Applicants to the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management must submit one traditional written essay and are invited to attach up to three photos to support the message and claims made in that essay. In addition, candidates are required to complete a two-question video “interview” that involves a short, additional written component—none of which can really be prepared for in advance. Together, the school’s “essays” seem designed to round out the essentially one-dimensional stats and data points provided in the rest of the application to give the admissions committee a dynamic impression of each candidate as a unique individual—basically, to breathe some life into their profile. Read on for our more in-depth analysis of Toronto Rotman’s prompts for the 2023–2024 admissions season.
Toronto Rotman 2023–2024 Essay Tips
Essay: Our admitted students stand out by doing interesting things with their personal and professional lives — something we describe as the ‘spike factor’; what are the things that you have done in your life that demonstrate Passion/ Grit/ Resilience/ Innovation/ Drive/ Ambition and more? This can cross all or any aspects of life outside of work – hobbies, volunteerism, awards, entrepreneurial ventures, sports and the arts. We believe that exposure to a rich diversity of viewpoints makes for a superior learning experience, and pride ourselves on building a diverse class of exceptional individuals who will go on to make the School proud as professionals and alumni. Explain your spike factor (something unique about yourself) that you believe will contribute to the Rotman community and is aligned with Rotman values. (up to 500 words).
Optional: Please upload 1-3 of your ‘spikiest’ pictures to the supplemental items section of your application. Note: Your photos must be uploaded as a single PDF.
“What makes you you?” “Introduce yourself.” “What will you contribute to our community?” This prompt appears to be Rotman’s twist on these kinds of essay questions, and it uses the interesting angle of the “spike factor” as its framework. We assume that if you are targeting Rotman for your MBA, the “spike factor” concept is already familiar to you, but if it is not, you will clearly need to do some research before you can craft an effective essay response. In short, the concept was originally developed by (and subsequently borrowed from) McKinsey & Company to refer to an individual’s primary differentiator, what makes them special or sets them apart. It could be something they do, an aspect of their personality, a unique or particularly impressive ability, a compelling background or upbringing—the options are understandably personal and practically limitless.
The prompt specifically mentions passion, grit, resilience, innovation, drive, and ambition, so when you are considering options for this essay, you might want to focus—at least at first—on stories that align with and demonstrate one or more of these qualities. However, the prompt also says, “and more,” so these are obviously not the only traits or values that would work here. You want to share stories and aspects of yourself that are the most revelatory of the unique person you are, so that should be your core goal.
A good way to identify your best options for this essay is by making a list of things you believe are notable about you. Ask for input from your friends and family members, who might mention or remind you of qualities or incidents you had forgotten or simply take for granted but that others value and find interesting. Then, home in on the option(s) that best reflect(s) who you are as an individual today and that you can clearly tie to aspects of Rotman’s culture, community, and/or academic and experiential offerings. So again, you need to make sure that you are not just showcasing traits and achievements that you think are compelling or singular. Those aspects also need to clearly fit well with the overall Rotman MBA experience and position you to bring something distinctive to the school’s community.
Rotman has gone back and forth in recent application seasons with whether or not uploading “spike” photos with the essay was optional or required. This year, including photos is optional, and because you do not have all that many words with which to make your case in your essay, we strongly encourage you to submit supporting pictures—and ideally, to submit three. You generally want to take advantage of any opportunity to build or strengthen the admissions committee’s impression and knowledge of you. Take time to identify strong options that clearly reflect and validate whatever you are claiming in your essay. You do not simply want to upload artistically appealing pictures (unless, perhaps, you are claiming to be a skilled photographer); you want the photo(s) to substantiate and thereby reinforce your core message. Consider the mnemonic technique in which one creates a mental image to help them more readily remember certain facts and numbers. If selected wisely, your spike photos will help create a deeper and longer-lasting impression with the admissions reader by giving them corroborating nonverbal information and a kind of visual “anchor” to associate your profile with.
To learn more about Rotman’s academic program, unique resources, and other key features, we invite you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Rotman School of Management International Program Guide.
Required Video Interview: Required video interview (2 questions) with a timed written response component (10 minutes in length)
The video interview component is a required part of [the] Rotman Admissions process designed to give all candidates guaranteed “face time” with the Admissions Committee and showcase your personality, characteristics, passions, and values.
When this video component of the Rotman application was introduced in 2012, an admissions blog post clarified that it was “not an introduction of a video creation contest—we are interested in the content of your answers and not how well you can produce videos.”
Within the Rotman application, the admissions committee provides this further clarifying information about the questions candidates will receive for the videos and accompanying written portion: “Both questions are personality/values based and are designed to be answered without any advanced preparation and will only take a few minutes to complete. The written question is designed to simulate the typical email communications you will create as a Rotman student.”
When the written component was added in 2015, a blog post clarified the reason behind its addition: “We were missing an opportunity to see the more casual and real-time style our students use most frequently to write emails communicating with team members, professors, etc. and a style that they will carry forward in their careers.”
Very simply, this application “essay” is all about demonstrating how well you can think and express yourself on the spot, both verbally and in writing. For typical application essays (including video ones), candidates can take time to consider their options, prepare and compose their potential submissions, ask others for input and/or feedback, revise or practice, and even start over from the beginning and try a completely different approach or use totally new content. Rotman’s video essay and written accompaniment completely preclude all of this, leaving you nowhere to hide, so to speak. They demand your natural, authentic instincts and nature. The admissions committee is basically banking on the idea that “what you see is what you (will truly) get.”
However, we encourage you to not see this as something bad or scary. You undoubtedly have much to offer as a potential Rotman MBA student, so view this as an opportunity to show the admissions committee what that looks like in action—how you will act in the classroom, in job interviews, as part of the school’s greater community. We simply cannot say this enough: as with all MBA application essay questions, there is no “right” answer. You either mesh with a program or you do not, and you definitely do not want to have to fake being someone you are not for two years, so just be yourself. Answer the school’s questions honestly, in your usual tone, voice, and words. Be confident, relaxed, and true to yourself. The content of your responses will not count as much as your presentation and authenticity.
That said, we recommend starting to work on minimizing your use of filler words and phrases (e.g., “um,” “uh,” “like,” “you know”) right away so that you are less likely to depend on or default to them when the time comes for your actual video session. This will serve you well in the classroom and in interviews down the road, too, so you might as well begin retraining yourself now.