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Essay Topic Analysis

Free, expert analysis of business school application essay topics.


IESE Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

With the Round 1 deadline fast approaching, we thought we’d take some time to look over IESE’s application essays for the 2013-2014 admissions season.  After reducing the required writing last year to just three essays and a total of 1,100 words, IESE has maintained two of those same prompts for the coming season.  By changing its second question and halving the word counts there, however, IESE has created an essay set of just 800 words in total.  Let’s take a look at each question:

Essay 1: Describe your short-term and long-term career goals (Post MBA). (300 words)

While this question is a version of the standard career goals essay required by many business schools, IESE’s 300-word limit is a bit tighter than that of some programs.  Applicants will need to clearly and concisely state what their future plans are for both immediately after business school and in the longer term, being sure to illustrate how their goals relate to their work thus far and the skills they would gain from an MBA.  Continue reading…

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UT Austin / McCombs Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

We wanted to take some time today to comment on the UT Austin-McCombs essay topics for the 2013-2014 admissions season, which differ somewhat from last year’s two required questions.  McCombs has restructured its set for another year in a row, now requiring candidates to draft three, 250-word essays rather than two longer essays, bringing the maximum potential word count of the essay set down to 750 from 1,400.  Without further ado, let’s take a look at this year’s essay questions in detail:

1. Imagine that you are at the Texas MBA Orientation for the Class of 2016. Please introduce yourself to your new classmates, and include any personal and/or professional aspects that you believe to be significant. Select only one communication method that you would like to use for your response.

                  Write an essay (250 words)

                  Share a video introduction (one minute)

                  Share your about.me profile

This essay demonstrates a new creative opportunity in the McCombs application, affording applicants two new media options to go beyond the traditional written essay.  No matter which of these three is the best fit with your background, there are a few themes to keep in mind as you plot out your approach.  Continue reading…

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Oxford / Saïd Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

Continuing our series of essay topic analyses, we’re now turning our attention to Oxford’s Saïd Business School.  Instead of following last year’s structure of two 750-word essays, this year the school has three required essays of 500 words each.  Despite this change, as in years past, Oxford’s first two essay questions continue to reflect an interest in learning about applicants’ expected contributions to the school, career goals, and 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 maximum)

Appearing on Oxford’s application for the second year in a row, this question gives applicants the chance to demonstrate to 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.   Continue reading…

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USC / Marshall Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

USC Marshall’s essay set for the 2013-2014 admissions season marks a notable departure from those posed to applicants for the past several years.  While the school continues to demonstrate an interest in applicants’ potential contributions to the Marshall community, international experience, and personal growth, there is now only one required essay in the Marshall set, down from three, along with an optional topic.  Let’s take a look at each question in more depth:

Essay 1. Introduce yourself. How are you a good fit for the Marshall MBA community? The Trojan Network is highly regarded worldwide; how do your professional and personal goals add value to this expansive and collaborative brand? (500-750 words)

While this essay is similar to the fairly standard career goals essay asked in years passed, Marshall now requires applicants to demonstrate their fit with the school as well as their goals in only one essay—it is therefore likely that for many applicants, submitting essays at the higher end of the 500- to 750-word range will be necessary to fully explain their candidacy.  Because Marshall does not specifically ask for a career history section, applicants should keep any description of their professional experience to a minimum, keeping the primary focus on their goals and particular elements of their background that might demonstrate “fit” with Marshall.   Continue reading…

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Cambridge / Judge Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

Following up on the announcement of Cambridge / Judge’s 2013-2014 essay topics, we’d like to offer applicants a bit of guidance in approaching these questions.  The adcom has kept the format of the last two years of three essays totaling 1,000 words and made no changes to the essay prompts.  Because each Cambridge essay is a relatively short one, applicants must make judicious use of the available space to highlight their industry-specific knowledge and preparation for business studies.

Essay 1: What did you learn from your most spectacular failure? (200 words)

While the topic of failure is a common one when it comes to MBA applications, the very tight word limit of this response makes this a relatively unusual task.  With only 200 words to work with, applicants will need to summarize the failure itself in a very high-level manner, devoting the majority of the response to a treatment of the lessons they learned from the experience and perhaps a mention of the sorts of situations to which this learning has subsequently proven applicable. Continue reading…

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INSEAD Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

With some slight edits from last year, INSEAD’s essay questions still cover a good deal of ground, giving candidates ample opportunity to discuss a range of professional and personal topics and highlight various elements of their interests and experiences.  The “job essays” ask for a factual account of one’s current position (or lack thereof) and overall professional progression, while the other prompts invite the kind of short reflections to which MBA applicants are accustomed.  In recent years, INSEAD officials expanded some of the essay word limits, tweaked the career goals question, and added a new prompt inviting candidates who are not currently employed full time to discuss how they’ve been spending their days and preparing for an MBA program.  These changes are still present in the 2013-2014 essay questions.

INSEAD’s total of seven required essays puts the school at the high end of the MBA application spectrum in terms of questions posed.  As always, careful forethought and planning before beginning to write will be important in ensuring that one is getting the most mileage from each essay and presenting a balanced picture of a well-rounded candidacy.

Let’s take a closer look at the questions:

Job Description Essays

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. (250 words maximum)

While the essays for most programs 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. Continue reading…

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Duke / Fuqua Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

Following up on our announcement of Duke / Fuqua’s essay topics for 2013-2014, we wanted to share our thoughts on how applicants might go about addressing this year’s questions.

After making significant changes to their essay questions last year, Fuqua has opted to keep their essay questions the same for the 2013-2014 admissions cycle.  The school’s essay topics reflect a strong interest in getting to know applicants more personally and in learning about their specific reasons for applying to Fuqua.  Wrote Director of Admissions Megan Lynam, “We strive for questions that will fill any gaps in the application, tie the applicant’s story together, and shed light on what truly makes the person who they are – beyond what is stated in the resume, test scores, and transcripts.”

With all of this in mind, let’s take a closer look at each question:

(Those who previously applied to Fuqua’s MBA program between July 2012 and May 2013 should note that they must respond to a re-applicant essay in addition to the questions listed below.)

Short Answer Questions: Answer all 3 questions.  For each short answer question, respond in 250 characters only (the equivalent of about 50 words).

  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?  Continue reading…

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London Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

While London Business School had previously employed a number of the same or slightly revised essay topics over the past few seasons, this year’s LBS essay set marks a notable change in the contents and number of essay topics.  From six questions in 2012-2013 admissions season to three this year, LBS has also shrunk the total word count available to applicants from 1,750 to 1,200.  The space in which applicants are directed outline their professional goals is now contained in one essay response only.  Still, LBS has maintained its trend of placing a marked emphasis on learning about the specific details of an applicant’s future involvement on campus and contribution to the school community.  From this, one can continue to extrapolate that LBS may be interested in candidates who have spoken to students and learned a good deal about the program to better understand how and where they might fit.  The admissions team has provided further information on its changes to the essay set through the school’s blog, and applicants would do especially well to keep in mind the following quote as they revise: “The best essays we read show evidence that there has been a great deal of thought behind them and that it has been an enjoyable and exploratory process for the applicant.”

What will your future look like after completing your MBA? (500 words)

Although in previous years, LBS divided its question on applicants’ goals into two discrete prompts, this year’s first topic is a slightly more typical career goals essay, though candidates should be alert to the broad language of this prompt. Continue reading…

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CMU / Tepper 2013-2014 Essay Topic Analysis

Following up on the release of Tepper’s 2013-2014 essay topics, we’d like to offer up some commentary on this aspect of CMU’s MBA application.  Tepper has significantly revised its prompts, restructuring its previous four-essay set to now incorporate two short answer questions as well as three required essays.  The prompts themselves suggest a continued interest in the applicant’s broad goals and ability to make an impact, with an increased emphasis on how students might engage with and contribute to the Tepper community.  In another departure from the previous year’s essay set, the admissions office now specifies a word limit for each essay and response.  Let’s review the new set and see what conclusions can be drawn:

Short Answers

What is your professional goal immediately following graduation from the Tepper School? (Maximum 250 words)

What are your long term career goals? (Maximum 250 words)

The two short answers serve as the latest iteration of Tepper’s historically straightforward approach to the career goals essay.  While last year’s applicants had two, double-spaced pages in which to discuss their goals and interest in Tepper, the school has now isolated the goals conversation between these two, shorter prompts.  Continue reading…

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Berkeley / Haas Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

While Berkeley / Haas has slightly altered its essay set for the 2013-2014 admissions season, the school begins its list of questions with the same reminder as in previous years:

“At Berkeley-Haas, our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles — Question the Status Quo; Confidence Without Attitude; Students Always; and Beyond yourself. We seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. 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.”

Applicants would therefore do well to select examples and respond to each of the program’s required essays in a way that, in aggregate, touches upon these four principles.

Haas has also reduced the overall length of its essay set.  While last year’s application featured a total of five required essays, this year’s application has only three 250-word essays and one 750-word essay.

Now let’s examine each prompt individually:

Essay 1: If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words maximum) Continue reading…

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Georgetown / McDonough Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

With August and the application season beginning, we are taking the opportunity to analyze Georgetown / McDonough’s essay topics for the 2013-2014 admissions season.  After heavily revising the essay questions last year, the McDonough adcom has made no further changes for this season, and applicants must still answer the same two essays and a short response.  Let’s take a look at each question and consider possible approaches one might take in crafting a response:

Essay 1 (answer both Part A and Part B):

Part A. What is your short-term goal following graduation from the Georgetown McDonough Full-time MBA Program?  What skills are you seeking to develop or improve upon in order to reach your goals? (500 words)

Part B. What is your long-term career goal? (100 words)

While it’s fairly typical for MBA programs to inquire about a candidate’s post-MBA plans, it’s a bit unusual for a program to isolate the applicant’s short- and long-term objectives into separate parts of an essay.   Continue reading…

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