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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

5 Common MBA Application Essay Prompts

Many MBA programs ask prospective students to answer similar questions on their applications. Most of these questions surround five distinct themes.

Students may be asked to reflect on their interests outside of school and how they would bring something unique to the program. Additionally, students may be asked to detail their contributions to the field and how they may contribute to the university. Third, students may be asked to articulate their career goals and how the school may aid them in achieving those goals. Fourth and fifth, students may be asked to explain an achievement they have had or a challenge they have faced.

Most essay prompts are short, between 250-500 words, so students must think carefully and strategically about their responses. It is good to start thinking about these potential prompts early in the application process, and brainstorm how to best demonstrate character.

1. Reflect on your interests

Although it may seem counterintuitive to ask about interests and actions taken outside of school, they can offer plentiful insight about an applicant. Especially in a field such as business, students who are charismatic, outgoing, and sociable can thrive.

Many business schools incorporate large amounts of group work. Students must be able to collaborate and communicate with one another effectively and efficiently. These scenarios mimic the business world, where students will need to interact and work with many individuals and groups each day. Communication is key and networking is a part of the process.

Perhaps a student has unique talents which can aid the business school or broader community. This kind of question is an opportunity to share what makes the applicant so unique, and what, besides test scores, differentiates them from the hundreds of other applicants.

For instance, Chicago Booth has asked, “An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are.”

2. Detail your contribution

Students may also be asked to present how they can uniquely contribute to the school and field more broadly. It is one thing to be a great communicator, it is another to use that skill to make a valuable difference in your personal or professional network.

Students may use this question to showcase how their skills transfer to action on campus and beyond.

For instance, Wharton has asked, “Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community?” Similarly, Emory University has presented the question “What are you looking to gain from Goizueta’s MBA degree, and how do you see yourself contributing to the Goizueta community?”

3. Explain your career goals

A very common question on MBA applications refers to prospective students’ career goals. Schools want to know why each applicant is pursuing an MBA, and why they’re pursuing it now.

Students can use this question to articulate their academic and professional background, what they bring to the table, and what they hope to achieve in their career. Further, they should discuss how an MBA will help them to achieve their career goals. Importantly, they shouldn't just discuss why an MBA is important, but why an MBA at the school they are applying to will specifically benefit them.

Career goals may be modest or lofty, but they should be specific and sensible. Admissions committees want clarity in goals to make sure that students know they are pursuing the right path. If students don’t have a clear, long-term plan, they may leave the program. Even if they finish, they won’t be a model alumni. A strong alumni network is a critical part of an MBA program’s reputation. Students should know why they want an MBA and what they are going to do with it afterwards.

For instance, Chicago Booth has asked “How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? Similarly, Columbia Business School asked, “Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job?”

4. Highlight an achievement

Another popular question is to describe an achievement which has been influential in the student’s life. Students don’t need to have won a Nobel Prize to impress a university. Small accomplishments which have demonstrated strong character traits or which have personal significance to the individual can mean a lot.

Students should think about how they have made a difference on a team, demonstrated leadership or dedication, or experienced some form of victory.

5. Describe a challenge

The fifth common MBA essay prompt is to describe a challenge. Students should discuss a challenging experience as well as how they have overcome it. This could be a personal challenge, a non-academic experience, an experience with a group, or an experience the student faced on their own.

Of course, schools don’t just want to know that a challenge was faced. They want to know how a student overcame that challenge, and how it helped them grow. Every individual faces challenges and mistakes. What sets individuals apart is how they move on from such failures.

It is important to answer this question genuinely. A fabricated story will be picked apart instantly. Schools want to know that the student can authentically share their shortcomings and how they moved on from such experiences.


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