is not the time or place to share another cool story or otherwise try to impress or pander to the admissions committee. If you do not truly need to explain an issue or potentially confusing element of your candidacy (a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc.), we do not recommend that you submit an option essay; if you do have issues to clarify, keep things concise. In our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, including multiple examples.
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.