UNC Kenan-Flagler Essay Analysis, 2019–2020

UNC Kenan Flagler - mbaMission

*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.  

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School is offering a mix of old and new essay prompts this season, having maintained its rather traditional career-focused first essay while replacing its second required essay question with a trio of new options. Rather than having to discuss a core value they share with the school, applicants can choose the prompt they feel gives them the best opportunity to convey the nonprofessional side of their candidacy. And although the word count has been slashed in half (from 300 to 150), the school’s optional essay still provides candidates with an outlet for explaining a problematic element of their profile or augmenting their application with potentially key information. Our more in-depth analysis of Kenan-Flagler’s 2019–2020 essay questions follows.

Essay 1 (Required): Please respond to the questions below that will assist us in learning more about you (500 words):

  • Tell us what your immediate career goals are and how you will benefit personally and professionally from earning an MBA at Kenan-Flagler Business School.
  • As the business world continues to evolve, circumstances can change and guide you in a different direction. Should your goals that you provided above not transpire, what other opportunities would you explore?

Kenan-Flagler’s career-related essay question focuses strictly on applicants’ initial post-MBA job. Business schools know only too well that students regularly change their long-term professional plans after being exposed through the MBA experience to new people, information, and options and after learning new skills and ways of looking at the world and themselves. Given that reality, asking about candidates’ long-term goals can in some ways be a waste of time, if an admissions committee is not simply doing so to see evidence that the applicant has put serious thought into their plan for attending business school. With the first part of this prompt, Kenan-Flagler wants to know that you have thoroughly considered this next step in your career and are pursuing an MBA for very clear, specific reasons—not because you feel you are supposed to or because you are following in a parent’s footsteps, and definitely not because you do not know what else to do at this juncture in your life! (Believe it or not, these are all actual reasons some people choose to earn the degree.) Kenan-Flagler, like all top programs, wants engaged, driven, and focused individuals who are ready to be an active part of its MBA experience and to do big things with the knowledge and skills they acquire from it. Although the school does not ask you to lay out your background and explain how you reached this choice, providing some basic context for your goal is a good idea (just be succinct!) to ensure the admissions committee understands that your plans are reasonable and fitting for you.

Without posing the question directly, the school is also looking for an explanation of “Why Kenan-Flagler?” The admissions committee wants evidence that you have researched its MBA program thoroughly enough to have pinpointed resources and offerings that directly align with your interests and needs—and not just academically and professionally. This is the part of our essay analysis in which we once again repeat our advice about getting to know a school beyond its website and published materials. Visit campus, sit in on a class, and connect with students and alumni. Identify clubs, events, courses, initiatives, and other opportunities that speak to who you are as an individual and to who you want to be by the time you graduate and going forward in your career. Ideally, Kenan-Flagler offers one or more particular resources or experiences that you believe are vital to you in achieving your goals and are not available elsewhere. When you include this information in your essay, do not simply provide a list but explain how you will engage with these elements of the MBA program and what you expect to gain from them.

With career goals essays, candidates often feel they must be totally unequivocal in their stated aspirations, but with the second part of this essay prompt, Kenan-Flagler is giving applicants room to speculate on and discuss other options. The admissions committee knows that sometimes the best-laid plans do not play out as expected or may even yield unintended results, and the school wants to know not only that you are prepared to switch gears and recommit to a different path, if necessary, but also that you are fully capable of doing so. The key is to show that your alternate goal is just as connected to your skills, interests, and ambitions as your original plan and does not come “out of left field,” so to speak. For example, you would probably have a difficult time convincing the admissions committee that your short-term goal is to work in technology consulting while your alternate goal would be to work in human resources, because these industries, for the most part, require entirely different skills and personalities. Just be mindful that both goals you present must be plausible and achievable. 

This prompt encompasses a few core elements of a traditional personal statement essay, so we encourage you to download our free mbaMission Personal Statement Guide for more in-depth guidance. This complimentary publication offers detailed advice on approaching and framing these subjects, along with multiple illustrative examples. Be sure to claim your copy today.

Essay 2 (Required):  Please select one topic below and respond to the prompt. (250 words)

Topic 1: What is one thing that we do not know about you that you want us to know?

This prompt really could not be more straightforward, but its open-endedness may initially make it challenging for many candidates. If you can share only one additional bit of information about yourself with the Kenan-Flagler admissions committee, how in the world do you choose, right? Let us reassure you that this one essay is not that make-or-break, and we doubt that anything you could submit here would end up being the single factor that altered your road to acceptance to the school’s MBA program. So do not think that this essay has a strict “right” answer. We encourage you to first consider the other two Essay 2 options to see if either one might be a better opportunity for you to communicate a key element of your candidacy to the school. If not, spend some time thinking about what the admissions committee will already know about you from your other essay(s) and other parts of your application. You want whatever you discuss in this essay to complement that information and help provide the school with a more well-rounded impression of you. Do not use this essay to pander to the school or make a general pitch for your candidacy or why you need an MBA. The focus needs to be on you and on giving the admissions committee a new window into your profile. Consider elements of your personality that you feel are particularly revelatory of who you are as an individual (e.g., values, hobbies, skills) as well as significant instances from your past that illustrate something about you or influenced the person you are today (e.g., accomplishments, excursions, milestones). The idea about which you feel most enthusiastic is likely your best choice and should also be the easiest to write about. 

Topic 2: Provide us an example of a time you were able to be creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it? Did you achieve the results you were looking for?

Although “Think outside the box” has become a fairly tired cliché at this point, the metaphor’s central message is still valid and is a proven path to developing novel ideas and products. With this question, the school is interested in learning about your spirit of innovation. What situations spark your inventive side? What kinds of ideas do you have? What is your method for developing your ideas? How do you then implement them? Do you enjoy being challenged in this way? You have only 250 words with which to address these underlying facets of Kenan-Flagler’s prompt, which is a rather restrictive limit, but do your best to incorporate as many of these ideas as possible. A narrative approach should allow you to present the situation in a compelling way—from inspiration to outcome—while conveying the emotions you experienced as you navigated it. 

Topic 3: Tell us about a time when you felt or witnessed someone being marginalized. How did you feel? What did you take away from the experience and how has it encouraged you to be an inclusive leader?

Kenan-Flagler appears to be acknowledging the flip side of promoting diversity, namely, defending diversity. The admissions committee wants to know not only that you understand the benefits of being inclusive, but also that you understand the harm caused by unfairly excluding individuals. Note that the question is not asking about a time when you acted as an inclusive leader but rather about a time when you saw someone doing the opposite and were affected by it in a way that has subsequently influenced your beliefs about how a leader should act. You will obviously need to describe the situation you witnessed, of course, but try to minimize how much time and detail you devote to this portion of the essay, and do not dedicate space to blaming the person or group doing the marginalizing. Make sure to spend the majority of your mere 250-word allotment on your emotional reaction to the incident and the leadership ideas it then inspired and/or altered.

Optional Essay:  Is there any additional information not presented elsewhere in your application that you would like the admissions committee to consider? (150 words) Optional areas to address include:

  •   If you have not had coursework in the core business subjects (calculus, microeconomics, statistics, financial accounting), how will you prepare yourself?
  •   Inconsistent academics, gaps in work, or low standardized test scores
  •   Choice of recommenders

In general, we believe that the best use of the optional essay is to explain confusing or problematic issues in your candidacy, which this prompt allows, and which the inclusion of the illustrative bullet points seems to encourage. So, if you need to, use this opportunity to address any questions the admissions committee might have about your profile. If you elect to take this route, consider downloading our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on how best to approach the optional essay to mitigate problem areas in your application, along with multiple examples.

Although Kenan-Flagler leaves the door open for you to discuss something in this essay other than a problem area, if you believe you have additional information the admissions committee must truly have to be able to evaluate you fully and effectively, consider using Essay 2 to discuss it instead (via Topic 1). But if you have a strong story for one of the other Essay 2 options, then this would constitute your opportunity to share that supplemental information. That said, we caution you against submitting a response to this prompt just because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you, though. Remember, with each additional essay you write, you are asking the admissions committee to do extra work on your behalf, so you must make sure that added time is warranted. If you decide to use this essay to impart information that if omitted would render your application incomplete, strive to keep your submission brief and on point.

Optional Re-Applicant Essay: We appreciate your continued interest in UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. The admissions committee requires a complete application in addition to a brief essay about how your application differentiates from when you applied last time. Please include new information pertaining to your application such as new test scores, recent promotion or other areas that demonstrate how you have strengthened your candidacy. (100 words)

Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Kenan-Flagler wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because an MBA from its program is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.

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