Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management Essay Analysis, 2023–2024

Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management Essay Analysis, 2021–2022

In addition to completing a short video, applicants to Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management must submit two brief (200-word) statements as part of their application. The first prompt is professionally focused and requests that candidates expound on their intentions for their career after graduation and explain what capabilities they already possess that will position them for success. The second, very open-ended prompt asks simply for applicants to share more about themselves. The brevity and scope of the program’s required statements do not offer much opportunity for creativity, but we encourage applicants to try to make their responses as personal as possible to help them stand out better among the multitude of similar submissions Owen will receive. The school’s optional “explanatory statement” prompt allows candidates who might need to clarify any elements of their profile to the admissions committee to do so. Our more in-depth analysis of Owen’s statement prompts and video component follows.

Statement 1: Tell us about your post-MBA career goals by describing  two concurrent paths you plan to explore while in the Vanderbilt MBA program. What skills have you developed that will help you achieve your career goals? (200 words)

With this question, Owen is asking for a standard element of a traditional personal statement—one’s short-term career objective—with the addition of one rather nonstandard component—a second short-term career objective. In a way, the admissions committee is asking you about your Plan B without your having to specify which goal you consider your Plan A. Candidates often feel they must be totally unequivocal in their career goals to impress the admissions committee, but in this case, Owen actually wants you to speculate on and articulate multiple options. The admissions committee understands that sometimes even the best-laid plans do not play out as expected, and they want to know that you are also aware of this possibility. Even more, they want proof that you are prepared to switch gears and commit to a different path, if necessary—and that you are fully capable of doing so. The key in answering this question is showing that both goals you present are equally connected to your skills, interests, and ambitions, so that neither seems to come “out of left field,” so to speak. For example, you would probably have a difficult time convincing the admissions committee that you hope to enter either technology consulting or human resources, because these industries, for the most part, require entirely different skills and personalities. Both options you present must be plausible and achievable.

Owen also wants to know what you already bring to the table with respect to your potential to be successful in reaching your goals. To be convincing (and to best work with your limited word count here), you need to highlight skills that are relevant and helpful to both paths you have presented, rather than specifying different capabilities for each goal. This is a chance for you to demonstrate that you understand what is required of someone in the professional roles or industries you are targeting and have the self-awareness to know which of those requirements you already meet. 

As we noted, this question concerns some of the core topics covered in a traditional personal statement, so we encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. This complimentary publication offers detailed advice on approaching and framing these content, along with multiple illustrative examples.

Statement 2: Please highlight something about yourself that isn’t already captured in the application. (200 words)

First, let us emphasize the word “highlight” in this prompt. This is not the place to explain a gap in your resume or a shortcoming on your transcript. Save such stories (if you have them) for your explanatory statement. Instead, this is an opportunity to share something meaningful about yourself that you believe would make a positive impression on the admissions committee and that they would otherwise not get the chance to learn. Ideally, what you present in this short statement is something that reveals how or why you would be a good fit with the Vanderbilt program, though we caution you to not overtly frame your response that way. Simply craft a brief submission that presents an illuminating new aspect of your candidacy that is somehow relevant to the Vanderbilt community and/or offers evidence that you would be successful as a student there and in your post-graduate professional life. Your goal is to provide some key additional information for the school to use in deciding whether to include you in its next incoming class. 

Take time to consider everything the admissions committee will already be able to learn about you via the other parts of your application, from your statistics and resume to your recommenders’ contributions. With this statement, you want to round out that information in a positive way that pushes your candidacy forward in the direction of acceptance. Focus on ensuring that your response is authentic and natural, and do not use it to pitch your candidacy, express your admiration for the program, detail your career goals, or pander to the school.  

Optional Explanatory Statement: You may provide an additional statement to explain anything you think is important for the Admissions Committee to know about you that is not already addressed elsewhere in your application. Many applicants use this statement to explain significant gaps in full-time employment, lack of recommendation from a current supervisor, or subpar academic performance. 

With this rather “catchall” prompt, Owen obviously wants to give applicants an opportunity to clarify any potentially problematic elements of their profile, but the admissions committee is likely not interested in long-winded expositions or unnecessary filler. So do not view this as a chance to squeeze in another accomplishment story or pander to the school in any way, and only take advantage of the optional essay if you have complementary information the admissions committee truly needs to hear to be able to fully and fairly evaluate you as a candidate. For help in deciding whether and how to respond to this kind of prompt, download a free copy of the mbaMission Optional Essays Guide.    

The video response is a chance for you to provide a glimpse of the authentic you, speaking without a script. The video questions are designed to be easy to answer and help us to get to know you as a person. You will have time to prepare your response and the application will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to record your answers.

First, take a deep breath. We understand that video essays can be intimidating and nerve-racking, but the admissions committee is truly not trying to scare you or set you up to fail. Video essays are generally meant to provide a more dynamic representation of an applicant’s personality than can be conveyed in a written essay. Owen is not looking for the next prime-time anchor or expecting an Oscar-worthy performance—the school just wants to get a sense of your spoken communication style, personality, and perhaps demeanor. Because the different questions you might encounter are not provided in advance, the admissions committee is likely also using the video as a way of gauging how you deal with the unexpected, think on your feet, and convey relevant answers in a time-conscious way. This is, after all, similar to what you will be doing in the Owen classroom as an MBA student.

When the time comes to record your video submission, you will receive a question and then be given 30 seconds to prepare your response. You then have 90 seconds to record your response. If you are not satisfied with your submission after reviewing it, you can actually record another video to replace it. The twist, however, is that you will not be asked the same question, and you are limited to just three attempts, so you cannot simply keep repeating the process until you perfect your response. Take care to not be too exacting, or you might paint yourself into a corner.

Again, you will not know ahead of time what question(s) you will receive, but this does not mean you cannot prepare in advance. You could, for example, ask a friend or family member to help you get ready by asking you questions and providing feedback on the content and presentation of your responses. To find practice questions, consider Googling “MBA interview questions” and/or downloading a free copy of the mbaMission Interview Guide, which includes a list of 100 questions commonly posed in MBA admissions interviews. This will give you a feel for what delivering an oral response within the school’s 90-second timeframe feels like (ideally without speaking at lightning speed!). As you practice, strive to minimize your use of filler words and phrases (e.g., “um,” “uh,” “like,” “you know”) so that you are less likely to depend on or default to them when the time comes for your actual video submission. Do not feel that you must fill the entire 90 seconds if you do not have good content with which to do so, but also, take care to not be too brief. This is the admissions committee’s chance to get to know you better as an animated, three-dimensional person, so do not shortchange them on getting to see how you speak and behave.

And do not panic. If you make a small mistake or bungle your words, just pause, smile, and get back on track. If you make a more significant blunder—perhaps you run out of time before you have finished answering the question or totally draw a blank and fail to provide any real answer at all—take comfort in knowing that you can try again. 

Let us reassure you that none of the questions will have a “correct” answer, and you are not going to be judged on how energetic or enthralling you are in delivering your response. You should speak as naturally as possible so that the admissions committee can get a feel for your true character and bearing. If possible (meaning you can do so without forcing the issue), sharing a story from your life that helps illustrate or support your answer will make your response even more compelling. Otherwise, simply breathe, relax, and give the school insight into the unique individual you are. Respond to each query honestly and as smoothly as you can (despite any nervousness you might be feeling), and be yourself.

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