*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season.
In announcing the school’s application essay prompts for this season, Soojin Kwon, the director of full-time admissions at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, acknowledges that the questions posed last season were effective in coaxing information from applicants that proved useful in the evaluation process. Understandably, then, the prompts remain almost exactly the same, except for a slight tweak in one of the short-answer options. Rather than the intro phrase “I find it challenging when people,” candidates can now choose “I was challenged when,” which would indeed change the potential content and angle of their responses. Discussing a personal experience with difficulty or setback is very different from pinpointing an aspect of others’ behavior that is troublesome to deal with. Ross’s longer “official” essay again asks applicants to share and explain their short-term professional aspirations, thereby showing that they have a plan in mind and have given serious thought to why they need an MBA to achieve their goal. Our full analysis of Ross’s 2019–2020 essay prompts follows.
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!
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 was challenged when:
In a past blog post about the school’s short-answer prompts (which were new at the time), Kwon asserted, “[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.” And this week, she noted, “We encourage you to share personal examples in these short answers to allow us to learn more about who you are as a person.” Clearly, the admissions committee is hoping these short answers—which we tend to think of more as mini essays—will reveal distinctive facets of applicants’ personalities in a straightforward manner, unencumbered by extraneous text. Given the mere 100-word maximum, you might be tempted to just jump in and start writing, but thinking strategically about who you are as an applicant is critical here.
We encourage you to first consider very carefully which option of each pair feels more authentic to and revelatory of who you are as an individual. Then, thoroughly and thoughtfully brainstorm to identify your strongest possible responses. 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 “gave back to my community by volunteering with the local homeless shelter” would be far too general a response and could likely be stated by multiple applicants. Instead, something much more specific like “dedicated every Saturday morning for three years to helping cook and serve breakfast at the local homeless shelter, where I also instituted a bulk-shopping plan that saved hundreds of dollars each year on supplies” would stand out for its originality and paint a clearer picture of the candidate who wrote it with respect to their values, dedication, and fiscal creativity. We suggest that in treating this as a mini essay, you consider using a narrative approach to paint a dynamic picture of how you conduct yourself and to engage your reader with a compelling story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you choose to simply discuss a trait without a narrative, you could risk bragging, and you will certainly waste an opportunity for the admissions reader to get to know you in more depth.
When you are done writing, take a look at your responses and see if they are complementary of one another. If 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 available elsewhere in your profile.
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 in a different part of 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 computer goods and want to spend the next phase of my career in equity research, helping investors 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 specific 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.