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The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan must have liked the essay questions it used last year, because it has made only the smallest of tweaks to them for this season. Previously, the school gave applicants nine options for its 100-word short answers—this year, candidates have just six. One has to wonder whether the admissions committee received an abundance of responses to the prompts that were kept, while those that were largely ignored by applicants were discarded. Similarly, Michigan Ross has maintained a second 300-word career goal essay but has refined it, dropping verbiage about long-term goals and asking only about applicants’ short-term goals. Again, we will make an inference here: Michigan Ross is saying that most long-term goals are so vague and prone to change that it is interested in learning only about the short term, which the school can more directly influence. Anyway, those are the tweaks; our analysis of the essay prompts themselves follows. . .
Part 1: Short Answer Questions
Select one prompt from each group of the three groups below. Respond to each selected prompt in 100 words or fewer (<100 words each; 300 words total).
I want people to know that I:
I made a difference when I:
I was humbled when:
I am out of my comfort zone when:
I was aware that I was different when:
I find it challenging when people:
Interested in learning how to tackle this year’s Michigan Ross application essay? Watch the short video below before you continue reading the full analysis!
In a blog post last year, Michigan Ross Managing Director of Full-Time Admissions Soojin Kwon said of the then new short-answer prompts, “[We want to] get to know more about you than we would in a traditional essay where you’d talk at length about one topic.” So, we encourage you to thoughtfully brainstorm and carefully consider which response in each group feels most authentic to and revelatory of who you are as an individual. You might be tempted with a 100-word response to just start writing, but thinking strategically about who you are as an applicant is critical to making the most of these “short answers,” which we think of more as mini essays.
We recommend starting by reading through all the options for the three groups and considering each one thoroughly in turn. You want to be able to “own” your answer—as we like to say—meaning that no other applicant could write the same thing as you do. Using the second prompt of the first group as an example (“I made a difference when I …”), writing something like “committed the entirety of myself to a public service project” would be far too general a response and could easily be stated by a large number of applicants. Although this person may very well have committed him/herself to this project in a fiercely original manner, the reader does not have a window into how he/she performed. Instead, something much more specific like “…ignored the objections of countless peers and launched a charity pie-eating contest” would stand out for its originality and paint a clearer picture of the candidate who wrote it with respect to his/her values, persistence with an unpopular idea, and sense of humor in executing an idea. We suggest that in treating this as a mini essay, you use a narrative approach to allow the reader to enter into your story. With only five sentences (or so), you can still craft a visual of how you conduct yourself and engage and guide a reader with a compelling story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you choose to simply discuss a trait without a narrative, at worst, you will risk bragging, and at best, you will waste an opportunity for the admissions reader to get to know you.
When you are done writing, take a look at your two responses and see if they are complementary of one another. If you feel they seem repetitive or focus on the same general idea, story, or area of your life, you will likely want to rewrite one. Your goal is to have each response reveal something new and interesting about you. Another factor to consider is everything the admissions committee will already know about you from the other portions of your application; you do not want to waste this opportunity to paint a well-rounded picture of yourself by repeating information the school already has.
So, to recap, strive to make sure your responses (1) genuinely reflect who you are as a candidate and are as specific to you alone as possible; (2) present a narrative that allows the reader to walk in your shoes, so to speak; (3) are complementary of each other, with each one revealing something different about you; and (4) do not discuss a part of your profile that is already well explained or represented elsewhere in your application.
Part 2: Essay
Michigan Ross is a place where people from all backgrounds with different career goals can thrive. Please share your short-term career goal. Why is this the right choice for you? (300 words)
With just 300 words, you do not have any space to waste here, so focus on presenting your answer as clearly and thoroughly as possible—and give the admissions committee what it wants! That said, this is a rare instance where we suggest giving the school a tiny amount of what it has not specifically asked for. Stating your goals in a vacuum, without any connection to where you have been, can be a little bit confusing for the reader, especially if you are a career changer. Imagine you plan to move from consumer marketing to equity research for consumer goods companies after graduating. If you were to simply state, “Post-MBA, I want to join a boutique equity research firm” as your opening sentence, your reader could be left wondering where this interest comes from. But if you were to instead write, “For the past four years, I have lived and breathed Fruity Pebbles in a way I would not have believed humanly possible. I now understand how the tiniest increase in the price of coconut oil or a ten-cent Cocoa Pebbles coupon can affect my product’s margins. As a result, I have become obsessed with the big data that drive consumer goods and want to spend the next phase of my career in equity research, helping investors to understand the riddle.” These are two very different answers, all because of some helpful context. From here, you can delve deeper into why equity research is right for you—how you intend to grow in your role and further develop your passion for the position.
Michigan Ross does not ask you why its program is the right one for you, but we encourage you to nevertheless note two or three resources at the school that would enable you to make this professional goal a reality. Remember to not just tout stereotypes but truly integrate your mention of these resources into your essay in a way that shows true professional need. 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.
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.