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Continuing our series of essay topic analyses, we’re now turning our attention to Oxford’s Saïd Business School’s 2014-2015 MBA essays. Bucking the larger trend of different and fewer required essays that we’ve observed this summer, Saïd’s essays remained unchanged between this year and last, with the program again requiring that applicants provide three essays of 500 words each. Oxford’s questions reflect an ongoing interest in learning about applicants’ expected contributions to the school, their career goals, and their reasons for applying to Oxford. The third essay, meanwhile, provides applicants with the opportunity to showcase their ability to make a compelling argument about the business world in general.
Essay 1: What should Oxford expect from you? (500 words)
Appearing on Oxford’s application for the third year in a row, this question gives applicants the chance to show the SBS adcom that they have done their research and know the ways in which they can make a positive contribution to the Oxford MBA program. Before approaching this essay, we suggest that applicants take some time to think about their strengths and the unique aspects of their backgrounds and personalities that would inform their contributions to SBS. In addition, having a strong grasp of Oxford’s academic offerings, clubs, special programs and extracurricular offerings will allow a candidate to draw conclusions about the circumstances under which he or she would display certain strengths and characteristics. Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs, and extracurricular activities – whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni, or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Oxford – will pay dividends here.
Essay 2: How do you hope to see your career developing over the next 5 years? How will the MBA and Oxford assist you in the development of these ambitions? (500 words)
This prompt requests a fairly standard career goals essay, and thus the general advice we’ve offered in the past on how to tackle this sort of question applies here. The Oxford adcom looks for applicants who offer fully defined long- and short-term career goals, sound reasons for pursuing an MBA at this time, a well-informed rationale for their interest in SBS and specific plans to contribute to the campus community if they are admitted. Note that Oxford specifically asks applicants to discuss their five-year career plans; while it is certainly fine to explore longer-term objectives as well, it is at minimum essential to explore one’s next five years in depth.
The key to successfully tackling each of these components is specificity. In presenting their goals and explaining their motivation for seeking an MBA, it is crucial for applicants to present well-defined and feasible short-term and long-term career objectives, specifying the job title they hope to hold in their target industry and commenting on what they hope to accomplish in their target positions. Though not called for directly in the essay prompt, in most situations a career goals essay is more compelling when it includes a brief but coherent career history that summarizes the applicant’s work to date, revealing the continuity between one’s previous professional experiences and goals for the future.
Essay 3: Please choose and answer one of the two essays below:
- Sport is pure competition. What does it teach us about companies, individuals, and markets? (500 words maximum)
- The business of business is business. Is this true? (500 words)
Appearing on Oxford’s application for a second consecutive year, Essay 3 is one of the more unusual business school essays out there. While the open-ended nature of both options may initially appear intimidating, applicants should keep in mind that they are being assessed not on the actual answers they give, but rather on their ability to make a cohesive argument.
In the first option, applicants are asked to explain what business lessons can be extracted from the competitive nature of athletics. A variety of answers could apply here, such as the importance of adjusting to one’s competitors, drawing lessons learned in a team environment, staying aware of new trends in equipment and strategy, or learning from failure. Regardless of the direction applicants choose here, the key to crafting an effective response will be to not just state one’s answer, but to also provide compelling examples – either from one’s own experiences or from the realm of professional sports – that support one’s argument.
The second option, while perhaps enigmatically phrased, asks applicants to discuss whether businesses have inherent responsibilities (be they ethical, environmental, social, etc.) beyond commercial success. Again, it is important to remember that the adcom is less concerned with the answer a candidate gives than they are with his or her ability to choose a stance and convincingly argue a point. As with the first option, the most effective responses will illustrate one’s stance using concrete examples.
Reapplicant Essay: What improvements have you made in your candidacy since you last applied to the Oxford MBA? (250 words)
This straightforward prompt is asking about material improvements in the applicant’s candidacy since their last application. Given the narrow word limit, applicants should focus on detailing the steps they’ve taken to enhance their work experience, improve their level of involvement outside of work, and remedy areas of academic concern.
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