We at mbaMission often tell candidates, “You cannot turn a bad idea into a good essay.” We insist on taking our clients through a lengthy brainstorming process—starting with a thorough questionnaire—to discover the stories that make them distinct. As you uncover your stories, consider each one from as many different angles as possible. Doing so will not only help ensure you understand the various “weapons in your arsenal” but also provide you with maximum flexibility, considering that MBA admissions committees ask questions that vary dramatically from school to school.
For example, an experience coaching a baseball team at an underfunded high school may have multiple dimensions, such as the following:
- Creatively motivating an underachieving team and changing attitudes, despite losses
- Initiating and leading fund-raising efforts so that each player could afford proper equipment
- Mentoring a struggling player and seeing an improvement in his/her on-field performance
- Helping a player deal with a family issue off the field
- Recruiting other coaches and then working to improve a team’s on-field performance
These are just a few of the stories that could be gleaned through brainstorming, proving that considering your experiences from various angles can help you discover multiple unique approaches to your essays.
In addition, many MBA candidates—whether they work as bankers or lawyers, in internal corporate finance or corporate strategy—feel they must tell a “deal story” in their application essays. Although discussing a deal can be a good idea, what is vital is showing your distinct impact on the deal in question—you are the central character, not the deal. A straightforward story about how you dutifully completed your work and steadily supported others as a deal became a reality will not likely be very compelling. Further, the important thing is that the admissions committee experience your personality, not your spreadsheets.
Ask yourself the following questions to ensure your story is truly about you:
- What did you do that was beyond expectations for your role? Did you grow into additional responsibilities at a crucial time?
- Did any particular interactions take place in which you used your personality to change the dynamic, thereby ensuring the deal’s progress or success?
- Did you need to take a principled stand at any moment or speak out on behalf of a needful party?
- Did you help others overcome any corporate or international cultural barriers?
These questions can get you started, but the point remains: do not simply offer any deal; instead, provide insight into your deal.