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Essay Topic Analysis

Free, expert analysis of business school application essay topics.


Georgetown / McDonough 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

georgetown mba essaysFollowing up on the release of the Georgetown MBA essays for 2015-2016 — and our recent interview with Associate Dean of MBA Admissions Shari Hubert — we wanted to take a closer look at the program’s essay prompts and offer our analysis for applicants targeting McDonough’s Class of 2018.

Georgetown’s essay section has remained the same as last admissions season. In our interview with Dean Hubert, she reported that the adcom was pleased with the insight that the required essay offered into candidates’ personal histories and motivations for pursuing a McDonough MBA. With just one open-ended required response, applicants will need to think carefully about what to highlight (and what to consider reserving for one of the school’s two optional essays).

Let’s look at each of the Georgetown MBA essay prompts for 2015-2016:

Essay 1: Why You? (Hint: we are looking for an answer that cannot be found from research on our website; 750 words)
This unusually terse prompt can be taken to imply the expanded question “Why [should we admit] you [to our program over other interesting and well qualified applicants]?” Once unpacked, this query reads like a fairly straightforward question about the applicant’s interest in, knowledge about, and potential to contribute to the MBA community. According to our interview with Dean Hubert, candidates will have the opportunity to explain their short- and long-term career goals elsewhere in their application materials. Therefore, their remarks in this essay should focus on the interests and values behind those goals, as well as the applicant’s reasons for seeking an MBA and for applying to McDonough in particular. Of course, the adcom will also be eager to hear about the impact that the candidate expects to make on the MBA community, both in the classroom and through extracurricular participation. Akin to essays that ask the applicant to introduce oneself to one’s classmates, this essay should strike a balance between highlighting the elements of one’s personal background that would enhance the diversity of the incoming class, and explaining how these experiences and values make the candidate a strong fit with the program’s culture. Continue reading…

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INSEAD 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

INSEAD_SingaporeNow that the online application for INSEAD’s September 2016 intake is live — and the INSEAD MBA essays for 2015-2016 have been released — we wanted to follow up with some commentary for business school applicants targeting the school this season.

Whereas last year saw INSEAD shortening the essay portion of its application, we’re seeing an expansion this year. This is particularly evident in the Job Description portion of the application, where the program has moved from just two required responses last year to four for this season. This would seem to suggest that last year’s truncated job description section didn’t yield quite as much information at the adcom might have wanted as they evaluated applications and made admissions decisions. Further, the school simply requests a “short answer” rather than specifying a word limit for these responses, giving applicants a fair amount of leeway (and building in a test of the candidate’s judgement) with this portion of the application. Meanwhile, the wording of the program’s four Motivation Essays remains unchanged from last season, though the length of the first item in this section has been reduced from 600 to 500 words — perhaps to compensate for longer responses in the job essay section.

Job Essay 1: Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/products and results achieved. (short answer)
While the essay sections of many MBA applications begin by addressing the overall progression of the applicant’s career up to this point, INSEAD’s first question requests a snapshot of the applicant’s career at this moment. Even if you have held a number of positions within the same organization, it’s best to maintain focus on your current position and responsibilities, as per the instructions. Keeping in mind that this will be the adcom’s introduction to your application materials, you might also provide the context necessary for the reader to understand your place within your company’s organizational structure and the work that occupies your days. While there is some room to talk about “results achieved,” there’s no need to get bogged down in the specifics of certain projects or engagements – an effective response to this question will be composed of fairly general comments that are focused on the present. It is fine to incorporate some more specific information about your career’s “greatest hits” later when responding to other questions. Continue reading…

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Duke / Fuqua 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

Duke / Fuqua 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

Following up on the release of the 2015-2016 Fuqua MBA essays, we wanted to offer some guidance to business school applicants targeting the Duke Class of 2018.

Duke’s essay section of the MBA application is largely unchanged from last admissions season. The Fuqua adcom has doubled the length limit for the school’s three short answer questions about the applicant’s professional plans. Meanwhile, the structure of the program’s longer essays remains the same: all applicants must respond to the first required response, and may choose between two options for the second required essay.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the Fuqua MBA essays for 2015-2016:

Short Answer Questions (500 characters; about 100 words each)
1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA?
2. What are your long-term goals?
3. Life is full of uncertainties, and plans and circumstances can change. As a result, navigating a career requires you to be adaptable. Should the short-term goals that you provided above not materialize what alternative directions have you considered?

These three questions are quite straightforward, calling for applicants to concisely state their short-term goals, long-term goals, and a professional back-up plan. Although asking about career alternatives is a bit unusual as far as b-school applications go, Question 3 is still fairly direct; applicants simply need to identify a second post-MBA position that would also lead them toward their stated long-term goals.

Of note, the Fuqua adcom has doubled the character limit for each of these responses, giving applicants a bit more breathing room as they provide this information and explain their professional plans to the admissions reader. This suggests that last year’s 50-word responses didn’t yield as much information as the adcom might have liked as they made admissions decisions, so it will be wise to take advantage of the extra room and provide as much detail about your plans and motivations as the length limit permits. Continue reading…

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NYU / Stern 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

NYC_-_Washington_Square_Park_-_ArchNow that the NYU adcom has released the Stern MBA essays for the 2015-2016 admissions season — and now that Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions Isser Gallogly has offered his insight to NYU applicants via Clear Admit — we wanted to follow up with our analysis of this year’s NYU essay topics.

As has been the case for several years running, the Stern essay section comprises two required essays. The first, which focuses on the applicant’s professional goals and interest in the NYU MBA, is unchanged from last admissions season. Meanwhile, Stern has dropped one of the two options it posed in essay 2 last year, doing away with a response asking applicants to detail an alternate route to their target long-term position. This leaves the school’s classic Personal Expression essay, which is once again a required component of the NYU application.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the Stern 2015-2016 MBA essays:

Essay 1: Professional Aspirations (750 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)
Why pursue an MBA (or dual degree) at this point in your life?
What actions have you taken to determine that Stern is the best fit for your MBA experience?
What do you see yourself doing professionally upon graduation?

This is a fairly straightforward career goals essay, asking applicants to comment on why business school makes sense for them at this point in their careers, to articulate their post-MBA career objectives, and to outline the steps they’ve taken to learn about the Stern MBA.

To tailor this essay to Stern, we recommend answering each question in the order in which it’s posed, if you can make that work with the flow of the response. You might touch on your work experience to date and hint at the future direction you wish to take (i.e. name the industry or functional shift you hope to accomplish), and explain why you need an MBA to advance along that path. To fully address this first question, applicants should also explain the timing on their application; whether you’ve reached a plateau in learning at your current job or see an exciting opportunity that you want to act on as soon as possible, explain why this is the ideal time for you to enroll in business school. This first phase of your discussion might also describe the skills and knowledge you hope to gain from an MBA with an eye to your future plans (to be expanded on later). Continue reading…

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Berkeley / Haas 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

UCBerkeleyCampusNow that the topics for each of the Haas MBA essays has been announced for the 2015-2016 season, we wanted to offer our thoughts on how to approach each of these prompts for business school applicants targeting the UC Berkeley MBA Class of 2018.

Haas MBA applicants will respond to three required essays totaling just 1,000 words. This represents a reduction in total word count as compared to the program’s essays over the past few years. Meanwhile, the subject matter is similar to that of previous applications, with a reprise of that song-that-represents-you prompt from the 2013-2014 season, as well as fairly straightforward questions about the candidate’s career goals and influential past experiences.

To begin, applicants should note the following preamble to this year’s Haas MBA essays:

At Berkeley-Haas, we seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. Our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles — Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. Please use the following essays as an opportunity to reflect on and share with us the values, experiences, and accomplishments that have helped shape who you are. (Learn more about Berkeley-Haas’ Defining Principles) Continue reading…

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UVA / Darden 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

uvaFollowing up on the announcement of the Darden essay topic for 2015-2016, we wanted to take a closer look at this season’s prompt for UVA MBA Class of 2018 hopefuls.

This is the third consecutive year that the Darden essay section has comprised a single 500-word essay asking applicants to recount the specifics of a past experience. Meanwhile, the nature of that situation is a new one for this admissions cycle; where last year’s applicants were asked to describe their most courageous professional decision, this year’s applicant class is asked to identify the most important feedback they’ve received on the job. This new prompt reflects a closer focus on the applicant’s ongoing development in the workplace and ability to learn and grow as a professional (as opposed to brave transitions between roles or firms).

Let’s take a closer look at the Darden 2015-2016 essay topic:

Essay 1: Describe the most important professional feedback you have received and how you responded to it. (500 words)
This response is designed to assess an applicant’s maturity, receptiveness to guidance, and commitment to ongoing development and improvement. We all have blind spots and areas for growth, and the Darden adcom is signaling an interest in admitting students who welcome feedback and work hard to implement it in order to better serve the client, customer, company, and other stakeholders. Continue reading…

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Dartmouth / Tuck 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

Dartmouth_College_campus_2007-10-20_09After this season’s Dartmouth MBA application essays were announced last week, we wanted to follow up with our Tuck 2015-2016 essay topic analysis.

The format of this essay set is similar to that of last admissions season, with two required essays of about 500 words, along with an optional response for all applicants and another required item for reapplicants. While the wording of both of the core required prompts has changed slightly, the main ideas remain very similar as compared to last year as well, with an emphasis on why a Tuck MBA makes sense for the applicant in the first essay, and an exploration of the candidate’s leadership experiences in the second.

Let’s take a closer look at each of Tuck’s 2015-2016 essays:

Essay 1: What are your short- and long-term goals? Why do you need an MBA to achieve those goals? Why are you interested in Tuck specifically? (500 words)
This is rather straightforward career goals essay; in a sense, the adcom has gone back to basics with this question. For the past two years, Tuck has asked applicants to address “Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?” in this essay. This year, meanwhile, the school has dropped this emphasis on being the best, and instead simply asks applicants why an MBA makes sense for them and why they’re interested in a Dartmouth MBA. This revision seems likely to yield the core information that the adcom wants from applicants without having their responses get muddled by a need to explicitly argue for the superiority of Tuck’s offerings. Continue reading…

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UT Austin / McCombs 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

UT AustinFollowing up on our post with McComb’s 2015-2016 MBA Essay Topics and our interview with Director of MBA Admissions Rodrigo Malta, we wanted to offer our analysis of this season’s UT Austin MBA essays.

The broad format of these essays is identical to last year’s, with applicants introducing themselves to their cohort via a 250-word essay, video, or about.me profile, and commenting on their interest in McCombs and potential contribution to the community in a second required response of 500 words. In a subtle change, the school has streamlined this second response for this admissions season, dropping an element that asked about what candidates hoped to gain professionally and personally from the McCombs MBA. In our interview with Director Malta, he acknowledged that the question asked a lot of applicants in just 500 words. This year’s prompt reflects a stronger emphasis on students’ plans for their two years on the McCombs campus, as opposed to their long-range career plans.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the McCombs MBA essay prompts: Continue reading…

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Wharton 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

Huntsman HallFollowing up our announcement earlier this week with Wharton’s Class of 2018 application essays, we wanted to offer our Wharton 2015-2016 essay topic analysis for this year’s crop of UPenn MBA hopefuls.

The Wharton adcom has decided to retain the same essay structure it used for last year’s admissions season, with one required essay about what the applicant hopes to get out of the Wharton MBA, an open-ended optional essay capped at 400 words, and an additional 250-word space for use by reapplicants and first-time candidates who wish to explain extenuating circumstances. This would suggest that the admissions committee was satisfied with the data these questions yielded last season as they made interview and admission decisions (though it’s also possible that the adcom wants to preserve some continuity as a new Director comes on board).

Let’s take a closer look at each of Wharton’s prompts and consider how each might factor into an applicant’s strategy: Continue reading…

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Yale SOM 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

Yale_School_of_Management_Evans_Hall_frontFollowing up on the release of their Class of 2018 essay question earlier this week, we wanted to offer our Yale SOM Essay Topic Analysis for 2015-2016. As was the case last year, Yale MBA hopefuls are required to respond to one 500-word essay, and in fact, the Yale adcom has chosen to retain the very same prompt they used last admissions season. In his blog post announcing the topic, Admissions Director Bruce DelMonico commented that the adcom found this question to be a sound way of evaluating a candidate’s fit with the school’s founding mission of “educating leaders for business and society.”

Let’s take a closer look at Yale’s 2015-2016 essay prompt, and consider how to demonstrate the sort of leadership the adcom is seeking: Continue reading…

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Michigan / Ross Essay Topic Analysis 2015-2016

Ross_School_of_Business_Building,_University_of_Michigan,_Ann_Arbor,_MichiganFollowing up on the announcement of Michigan / Ross’s essay topics for the 2015-2016 admissions season, we wanted to offer some thoughts about how prospective members of the Class of 2018 might approach this application.

The overall length of the essay component of Michigan’s MBA application is the same as last year’s: two 400-word essays. We can also see some consistency in the subject of these prompts. Last season, Ross asked applicants to comment on what they are most proud of professionally and personally, in two separate essays. The adcom retains one question on this subject for the coming year, framing the question such that applicants can select a personal or professional example. Meanwhile, the second question marks a return to more traditional topics of years past, with a fairly straightforward question about the candidate’s post-MBA career goals.

This calibration suggests that the adcom found an applicant’s selection of their proudest accomplishment to be valuable information in making admissions decisions. Meanwhile, as Ross Admissions Director Soojin Kwon mentioned in our interview earlier this week, the adcom found themselves wanting a clearer picture of applicant’s professional plans when evaluating applications last season.  Continue reading…

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