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Essay Topic Analysis

Free, expert analysis of business school application essay topics.

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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Harvard Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2015-2016

HBS classroom

Harvard Business School’s 2015-2016 MBA application essay was announced last week. This is a new prompt for this admissions season; whereas applicants were previously invited to share something with the admissions committee that didn’t appear elsewhere in their applications, they are now asked to introduce themselves to their sections: the 90 students with whom they will take all of their first-year MBA classes. Further, whereas the HBS essay has been technically optional for the past two years (even though virtually every applicant chose to respond, according to a blog post from Admissions Director Dee Leopold), the adcom has reverted to a required response this season.

While the imagined audience for this essay is different from that of past year, there are some elements of the new prompt that are consistent with previous seasons. There is still no stated word limit for this response, and the program continues to urge applicants not to “overthink, overcraft and overwrite.” The program also asks that candidates take care to “answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.” This last directive makes particular sense in the context of addressing one’s section, the members of whom will come from a range of countries and industries. (Although, for the record, writing in accessible language will be a good idea for all of your MBA application essays). Continue reading…

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MIT / Sloan Essay Topic Analysis 2015-2016

300px-MITSloanE62FrontFollowing up on the release of MIT Sloan’s 2015-2016 application essay prompt (as well as our interview with Admissions Director Dawna Levenson), we thought we’d offer some suggestions about how Sloan MBA hopefuls might approach this year’s written materials.

While the school has reduced its number of required questions from two to just one prompt this season, the admissions committee’s core philosophy has remained constant. The Sloan adcom has long believed that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and the program has been consistent in espousing and applying this concept over the past decade or so. Accordingly, the school’s 2015-2016 question is highly focused on the specifics of and the applicant’s behavior in a past situation, and is designed to elicit a fair amount of factual information by which the admissions committee can judge a candidate’s broader potential and competencies. The school has also retained its open-ended optional essay for the coming admissions season. And, in a new addition for this season, Sloan has announced plans to ask a second question required only of applicants who are invited to interview for the MBA program.  Continue reading…

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Stanford Graduate School of Business 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

stanfordgsbSince the Stanford Graduate School of Business just released its essay questions for the 2015-2016 admissions season, we are following up with some advice for GSB applicants on how to approach Stanford’s essays. Stanford has asked applicants to respond to the same two questions it asked last year, but the school has increased the word limit slightly from 1,100 to 1,150 words, and it has set more specific guidelines as to how long each response should be.

Let’s take a closer look at each of Stanford’s required essays: Continue reading…

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Columbia Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2015-2016

320px-Butler_Library_-_1000px_-_ACAnd we’re off! With the recent announcement of Columbia Business School’s 2015-2016 essay questions, this season’s Essay Topic Analysis series is officially underway.

While the letter of each of CBS’s essay prompts has been modified, the spirit of each question remains very similar to their questions over the previous few years. Covering both professional plans and personal history–as well as the various reasons for one’s interest in earning Columbia MBA–these essays allow the applicant to cover a fair amount of material, albeit within tight word limits. And while it’s not required viewing this season, the adcom does include some video marketing material for good measure. Continue reading…

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USC / Marshall Essay Topic Analysis 2014-2015

Today we’ll take a look at USC / Marshall’s essay topics for 2014-2015. While the topic of the school’s single required response has changed, the 500-700 word length is similar to that of last year’s admissions cycle. Of course, given that USC only required applicants to provide one 500-750 word essay last season, there was little room for the admissions committee to shorten its essay set (as we’ve seen other schools doing).

Let’s take a closer look at Marshall’s essay prompt:

Required Essay: What are your short-term and long term personal and/or professional goals following graduation from USC Marshall? How will USC Marshall enable you to develop or improve your skills in order to reach your goals? (500-700 words)
This is a fairly focused and straightforward career goals essay. Applicants are asked to comment on both their immediate post-MBA plans as well as their longer-term vision for their careers, so specificity and congruence between these steps will be important here. Candidates are also given the opportunity to discuss their personal goals; while this leaves the door open to a range of topics, applicants should think strategically about how their personal objectives tie into their MBA candidacy, their ability to benefit from Marshall’s offerings, and their potential contribution to the program as alumni.

Second, applicants are asked to comment on how USC Marshall fits into the picture of the future they’ve described, commenting on how the program will help applicants develop new or build existing skills that they’ll need to be effective in the goals they outline. Given the relatively short word limit for this response, brevity will be important; effective essays will zero in on specific programs and curricular offerings that will impart the skills they’ll need to accomplish their goals. Taking the time to learn about the school’s special programs and extracurricular activities—whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni, or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to USC Marshall School of Business—will therefore pay dividends here.

Optional Essay: Please provide any additional information that you believe is important and/or will address any areas of concern that will be beneficial to the Admissions Committee in considering your application. (250 words)
This response invites applicants to address issues in their candidacies by providing context for potential areas of weakness. While applicants are also invited to share other “important” information, the wording of this prompt suggests that they should be thoughtful about whether this information will make a material difference to their application before responding to this essay.

Re-application Essay: Please describe any significant professional, personal, or academic growth since your last application to the USC Marshall School of Business. Discuss your specific professional goals and how the USC Marshall MBA Program will help you achieve these goals. (500 – 700 words)
This response asks about developments in the applicant’s candidacy since his or her last application, and effective responses will likely speak to this progress in fairly concrete terms. As with the essay required of first-time applicants, reapplicants are also asked to summarize their professional objectives and ways the Marshall MBA will help them advance toward them.

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CMU / Tepper 2014-2015 Essay Topic Analysis

As we get ready to roll into Round 2, we wanted to resume our Essay Topic Analysis series by taking a look at CMU/Tepper’s essay questions for the 2014-2015 admissions season. In keeping with the broader trend we’ve ben seeing his year of fewer and shorter essays, CMU has made significant cuts to its essay set, going from four essays totaling 600 words to just two essays of 300 words each this application cycle. This year’s prompts drill right down to the essentials: asking applicants to describe a key moment in their life, and to comment on their fit with the MBA program and community.

Essay 1: Describe a defining moment in your life, and explain how it shaped you as a person (300 words)
Appearing on the Tepper application for a second consecutive year, this question calls on applicants to select a meaningful personal or professional experience and reflect on its lasting impact. With such a broad field of potential options, applicants should consider which sort of response will best advance their candidacy, given the limited essay options this season. Candidates might decide to highlight the moment that set them on a track toward their long-term professional goal, or to discuss a more personal experience that might tie into a potential contribution they could make to Tepper’s MBA program and community. Either way, applicants will want to use their 300 words judiciously, describing the moment in question in some detail before commenting on its impact—as wel as the implications for the applicant’s time at Tepper and beyond.

Essay 2: Based on your research and interactions with the Tepper community, please share why you are a good fit with the Tepper MBA program (300 words)
A new addition for this season, this question asks applicants to showcase the steps they’ve taken to become acquainted with the Tepper community in addition to commenting on their fit with the program. This essay represents an excellent opportunity for applicants to highlight campus visits, contact with leaders of student clubs, and conversations with students and alumni in the course of discussing the efforts they’ve made to learn about the school and understand how they fit in. Applicants will again want to get as much mileage out of this short response as possible by describing their potential to contribute to and professionally benefit from the program in very clear terms (i.e. by naming specific courses and clubs). To further your research, we encourage you read the Clear Admit School Guide to Tepper, which contains a detailed and objective overview of the school’s academic and extracurricular offerings.

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London Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2014-2015

Looking at London Business School’s MBA Essays for the 2014-2015 admissions season, it appears that the school is sticking with three required responses and a word count on par with last year’s application as well.  The upside for applicants, meanwhile, is that the program has dropped last season’s challenging “What is the School’s responsibility to you and what is your responsibility to the School?” prompt, in favor of a broader question seeking any additional information.

This year’s application essays reflect an interest in applicant’s professional background, post-MBA plans, reasons for interest in LBS, and plans to contribute to the school community: all very traditional essay topics. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Essay 1: What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)
This is a fairly standard career goals/why MBA essay, asking applicants to specify their post-MBA plans and to discuss the ways their work experience to date prepared them, as well as the ways they see an MBA from LBS fitting into this picture. Given the amount of ground that needs to be covered in this response, there likely won’t be room to highlight the details of specific projects or large-scale accomplishments, though one might certainly touch on the skills gained in the process as part of a discussion of how one’s work to date has prepared him or her for elements of the target post-MBA position. Effective essays will provide all of the requested information in a straightforward manner, naming a job they wish to hold immediately after an MBA and perhaps alluding to the larger plan in which this position is a first step. Applicants should demonstrate thoughtfulness in discussing the ways their previous experience have provided skills and knowledge that will transfer to this new role and, of course, detailing specific elements of the LBS MBA that will facilitate this transition.

Essay 2: How will you add value to the London Business School community? (300 words)
Questions similar to this have appeared in one form or another on the LBS application for several years, and this latest prompt highlights the adcom’s continued interest in gauging candidates’ knowledge of London Business School and ability to reflect on their fit with its MBA programs. Applicants should not only discuss the clubs and events in which they would like to participate, however, but also be certain to draw connections between these involvements and their potential for bringing concrete value or improvements to these school offerings. This framing gives candidates a wide berth to discuss how their interests and experiences to date would translate to tangible contributions on several fronts. As with any essay of this sort, it would be ideal to link the program elements to an applicant’s established interests or components of his or her career goals, as these will help the admissions committee readily see how an applicant is poised to make a contribution. Taking the time to learn about the school’s special programs and extracurricular activities—whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni, or reading the Clear Admit Guide to London Business School—will pay dividends here.

Essay 3: Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (300 words)
As applicants are provided fields in the online application to address any academic weaknesses, e.g. academic probation, class withdrawal, etc., this place may be used to address other weaknesses in their applications or anomalies in the professional backgrounds that may raise questions for the admissions committee.  While it may also be possible to share more general information about accomplishments or interests, applicants should pay attention to the “should” signifier in the question – a more closed wording than that of schools asking if there’s anything the applicant “would like” the adcom to know. Any information shared here should therefore be of material importance to one’s candidacy (as opposed to details falling in the “nice but not necessary to know” category).

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INSEAD Essay Topic Analysis 2014-2015

For the first time in several years, INSEAD has made substantive changes to its MBA application essays, effective for the January 2015 intake. The program has reduced its number of required responses from seven to six, and has in several instances combined two of the previous season’s essays into a single response with a narrow word limit, meaning that applicants will need to be thoughtful about what information they include and careful with their language. That said, the program’s questions reflect an interest in the applicant’s present day job responsibilities and outside involvements, and feature an interesting broadening in its consideration of cultural difference and diversity.

Let’s take a closer look:

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. What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (350 words)

INSEAD has collapsed elements its two previous required job essays into one prompt this year, asking both about the applicant’s current position and the next step along their current trajectory. Even if an applicant has held a number of positions within the same organization, it’s best to limit the scope of this response to one’s current position and responsibilities. It would also make sense to provide the any background information or context that a reader will need 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 essay will be composed of fairly general comments that are focused on the present, as well as the next position one would move into if not planning to leave for an MBA.

Essay 2: Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. It should be written as if you were talking to someone at a social gathering detailing your career path with the rationale behind your choices. Discuss your short and long term career aspirations. (350 words)
This response is another combination of elements of INSEAD’s previous essay set; the first part of this response is identical to the school’s previous second essay, though the instruction that applicants style their narrative after a social conversation is new for this intake. More interestingly, whereas INSEAD asked previously asked applicants to devote 300 words to detailing their career goals, this prompt asks candidates to cover this topic—and their entire careers to date—in just 350 words.

Obviously, brevity will be an important consideration, given the amount of information being requested here. The school’s “social gathering” framework suggests that candidates should provide a straightforward narrative of the jobs they’ve held and the reasons they’ve taken each. Just as you wouldn’t boast about accomplishments at a party or networking event, you’ll likely need to omit them from this response, focusing instead on the facts of (and rationale behind) your trajectory. Similarly, applicants should provide a specific post-MBA objective and touch on the reasoning behind it before introducing their long-term plan and reasons for their interest in that path. Throughout, your descriptions should be accessible enough for a reader of any professional background to understand, assuming this hypothetical social gathering is attended by a fairly diverse group.

Essay 3 (Optional): If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than 2 months before the programme starts please explain your activities and occupations between leaving your job and the start of the programme.
This is the fourth year that INSEAD has included a question affording unemployed applicants the space to explain their situation, while adding a component this year that includes applicants who are planning to take a break of more than 2 months between the time they submit their applications and the time they would enter INSEAD’s program. In either scenario, applicants will do well to demonstrate that they are (or, in the case of those taking a leave, will be) actively developing skills, forging connections, and making progress toward their career goals. This essay is a great place to discuss increased involvement in volunteer work, attendance at conferences and professional development workshops, efforts to secure short-term pre-MBA employment, and other plans for making the most of one’s time between applying and beginning the program at INSEAD.

Motivation Essays
Essay 1: Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (600 words)

This is the only of INSEAD’s essay prompts that is completely unchanged since previous seasons, suggesting that the adcom values the information they get in response to this question. It’s important to address the question in full when responding to this sort of essay, but it’s also in one’s best interest to focus as much as possible on the positive. With this in mind, you might lead off with two or three positive qualities and then comment on one or two weaknesses – ideally ones that you’ve already taken steps to address. Whether discussing a strength or a weakness, though, it’s ideal to back up every statement about your character with a brief example to really “prove” that you possess the quality in question. By doing so, you’re effectively “showing” rather than “telling” the reader how you acted. Note that this response also calls for the candidate to reflect on the forces that have shaped his or her personal development; commentary on this topic could be built into the discussion of each personal characteristic introduced, or in an introduction or conclusion if there are themes that run throughout your examples. INSEAD’s framework gives applicants free rein to choose personal, professional or extracurricular subjects, and applicants would do well to select examples with an eye for presenting a balanced picture of their interests, skills, and experiences.

Essay 2
Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (400 words)

INSEAD has collapsed its success and failure essays (previously distinct responses of 400 words each) into a single 400-word essay, requiring applicants to cover quite a range of content in this short response. Moreover, the program has added a question about how both of the situations to be described affected the candidate’s interpersonal relationships, as well as the lessons they learned.

In detailing both items, applicants will need to provide sufficient context for a reader to readily understand the nature of the situation or project, the stakes involved, and the outcome. Between the need to provide background and the sheer volume of information being requested, this is a truly challenging prompt to address in just 400 words. Applicants will need to be thoughtful about how they organize this essay. If discussing unrelated examples, they may want to treat the achievement and failure within two 200-word mini responses to ensure that they fully address each element of the question. Or, if one experienced an achievement and a failure (not necessarily in that order) in the course of the same project or engagement, a chronological narrative may be more natural. Candidates should note that both the accomplishment and failure can be drawn from the professional or personal realms, so candidates have a fair amount of leeway in the subjects they select. Of course, applicants should think strategically about the examples that will add the most value to their files; given how little room there is to detail professional accomplishments in the job essays, for example, applicants may find that a workplace success of which they’re proud is a good choice for this response.

Essay 3: Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way. (300 words)
INSEAD has always included an essay focused on cultural differences, though this prompt represents an interesting broadening of their understanding of diversity; whereas the previous prompt was centered on crossing international borders, this response acknowledges the potential impact of diversity within nations, communities, and workplaces. As with the school’s other “motivation” prompts, this example can come from the professional realm, an outside activity, or one’s personal dealings.

Given the school’s emphasis on international business and the diversity of the student body, it would obviously be very unwise to adopt an anti-diversity stance in response to this question. That said, it’s absolutely fine to discuss a time when cultural differences led to discomfort, conflict or confusion – as long as you then detail how you worked through this and what lessons you learned. Of perhaps you’ll want to detail a conflict-free story about the way that a team’s diversity helped to facilitate a positive outcome and/or personal growth. No matter what the situation being covered, effective responses will reflect a high degree of respect for other cultures and value systems, as well as adaptability and empathy in the course of cross-cultural encounters.

Essay 4: Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc). How are you enriched by these activities? (300 words)
A new prompt for this year, this essay requests an inventory of the applicant’s past and present involvements and hobbies, as well as a statement about how these have been worthwhile and rewarding. While the prompt doesn’t specify a time limit, it’s likely that one’s activities since beginning college will be of interest to the admissions committee—though current involvements should likely take precedence over older ones if the word count becomes an issue. The most effective response to this essay will likely be a straightforward one, describing the nature and extent of one’s involvements outside of work and what kind of enjoyment or enrichment the applicant derives from each.

Optional Essay: Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee? (300 words max.)
This is a fairly openly worded optional essay, suggesting that applicants are free to share any information that they feel would add value to their file (in addition, of course, to explaining extenuating circumstances or acknowledging weaknesses in their applications). That said, INSEAD’s essays themselves cover a fair amount of ground, so candidates would do well to consider whether what they’re sharing in this essay could have been covered in response to one of the program’s required prompts.

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UCLA / Anderson Essay Topic Analysis 2014-2015

UCLA Anderson’s MBA essay for 2014-2015 looks, at first glance, quite similar to last season’s prompt insofar as the program continues to require first-time applicants to respond to just one essay question in 750 words. On closer examination, though, one sees that Anderson is asking applicants to do quite a bit more with these words than the program required last year. While the previous season’s question was a fairly straightforward goals/why MBA prompt, this admissions cycle finds applicants being asked to comment on the synergy between their values and those of the school — while also providing information about their post-MBA objectives and interest in the Anderson MBA.

Let’s take a closer look:

Essay: UCLA Anderson is distinguished by three defining principles: Share Success, Think Fearlessly, Drive Change. What principles have defined your life and pre-MBA career? How do you believe that UCLA Anderson’s principles, and the environment they create, will help you attain your post-MBA career goals? (750 words)
This prompt asks applicants to begin by providing a brief list of defining principles that have driven their own personal and professional decisions up this point. In identifying these, it may help to think about whether there are values, broad objectives, or personal rules of conduct that have consistently factored into your decision-making; while Anderson has formulated their principles as two-word action statements (and applicants may ultimately wish to do the same to mirror the program’s format), these can also take the form of single words like “improvement,” “inclusion,” or “collaboration.” In the course of discussing their defining principles, it would also make sense for applicants to touch on aspects of their professional records and even examples from their personal lives that reflect how they have implemented these principles.

The second part of this prompt asks applicants to discuss the ways they see Anderson’s principles and broader culture facilitating their post-MBA career progression. Applicants will likely want to touch on their specific short- and long-term career plans before moving into a discussion elements of Anderson’s curriculum and other offerings that will prepare them. 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 the Anderson School of Management – will pay dividends here.

Of course, applicants should note that beyond highlighting courses and clubs of interest, this part of the discussion should explicitly address Anderson’s identified principles and the way these would enhance the candidate’s experience while in the program and beyond. Indeed, effective essays will likely touch on the ways that the applicant would share success with colleagues, think fearlessly, and drive change while on campus and in their post-MBA careers—while also circling back to how their own defining principles would enable them to contribute positively to the school community and the experience of other students.

Optional Essay: Are there any extenuating circumstances in your profile about which the Admissions Committee should be aware? (250 words)
Given the narrow framing of the prompt, this response should only be used to address potential liabilities in one’s application.

Re-applicant Essay: Please describe your career progress since you last applied and ways in which you have enhanced your candidacy. Include updates on short-term and long-term career goals, as well as your continued interest in UCLA Anderson. (750 words)
A fairly straightforward and improvement-oriented essay, this prompt asks applicants to focus on their professional progress as they discuss improvements in their candidacy since the time they last applied to Anderson. It will still make sense to touch on accomplishments and new involvements outside of the office, though this discussion should likely be secondary to a comment on work-related developments. The school also asks candidates to comment on ways they’ve adjusted or refined their career goals, and to highlight the additional research they’ve done into the UCLA MBA program over the past months or year.

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