We are living in complex, interesting times, and the changes the UCLA Anderson School of Management has made to its application essay questions this year appear to derive from that. The school is requiring applicants to provide just one essay, rather than two, but its new single question drills much deeper than its more traditional “long- and short-term career goals” and “community fit” prompts from last season did (short-answer-style queries within the application now cover these topics), asking candidates to discuss an effect the events of the past year have had on them. In addition, the admissions committee has slashed its maximum word count yet again, from 550 total to a mere 250 (versus 800 in 2018), meaning that applicants must be concise and direct in their response and leaving no space for extended philosophical expositions or analysis. Candidates might therefore be tempted to use the school’s optional essay to squeeze in more information about themselves, but they must be prudent about doing so because Anderson very clearly states that this submission is for “extenuating circumstances” only. Read on for our full analysis.
Required Essay: How have events of the past year influenced the impact you would like to make in your community, career, or both? (250 words maximum)
Oh, boy. Countless books could be written about the repercussions and fallout of everything that has occurred in the past 12 months. And Anderson is asking you to distill your thoughts on it all down to just 250 words. Where do you even start?
In an email the admissions department sent out about its new essay prompt, it states, “The events you discuss could be anything in your personal or professional life, or in the broader society,” and the school’s application requirements page confirms, “We welcome reflection on any events that influenced you in your personal or professional lives, or in society in general.” So, you are not restricted to choosing just a single event, nor must you focus on only those you suspect are most prominent in people’s minds, but rather on those that have most significantly affected or resonated with you personally. This might therefore include a situation or incident that the media (news or social) has never mentioned and that relates exclusively to your life. Do not feel that the admissions committee is expecting you to weigh in on any specific occurrence or development that has been widely covered in the public eye and will therefore view you as uncaring or out of touch if you do not. Anderson is seeking to get to know you better as an individual and to get an idea of what inspires and motivates you, why, and in what way. To successfully provide this information, you need to be authentic and sincere.
Selecting the most relevant events is only half the equation, though, if not less. Anderson is even more interested in hearing about how these events have altered, inspired, or otherwise contributed to your aspirations for the future. In the aforementioned admissions email, candidates are encouraged to read the school’s new brochure in preparing to write their essay. The brochure asserts, “At UCLA Anderson, we’re not content with how things are; instead, we look to the future to discover and chart what will be,” and adds, “Our faculty and students provoke new thinking and experimentation with bold ideas.” Clearly, Anderson seeks individuals who want to have an impact on the world around them and effect positive change. The specific events you choose to write about are not as important as the subsequent effect they have had on your viewpoints and goals.
In your essay, then, you will need to clearly convey what your chosen events taught or revealed to you and then show a direct connection between these insights and how you now plan to interact with the world. Anderson wants to see that you are thoughtful, reflective, and motivated. You do not need to have a set plan in place for achieving your goals just yet (ideally, Anderson will play a central role in helping you do so), but you do need to have—and communicate—a concrete vision of the result you hope to facilitate. What kind of impact do you aspire to have, on whom, to what end?
Optional: Are there any extenuating circumstances in your profile about which the Admissions committee should be aware. (250 words maximum)
Anderson’s option essay is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, or a gap in your work experience. Do not simply try to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. The admissions committee states very clearly on its application requirements page, “No preference is given in the evaluation process to those who choose to respond to this optional essay, so please use your best judgment.” So, no matter how tempted you might be, this is not the place to reuse a strong essay you wrote for a different school or to offer an anecdote or two that you were unable to include in your required essay. However, if you truly feel that you must emphasize or explain something that would render your application incomplete if omitted, write a very brief piece on this key aspect of your profile. But before you do, we suggest downloading your free copy of the mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on deciding whether to take advantage of the optional essay and how best to do so (with multiple sample essays), if needed.
Reapplicant Essay(s): (For applicants who applied for the MBA program in the previous two application years.) Reapplicants may answer one or both of the essay questions above as options, and they must provide additional updates within text boxes given in the application for any new test scores, career developments, or other changes since their last application.
Rather than asking reapplicants to provide an update on their candidacy and reassert their interest in Anderson’s MBA program, this year, the school is inviting them to write either or both of the essays first-time applicants will submit. This seems to underscore the importance of the new required essay question and the admissions committee’s interest in learning about this aspect of their candidates’ character.
Anderson also poses two queries within its application that we wanted to offer some guidance on as well. Although presented differently, these prompts essentially echo what the school asked last year in one of its required essays, and together, they cover some of the basic elements of a traditional personal statement. We therefore encourage you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, in which we offer a detailed discussion of how to approach such queries and craft an effective response, along with multiple illustrative examples.
Describe your short-term and long-term post-MBA career goals. (600 characters)
With this rather no-nonsense query about your expectations for where you will go with your MBA after graduating, Anderson simply wants you to spell out what you have in mind as you approach this phase of your life and career. The school’s limit of 600 characters means that you have roughly 120 words with which to respond to this prompt (compared with 150 words when this was a required essay). So, avoid going into excessive detail about your past, but be sure to offer just enough information to provide context and support for your stated goals so that the progression from one stage of your professional career to the next is clear and reasonable.
How can UCLA Anderson help you achieve your goals? (1,000 characters maximum)
Now that your goals have been presented, here you must explain how being a UCLA Anderson MBA student is key to your achieving them. For this question, the school is actually allowing a little more space within which to answer than it has in the past—roughly 200 words, rather than 150. The admissions committee wants to see that you have dedicated just as much thought, if not more, to why you want to study at UCLA Anderson as you have to where you want to go in your career. Think carefully about what you need to learn or experience (with respect to skills, network, and knowledge base) to be able to reach your stated aspirations and then detail which specific resources and opportunities at the school you believe will allow you to do so. Your goal is to convince the admissions committee that Anderson is the missing link between who and where you are now and who and where you envision yourself in the future.
To learn more about UCLA Anderson’s academic program, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, standout faculty members, and other key features, download a complimentary copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Anderson School of Management.
The Next Step—Mastering Your UCLA Anderson 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 Guides to spur you along! Download your free copy of the UCLA Anderson Interview Guides today.