In our view, the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan takes a very no-nonsense, just-the-facts approach to its application essays (even the scope of its optional essay is relatively narrow). For the school’s “short answer” questions, candidates choose one prompt from each of two lists of three and are asked to submit what are essentially mini essays of just 100 words. In Ross’s (again concise) 150-word-total career “essay,” candidates share and explain their short-term professional aspirations, thereby demonstrating for the admissions committee that they have a plan in mind and have given serious thought to why they need a Ross MBA to achieve their goal. No specific word limit is stated for the program’s optional essay, but applicants are gently encouraged to use bullet points in their response, reinforcing our impression that the program really just wants the key facts about its candidates, without any extraneous filler. Read on for our full analysis of the school’s 2023–2024 essay prompts.
University of Michigan (Ross) Essay Analysis, 2023–2024
Part 1: Short Answers
Select one prompt from each group of the two groups below. Respond to each selected prompt in 100 words or less (<100 words each; 200 words total).
I want people to know that I:
I made a difference when I:
I was aware that I was different when:
I was out of my comfort zone when:
I was humbled when:
I was challenged when:
The Ross admissions committee clearly hopes these mini essays will reveal distinctive facets of applicants’ personalities in a straightforward manner, unencumbered by any unnecessary wordiness. Given the mere 100-word maximum for each, you might be tempted to just jump in and start writing, but thinking strategically about who you are as an applicant is critical here.
We encourage you to first consider very carefully which option within each group feels most authentic to and revelatory of who you are as an individual. Then, thoroughly and thoughtfully brainstorm to identify your strongest possible responses. You want to be able to “own” your answer—as we like to say—meaning that no other applicant could write the same thing as you do. Using the second prompt of the first group as an example (“I made a difference when I…”), writing something like “gave back to my community by volunteering with the local homeless shelter” would be far too general a response and could likely be stated by multiple applicants. Instead, something much more specific like “dedicated every Saturday morning for three years to helping cook and serve scrambled eggs, biscuits, and bacon at the local homeless shelter, where I introduced a bulk-shopping plan that saved hundreds of dollars each year on supplies” would stand out for its originality and paint a clearer picture of the candidate who wrote it with respect to their values, dedication, and fiscal creativity. In addition, using a narrative approach is a good way to paint a dynamic picture of how you conduct yourself and to engage your reader with a compelling story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you simply discuss a trait without a narrative, you risk sounding as though you are bragging. In addition, this would be a wasted opportunity for the admissions reader to get to know you in more depth.
When you are done writing, look over your responses and see whether they are complementary of one another. If they seem repetitive or focus on the same general idea, story, or area of your life, you should probably rewrite one. Your goal is to have each response reveal something new and interesting about you. Another factor to consider is everything the admissions committee will already know about you from the other portions of your application; you do not want to miss this chance to paint a well-rounded picture of yourself by repeating information available elsewhere in your profile.
So, to recap, you want your responses to (1) genuinely reflect who you are as a candidate and be as specific to you alone as possible; (2) present a narrative that allows the reader to walk in your shoes, so to speak; (3) be complementary of each other, with each one revealing something different about you; and (4) not repeat an aspect of your profile that is already well explained or represented in a different part of your application.
Part 2: Career Goal
What is your short-term career goal and why is this the right goal for you? (150 words)
With just 150 words total, you do not have any space to waste here, so you must present your answer as directly and thoroughly as possible—and give the admissions committee what it wants! In the past, the Ross admissions office has expressed a preference for responses that concentrate more on the “why” than on the “what,” and at one time, it even separated this prompt into two parts to ensure that applicants used more space discussing the latter element. Although the school is no longer prescribing just how much space candidates have for each part of the prompt, we would still encourage you to focus primarily on conveying your reason for choosing the goal, rather than getting overly wordy or detailed in presenting the goal itself.
To effectively convey the “why” element, you should include a little context for your stated goal so that your career path makes sense. Stating your goals in a vacuum, without any connection to where you have been, can be a bit confusing for the reader, especially if you are a career changer. For example, imagine that you plan to move from consumer marketing to equity research for consumer goods companies after graduating. If you were to simply state, “Post-MBA, I want to join a boutique equity research firm” as your opening sentence, your reader could be left wondering where this interest comes from. But if you were to instead write, “For the past four years, I have basically lived and breathed Fruity Pebbles. I now understand how the tiniest increase in coconut oil prices or a competitor’s coupon can affect a product’s margins. I have subsequently become obsessed with the big data that drive computer goods and want to spend the next phase of my career in equity research, helping investors understand the riddle.” These are two very different answers, all because of some helpful context. From here, you can delve deeper into why equity research is right for you—how you intend to grow in your role and further develop your passion for the position.
Michigan Ross does not ask you why its program is the right one for you, but we encourage you—if at all possible—to note at least one specific resource at the school that would enable you to make your career goal a reality. Truly integrate your mention of the resource(s) into your essay in a way that shows genuine professional need. We explain these concepts and how to achieve them in more detail in our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which is available free of charge, so download your complimentary copy today!
And for a thorough exploration of Michigan Ross’s academic program/merits, social life, unique offerings, and other key characteristics, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, which is also available for free.
If there is any other information that you believe is important to our assessment of your candidacy, feel free to add it to your application. (If in written form, limit your response to 500 words.)
Michigan Ross has tightly worded its optional essay prompt to specify that this essay is intended to give candidates space to address unclear or problem areas in their profiles and is not an open invitation to discuss anything more they wish to share with the admissions committee. The directive about bullet points seems to be a not-too-veiled implication that the school wants you to focus on imparting key information rather than offering a detailed and longwinded explanation of the issue in question. This is absolutely not the time or place to share another cool story or otherwise try to impress or pander to the admissions committee. If you do not truly need to explain an issue or potentially confusing element of your candidacy, we recommend that you not submit an optional essay; if you do have issues to clarify, keep things concise. In our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, including multiple examples.
The Next Step: Mastering Your Michigan Ross 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 Michigan Ross Interview Guide today.
To learn more about the essays for other top business schools, visit our MBA Essay Tips and Examples Resources Page.