Executive Education

The Secret to Writing a Great MBA Application Essay

mba application essay

We’ve written before about various potential benefits of an MBA, such as finding a job through the career center.

But in this post I’m going to back up a little bit and talk instead about how to secure an MBA in the first place, and specifically how to craft an application essay that will make it difficult for your dream program to turn you down.

Before I get started, I’ll acknowledge that there’s no perfect formula for an MBA application essay. Each program is different, and essays are so personal that at some point you have to rely on your own experience and expression. Nonetheless, some tips and guidelines can still be helpful, and I’m supplying a few in this post.

  • Maintain A Professional Focus

USA Today’s tips for grad school essays led with this idea, and I feel doing so is appropriate because it’s a good thing to have in mind from the very moment you start your essay. As the post outlined, you should view your graduate school essay as one “about your journey as an emerging scholar,” as opposed to an abbreviated autobiography. It’s fine to share some personal details or even tell an anecdotal story about your own experience. But your essay is meant to present you as a strong candidate for further study, not just as an interesting person. This is particularly true of an MBA application, as the officers in charge of your admission will want to see maturity, focus, and an understanding of what you’re really applying for.

  • Learn How To Express Failure

Most MBA essay prompts will ask in one way or another about any past failures or shortcomings you might have experienced. And this is where a lot of candidates tend to trip up by taking the wrong approach. Menlo Coaching’s MBA preparation program focuses a great deal on this issue as one of the most important ones in the essay writing process, and one idea shines through in particular: a question about failure is not an excuse to articulate your resilience. The temptation is always to explain how you overcame something, or how your greatest weakness is really a positive thing (such as, “I care too much”). But the real trick is to honestly and openly describe a past failure and express not how you streaked past it but what you learned from it and how it helped you grow.

  • Write For A Specific School

Applying to graduate school is a very busy task, particularly if you have a day job or you’re still toiling with the demands of your undergraduate education. For this reason, it can be tempting to write a “one-size-fits-all” essay. That’s how College Xpress put it when articulating how important it is to tailor each essay toward a specific audience. When you’re seeking admission to an MBA program, it’s vital to show that program why you want in and not why you want to be in business in general. Prepare remarks and details that demonstrate your particular interest in and knowledge of that school’s MBA program. You’ll come across as a more serious, driven, and disciplined candidate.

Beyond these ideas, the bulk of your essay will come down to the personal specifics. You’ll need to answer the questions asked in the prompt; articulate your own qualifications, experience, and goals; and make sure it all comes across in a polished and natural manner. But the above tips can help to get you started on a great essay. They should also allow you to avoid some of the common issues with an MBA application or grad school essay.

About the Author

Patti Conner is a freelance writer and business entrepreneur. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband Hank and their two children. When she’s not working or spending time with her family you can find her whipping up a new recipe in the kitchen or kayaking in the Puget Sound.