University of Cambridge Judge Business School Essay Analysis, 2019–2020

University of Cambridge Judge Business School

*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.  

Once again, the MBA application essay questions for the Cambridge Judge Business School remain unchanged. Candidates must provide a basic—and somewhat brief—personal statement, share a significant failure they have learned from, and discuss a past teamwork situation and its subsequent takeaways. In total, applicants have just 900 words with which to work, but the school’s combination of essay prompts covers a good balance of the professional and the personal, so that candidates should be able to effectively create a well-rounded impression of themselves for the admissions committee. Read on for our full essay analysis, with our tips on how to approach each question and create your best possible essays for your Judge application this year. 

Essay 1: Please provide a personal statement. It should not exceed 500 words and must address the following questions:

  • What are your short and long term career objectives and what skills/characteristics do you already have that will help you achieve them?
  • What actions will you take before and during the MBA to contribute to your career outcome?
  • If you are unsure of your post-MBA career path, how will the MBA equip you for the future?

As the school itself states in the prompt, this is a request for a rather traditional personal statement, so our first recommendation is to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This complimentary guide offers detailed advice on approaching and framing these subjects, along with multiple illustrative examples.

More specifically with respect to Judge’s multipart question, the school wants to know not only the basic facts of your career aspirations but also how you view your readiness for and active role in achieving them. How equipped are you already, and how much closer to your goals will earning a business degree from Judge move you? What are you already planning to do on your own both before you enroll and while in the program that will ensure you graduate with the skills, experiences, knowledge, and/or connections you need to build a bridge between where you are now and where you want go? Be sure to refer to specific resources and offerings at the school that connect directly to these areas of improvement so that the admissions committee knows you have thoroughly considered and researched your options and determined that Judge is the best fit for your particular needs and interests. The school also wants to see evidence that you are cognizant you must be an active participant in your own success and are ready and willing to contribute, rather than relying on the program and its name/reputation to solely move you forward on your career trajectory. 

Essay 2: What did you learn from your most spectacular failure? (200 words)

Failures are important learning opportunities. With this prompt, the admissions committee wants to know what you take away from situations in which things do not turn out as you had planned or hoped. Do you place blame elsewhere and try to make excuses? Or do you view these sorts of experiences with an analytical eye, using what they can teach you to achieve better results with similar ventures going forward? That a world-class business school would be interested in candidates who are eager and open-minded learners only makes sense. Judge has been posing this particular essay prompt since 2010, so it clearly touches on a topic the admissions committee views as pivotal in identifying applicants they feel will be successful in its MBA program.

With respect to the word “spectacular” here, the school is not hoping to hear about a time when you were exceptionally embarrassed in front of a vast audience but instead about an instance that had an incredibly significant impact on you. Perhaps, for example, you were blindsided by the shortfall, having previously thought you were on the right track to success—this might have made the failure particularly stunning and memorable for you. The scale or scope of the situation in an objective sense is not as important as how affecting and influential it was for you personally.

Note that Judge does not specify that the story you share in this essay must be a professional one, so explore all your personal/family/community life experiences for what you believe is truly the most “spectacular.” You may want to consider your options for this essay and the third essay simultaneously, because if you select a career-related incident to discuss in this one, for balance, you might want to draw on a personal story for the other, and vice versa. However, this kind of distribution works best if it is not forced—the first criterion should always be whether the narrative is the most fitting one for the essay’s prompt; if two options seem equally fitting, then you may be able to create a kind of consonance.  

With a limit of only 200 words, you cannot waste any by starting with a bland statement like “My most spectacular failure was [fill in the blank].” Instead, leap directly into the action of your story and immediately convey what was at stake in the situation. After all, the opportunity for true failure exists only when you have something to lose. Next, briefly explain how you failed, and then dedicate the majority of the essay to demonstrating what you took away from the experience. Avoid clichés such as gaining resilience or learning to be humble and show that you can be honest about your weaknesses and blind spots. Convey that the information, insight, and/or skills you acquired via the shortcoming have changed how you view or operate in the world in a positive way—and that you know how to apply these learnings in new situations.

Essay 3: Describe a situation where you had to work jointly with others to achieve a common goal. What did you learn from the experience? (up to 200 words)

Judge poses three essay questions to its candidates, and two of them have to do with learning from a life experience. Clearly, the school is seeking individuals who absorb lessons by interacting with and participating actively in the world around them, not just by listening to an instructor in a classroom. As a student at an international business school—one with roughly 50 nationalities represented in a class of approximately 200 people—you will naturally be enmeshed in a widely diverse environment, and Judge wants to hear about your mind-set and working style in such situations. As for Essay 2, this prompt does not stipulate which part of your life you must draw from for content, so hearken back to our advice for the previous essay with respect to selecting between a professional story or a more personal one. 

In business school—as in life in general—you will encounter people who think differently from you, operate according to different values, and react differently to the same stimuli. And success in an endeavor often involves evaluating and even incorporating the views of others in one’s efforts. At Judge, you will be surrounded every day by individuals who are unlike you in a multitude of ways, and you will need to work in tandem with and alongside these individuals when analyzing case studies, completing group projects, and participating in other activities both inside and outside the classroom. The school is clearly seeking evidence that you are capable of listening, reflecting, learning, and growing. If you are not, it might assume that you simply do not have the necessary qualities to become an integral part of its next incoming class, let alone a standout manager later in your career. 

To craft an effective essay response to this query, describe via a narrative approach the nature of your collaboration with the others on your team, showing both what you contributed and what others brought to the dynamic (though much more briefly), and which elements became long-term takeaways that still serve you today. Consider describing a kind of “before and after” situation in which the information or input you received from your teammate(s) influenced your thoughts and actions as you worked toward your shared goal. An essay that demonstrates your openness to collaborating with peers in pursuit of a common goal, your ability to contribute to such projects, and your capacity to naturally learn from such experiences is almost certain to make an admissions reader take notice.

Business schools outside the United States are increasingly popular among MBA hopefuls, and we at mbaMission are proud to offer our latest publications: Program Primers for international b-schools. In these snapshots we discuss core curriculums, elective courses, locations, school facilities, rankings, and more. Click here to download your free copy of the Cambridge Judge Business School Program Primer.

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