The Penn State Smeal College of Business takes a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to its one required, written application essay, asking candidates to explain the most basic factors behind their pursuit of an MBA: where they want to go professionally, why they believe they are positioned to reach their career objectives, and what role the MBA plays in their plans. The other required “essay,” however, is a total 180, in which applicants must respond on video to several random, unknown questions, with less than a minute in which to prepare for each. Smeal appears to want to capture both sides of its candidates—the formal and carefully planned and considered side and the instinctive, improvised, and unguarded side—in its assessment of them. Read on for our more thorough analysis of the school’s application essays for 2022–2023.
Penn State Smeal 2022–2023 Essay Tips
Admissions Essay: What are your short-term and long-term career goals? How does your past experience enable you to achieve these goals? How do you see your MBA experience fitting into this plan? (600 Word Limit)
To craft a successful essay response to this rather classic prompt, you will need to accomplish a few things (though not necessarily in the order we are about to present them). One, clearly present both your immediate post-MBA goal and your longer-term aspiration. Two, ensure that the connection between these two objectives is clear, and if not, provide appropriate context or explanation to reveal the connection and why the transition from one to the other is reasonable and attainable for you. Three, describe the skills and background you already possess that position you for success in your desired roles and industry, along with those you still need to attain via an MBA education (thereby demonstrating your understanding of what is required to reach your stated positions and thrive there). And four, identify the resources and experiences that Smeal offers (and, ideally, that other top business schools do not) that will allow you to gain the abilities and exposure you currently lack. We explain these concepts and how to achieve them in more detail in our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which is available free of charge. Download your complimentary copy today!
Video Application Response: You will be asked to respond to a series of interview questions using a webcam. For each question, you will have limited time to consider your response and a set amount of time to respond as the system records. The system allows for unlimited practice sessions but once you start the formal video interview process, you will only have one chance to respond to each question. Your application will not be considered complete or evaluated by the committee until you have completed this part of the process, which is separate from the Penn State Graduate School application.
Technical Requirements: Visit the video application website to get started. You will need an internet-connected computer with a functioning webcam and microphone.
Time Required: 15 to 20 minutes to respond to all the questions. You can register within the system beforehand and complete your interview later at your convenience.
Required video components—and especially spontaneous ones like this—can easily strike fear into the hearts of business school candidates, but let us reassure you a bit and unpack this component of the Smeal application process, in hopes of helping you relax and put your best self forward. First of all, keep in mind that these video questions are not meant to trip you up or entice you to do or say anything that would get you immediately disqualified from consideration. Videos are generally opportunities for the admissions committee to put a “face” on your written application and learn a little more about your personality, energy level, communication style, and other such intangibles. By putting you on the spot and under stress to some degree, the video questions allow the school to see how you act under pressure and intuitively, which naturally reveals more of one’s true character. Rather than being intimidated by this fact, though, try to see it as a chance to show Smeal the real you and your enthusiasm about participating and sharing. Step beyond the stats and the restrictive boxes of the written application and let your personality shine through.
The STAR method is often recommended when responding to these kinds of video questions to ensure that your answers include all the relevant information the admissions committee seeks, so you might want to do some research on what that technique entails, and then make it a central part of your practice efforts. We suggest practicing in front of a mirror to exercise maintaining a natural expression as you speak and timing yourself to ensure your answers do not tend to run long. You will have only one chance to record your response(s) when you do the official interview. If you stumble while answering or ultimately are unhappy with any of your answers, unfortunately, you will not be able to rerecord anything or try again another time. This might make you nervous, but we encourage you to view the situation a little differently. As we have noted, the Smeal admissions committee just wants to get to know the real you through these video essays. So if you fumble for words or lose your train of thought, simply laugh or shrug and continue with your response. Accepting a mistake with a sense of humor and grace will give the admissions committee a more positive and natural impression of your personality than rigid scripting and overpreparation ever could.
For sample questions you can use to practice, consider downloading a free copy of the mbaMission Interview Guide, in which we present a list of 100 common interview queries.
Although not an official essay, the “additional information” portion of the Smeal application allows you to share with the admissions committee anything you believe it needs to know to be able to evaluate you fully and fairly. This might relate to a confusing or problematic element of your candidacy (e.g., a gap in your academic or professional record, an unusual choice of recommender, a low GPA or GMAT/GRE score), or it could be a unique experience, skill, characteristic, accomplishment, or other compelling factor that would help you stand out from other applicants. We encourage you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, which provides advice on when and how best to take advantage of opportunities like this to tell the schools more.