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MIT/Sloan Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

Now that MIT Sloan has released its 2013-2014 essay questions, we’d like to take the time to offer some advice on how to best approach these prompts.  Like a number of other leading schools, Sloan has taken a wholly new approach to this season’s essay set.  While this continues MIT’s traditional emphasis on a proactive mindset, there are several notable changes, such as the removal of the cover letter – a mainstay of the Sloan application for several years – and the decrease to only two essay topics in total.  As has been the case in prior years, the essay questions are open in terms of the nature of the examples an applicant can use—work, current activities, and even appropriate personal stories are fair game here.  In answering the questions, applicants should provide a complete and chronological narrative that touches on their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.  The philosophy behind Sloan’s approach is that past behavior is a reliable predictor of future behavior, so it will be wise to select examples that show you at your best.  Choosing strong essay topics is particularly important this year given that the adcom has reduced the number of required essays, leaving applicants only two essays and an optional submission in which to illustrate the various strengths of their candidacy.

One final thing to note is that MIT once again requests that applicants select experiences or events from the past three years, applying this directive to Essay 2.  While there is flexibility to draw essay subject matter from early experiences if the material is compelling for Essay 1, it would be prudent to respect the school’s preference for recent experiences for Essay 2.  This will both ensure that applicants present a “fresh” picture of their profiles while demonstrating their respect for, and ability to follow, the adcom’s directions.

Specific guidance from the adcom prefaces the essay set:

We are interested in learning more about how you work, think, and act. For each essay, please provide a brief overview of the situation followed by a detailed description of your response.  For essay 2 only, please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.

In each of the essays, please describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did.

Essay 1: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice.  Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

New to the Sloan set, this topic directs applicants to outline their potential contributions to the MIT Sloan community, and in their careers beyond, by tying these contributions to specific anecdotes from their past.  This shows some parallels to Sloan’s former cover letter prompt, including a focus on concrete actions and direct correlations between past successes and future contributions.

The Sloan admissions team has been open about their explicit avoidance of direct questions about “why MIT” or “specific career goals,” and this season’s essay questions fall in line with this approach.  Therefore, while those themes may play a role in addressing how an applicant will “improve the world,” or “advance management practice in the business world,” the focus should be on relating concrete examples of one’s past achievements and potential for future contributions to Sloan’s program.  Applicants should therefore not simply relate their admiration for the program or larger plans for the future without keeping the prompt’s specific inquiry in mind.  Applicants would do well to showcase their “greatest hits” in terms of personal or professional successes while carefully selecting topics that will allow them to touch on the impact they hope to make as professionals.

It will be important for applicants to conduct a fair amount of research on the program in order to convince the adcom that their backgrounds are uniquely suited to advancing MIT Sloan’s mission.  Taking the time to learn about MIT’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities—whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to MIT Sloan—will pay dividends here.

Essay 2: Describe a time when you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

Similar in structure to topics used in years past, this prompt asks applicants to outline a personal or professional experience as the centerpiece of this essay.  After providing a detailed description of the circumstances that led to their taking steps to move beyond their typical comfort zone, applicants should highlight their reasons for pursuing this experience and, ideally, what positive outcomes resulted.  It is also important to note the personal or professional development applicants have gained as a result of expanding their comfort zone or boundaries.  Doing so will highlight an applicant’s initiative, leadership or managerial skills, thus showing the adcom that they possess the ability to overcome any challenge they might face at MIT Sloan and in their future careers.

Optional Essay: The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format.

One final essay-writing tip for applicants is that, given that the 2013-2014 essay set now includes just two required questions, it may be beneficial for applicants to make use of Sloan’s optional question.  While the optional essay remains the primary forum in which applicants should deal with extenuating circumstances, such as poor grades or gaps in work history, applicants without such concerns might see this as an opportunity to further build out their essay sets.  With such broad guidelines for a response to this question, applicants should carefully consider what, if any, aspect of their candidacy has not been adequately handled in their other essays; candidates should also consider what electronic medium, be it an essay or even a video or PowerPoint, might best convey their message and showcase any especially creative abilities.

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