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University of Cambridge Judge Business School Essay Analysis, 2020–2021

University of Cambridge Judge Business SchoolThis season, a number of top business schools have cut back their application essay requirements, either removing queries or decreasing word allowances, and quite a few have been simply maintaining their questions and word limits from last year. The University of Cambridge Judge Business School is doing neither. Although the program published its new deadlines back in June, the admissions committee waited a little longer to release the essay prompts and have made some notable changes. Its first essay, about candidates’ career goals and related preparation, remains the same, but the second and third essays have been tweaked, with the second now focusing on a “difficult decision” rather than a failure, and the third requiring that applicants discuss how what they learned from a past team project would influence how they would approach that same project today. Finally, Cambridge Judge has actually added a fourth essay—one in which candidates must give advice to their younger selves, which is likely intended to provide the admissions committee with more information about applicants’ character and behavior outside the workplace. Read on for our full essay analysis, with tips on how to approach each question and create strong 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 a free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This complimentary guide offers detailed advice on how to approach and frame the information requested in these three bullet points and includes 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 or reputation to solely move you forward on your career trajectory. 

Essay 2: Describe a difficult decision that you had to make. What did you learn from this and how have you changed as a result? (up to 200 words)

Challenges are important learning opportunities. With this prompt, the admissions committee wants to know what you take away from situations in which things are not as clear cut as you would like or you need to make a sacrifice of some kind. How do you reason through problems and reach conclusions, especially when doing so is complicated? Judge does not specify that the story you share in this essay must be a professional one, so explore all your personal, family, and community life experiences for options. Also, 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. 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. 

For this essay, you will need to share an anecdote in which something was at stake—the reader must feel and understand that your decision involved some level of risk. If you faced no possibility of negative ramifications, reaching your decision could not have been very challenging, as the school’s question specifically stipulates. The reader must understand that you had an indisputable problem on your hands and had to weigh your options carefully. In your essay, take the reader through your decision-making process, briefly noting the different possible outcomes or consequences of your various choices. Keep in mind that your decision does not need to have been proven right, and you could even show that all the options available to you at the time were less than ideal and explain how you optimized the imperfect outcomes. By now asking about a demanding decision rather than a failure, though, this essay question allows candidates to discuss a situation in which they may have struggled but that did not necessarily end in defeat or disappointment. 

Finally, share what you learned from the experience and how it has altered who you are and/or how you now view or interact with the world. What you took away from the experience should be something that has fundamentally changed your character in some way. Judge wants to know not only that you have faced and worked through the demanding process of reaching a particular resolution but also how that situation has contributed to the person you are today.  

Essay 3: Describe a time where you worked with a team on a project. What did you learn from the experience and how might you approach it differently today? (up to 200 words)

As a student at an international business school—one with more than 40 nationalities represented in a class of approximately 200 people—you will naturally be enmeshed in a widely diverse environment and will encounter people who think differently from you, operate according to different values, and react differently to the same stimuli. 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. Judge clearly wants to hear about your mind-set and working style in such situations and is 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. 

Like that of 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. To craft an effective essay response, describe via a narrative approach the nature of your collaboration with the rest of your group, showing both what you contributed and what others brought to the dynamic (though much more succinctly). Consider describing a kind of “before and after” situation in which the information, input, or inspiration you received from your teammate(s) influenced your thoughts and actions as you worked toward your shared goal and have subsequently stuck with you. The prompt’s request for an explanation of how you would approach the team project today implies that what you learned from the experience gave you specific skills or insight that would have made that project better in some way (either the outcome or the process) had you possessed those specific skills or that insight in advance of it. So, once you have determined what those two elements are—what you gained and how it would have affected the execution or result of the project in a positive way—simply spell this out for the admissions committee in your essay. A submission that demonstrates your collaboration style, your ability to contribute to group projects, and your capacity to learn from and analyze such experiences is almost certain to make an admissions reader take notice.

Essay 4: If you could give one piece of advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be? (up to 200 words)

Judge poses four essay questions to its candidates, and three of them have to do with learning from life experiences. The school obviously seeks 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. For this essay, you need to consider all the things you have learned roughly since completing high school, whether in a classroom, on the job, or in your personal life. Pinpoint specific learnings that occurred during that time period that you feel are most important or have been the most influential and then delve into discovering why these particular lessons have proved so meaningful to you. 

As for Essay 3, the school wants you to analyze how “redoing” something would be different with the knowledge you learned via that something—for Essay 3, that something is a team project; for this essay, it is your life since you were 18. How would knowing then what you know now have changed your subsequent life or career in some way? What decisions might you have made differently? Which people might you have tried to become closer to or distance yourself from? Which experiences would you have sought out earlier or made a point of avoiding? Which behaviors would you have engaged in more often or chosen to discontinue? Exploring these kinds of questions should help you identify possible topics for this essay. Then, focus on conveying how the information, insight, and/or skills you have acquired over the years has changed how you now view or operate in the world.

Business schools outside the United States are increasingly popular among MBA hopefuls, and we at mbaMission are proud to offer our latest publications: International Program Guides for international programs. In these snapshots we discuss elements such as core curriculum, elective courses, locations, school facilities, and rankings. Download your free copy of the Cambridge Judge Business School Program Guide today.




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