Last year, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business required just one essay from its applicants, who could use up to 500 words to explain what they would bring to the Tepper community. Now for the program’s required essay, applicants must discuss overcoming adversity of some kind in their life and what the experience taught them about themselves. The topic seems fitting for this year’s turbulent times. Applicants are also tasked with providing two short essays on their post-graduation aspirations. These goal-focused mini submissions are a throwback to the “short essays” Tepper required back in 2014–2015 (though the current versions have only half the allowed word count). Balancing these old-school questions is a little query Tepper has added to the end of its application, asking candidates to share a fun fact about themselves in just a sentence or two. Applicants who feel they need additional opportunity to convey an important aspect of their candidacy to the admissions committee can take advantage of the optional essay, which could accommodate topics other than problem areas in one’s profile, if executed effectively. Read on for our full analysis of Tepper’s essay prompts for 2020–2021.
- What is your professional goal immediately following graduation from Tepper? (150 words)
- What other role would you consider? In other words, what is your Plan B? (150 words)
With these two questions, Tepper first asks candidates for a standard element of a traditional personal statement—one’s short-term career aspirations—and then for a rather nonstandard one—an alternate path. Candidates often feel they must be totally unequivocal in their career goals to impress the admissions committee, but in this case, Tepper is directly instructing applicants to speculate on and articulate a second option. The school knows that sometimes the best-laid plans do not play out as expected or may even yield unintended results, and it wants to know that you are prepared to switch gears and recommit to a different path, if necessary—and that you are fully capable of doing so. The key in answering this question is showing that your backup 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.
As we have noted, this question concerns one of the core topics covered in a typical personal statement, so we encourage you to download a 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.
Required Essay: The Tepper community is dynamic and unique. Each community member’s individual journey has shaped them into classmates who are collaborative, supportive, and inclusive. Describe how you have overcome adversity during your journey. What did you learn about yourself and how has that shaped who you are? (Maximum 350-500 words.)
As a quote typically attributed to Albert Einstein says, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” Facing adversity is often revelatory and can show you what you are capable of, which values are most important to you, and how far you are willing to go or how hard you are willing to work to overcome whatever stands in your way. That Tepper would pose such a question this year seems only natural, given the level of hardship so many people are (and have been) dealing with, and candidates’ responses will undoubtedly be very informative for the admissions committee.
First, take care not to conflate adversity with a setback or failure. To fit the school’s query, the situation you describe in your essay needs to relate to a state of opposing, unfavorable, or even hostile conditions rather than a finite or easily quantifiable impediment. And adversity can take many forms: societal, financial, mental/emotional, physical, etc. The source can be external (e.g., a persistent lack of money, others’ prejudices, physical limitations) or internal (e.g., phobia, mental illness, language abilities). It can be quietly oppressive or overtly so. We doubt that you have faced adversity only once in your life—though we are happy for you if this is somehow the case—so be sure to consider all your options thoroughly to identify the one that was most affecting and influential.
With this essay, the admissions committee wants to learn about how you interpret, process, and react to (and in) such situations. To craft an effective response, you will obviously need to clearly convey what form the adversity took and what it prevented you from doing and how. What effect did it have on you, in terms of both what you could do and how you felt? What were your thought processes and actions in response? Describe how the situation was resolved or has improved for you (the essay prompt implies a resolution in asking “how you have overcome adversity,” emphasis ours) and what you realized about yourself as a result. Note that Tepper specifically asks not what you learned in a general sense but what you learned about yourself. Lastly, share how that knowledge has subsequently influenced the person you are today and how you interact with the world around you. Showing a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the individual you were (or believed yourself to be) before the situation and the individual you are now will help the admissions reader understand how and why it was a major factor in your personal development.
Optional Essay: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee as we evaluate your application? If you believe your credentials and essays represent you fairly, you should not feel obligated to answer this question. This essay is intended to provide a place for you to add information that you think is important but is not covered elsewhere in the application. This could include clarification of your employment or academic record, choice of recommenders, or helpful context for the admissions committee in reviewing your application. (No word limit is indicated.)
Tepper’s optional essay prompt is somewhat broad in the sense that it does not demand that you discuss only problem areas in your candidacy. That said, the second line of the prompt not too subtly implies that the admissions committee expects you to use the essay this way. If an element of your profile would benefit from further explanation—such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, or a legal or disciplinary issue—this is your opportunity to address it and answer any related questions an admissions officer might have. We caution you against simply trying to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you, and this is definitely not an invitation to dump a bunch of remaining information about yourself that you have not included elsewhere or to offer a few anecdotes you were unable to use in your required essay. Although no word limit is stipulated, be mindful that by submitting a second essay, you are making a claim on an (undoubtedly very busy) admissions representative’s time, so be sure that whatever you write is worth the additional resources and effort. For more guidance, download our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice (along with multiple examples) on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay.
Near the very end of the application, Tepper also poses a short question “just for fun.”
List an interesting fact about yourself that you’d like to share with your future Tepper classmates (P.S. 1 or 2 sentences will be just fine).
“As a contestant on the Price Is Right, I unfortunately never advanced beyond Contestants Row, but I still cherish my beloved consolation prize: a motorized wheelbarrow.”
This sample response comes from mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald, and it is undeniably his. He “owns” it, by which we mean that more than likely, no one else can make that exact statement. This kind of singularity is what makes an impression on the admissions committee and can help a candidate stand out. Moreover, the statement speaks well of him by showing that he has a sense of humor and irony, in addition to an obvious sense of adventure. This single sentence manages to say a lot—and you can, too. You do not need to mine your past for anything absurd to make an impression, but you do need to reveal your personality through your statement. Think carefully about what you want to say about yourself, and make sure that it does not overlap with anything else you have written in your primary essay.