As an MBA student, you are guaranteed to work in student teams composed of individuals from different backgrounds (professions, nationalities, cultures, orientations, etc.). For this reason, business schools want to ensure that you are equipped to collaborate effectively with people who might hold perspectives different from your own. During the past few admissions cycles, several programs have evaluated applicants’ ability to work across backgrounds by posing an essay question that asks about the candidate’s experience with diversity and inclusion, how they have created or promoted an inclusive environment, and/or how they expect to be an inclusive leader at the MBA program and after graduation.
Here are our tips on how to approach responding to an MBA diversity essay question:
- First, to identify your essay topic, think about times when you have worked with a diverse group of people, whether on the job or as part of an extracurricular activity or personal pursuit. When some people hear the word “diversity,” they automatically associate it with race, gender, and ethnicity. Although those dimensions certainly are major aspects of diversity, you need to think about the definition of diversity—and about your experiences—more broadly. For example, maybe you worked on a team with members from across functions and/or with varying levels of seniority. Or perhaps you worked on recruiting new employees from a more comprehensive list of universities than you firm has considered in previous years.
- Next, consider your actions as they relate to diversity. In which of your experiences did you actively cultivate diversity, such as by encouraging more people to participate in an initiative and to share their viewpoints during discussions? Simply writing about a time when you worked within a diverse group is not enough; you have to show that in that situation, you purposefully harnessed the advantages of having different perspectives by inviting the members of that group to express themselves, genuinely listening to them, and taking their views and ideas into account. If you encountered any challenges along the way, acknowledge them. Showing how you worked effectively to reconcile different points of view will lead to a more meaningful narrative.
- Then, reflect on the result. Based on your actions—including fostering participation and dialogue—how did you and your team successfully accomplish the mission at hand? For example, maybe you won a sales pitch because you were able to tailor your message more closely to your audience. Or perhaps your company’s once-homogenous internship program now represents a blend of students from a range of backgrounds. In addition to explaining the outcome, address what you learned from the experience. Business school admissions committees like to see that applicants are capable of growing as the result of being exposed to different perspectives.
- Finally, look to the future. If the essay question asks how you will promote diversity and inclusion on campus and in your post-graduate career, describe in specific terms how you aspire to be a leader in this space. Identify a student organization at your target MBA program that you would want to join based on your interests, and explain how exactly you would encourage the cultivation of a diverse membership and the voicing of different perspectives as a way of enhancing the club’s activities and impact. As for your post-MBA ideas, think about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts you would want to be involved in at work or as a leader in a community organization that aims to foster diversity. Keep in mind that less is more—you will come across as more genuine if you focus on one or two ways that you will be an inclusive leader rather than providing a laundry list of activities you want to be involved in.
For specific essay-writing tips for programs that are posing a diversity-related essay prompt this year, please see our essay analysis for the following schools:
- UVA Darden School of Business
- Georgetown McDonough School of Business
- Washington Foster School of Business
- UNC Kenan Flagler Business School
- Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business
And if you have an especially strong track record of promoting inclusion at school, in your job(s), and/or in your personal life, consider applying to business school via the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. You can learn more about the Consortium in this blog post, and also refer to our Consortium Essay Tips.