The Yale School of Management has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. Yale has made a lot of tweaks this year, but once you dig deeper you’ll see that Yale is still mostly looking for the same attributes in its applicants this year. Here are Yale’s new essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Yale SOM Admissions Essays
- What prompted your decision to get an MBA? When did you realize that this was a step you wanted –- or needed -– to take? (150 words)
This may be the most specific example of the “Why an MBA?” question we’ve ever seen. (Last year, a similar question read, “Why are you choosing to pursue an MBA and why now?”) It still is definitely the “Why an MBA?” question, but the emphasis on “When did you realize you needed an MBA?” is an interesting wrinkle that we haven’t seen much before. Obviously, this is a very short essay. They’re not looking for a novel, but rather a brief headline as to why you’re taking this potentially huge step now. There’s no right answer here… You don’t need to start with, “Ever since I was 15 I knew I wanted a Yale MBA.” (No one would believe it!) The admissions committee just wants to understand where you’re coming from, make sure that you’re being realistic, and know that this is more than a snap decision on your part. (Bye the way, this paragraph is exactly 150 words, not including this sentence!)
- Describe a difficult professional decision you had to make. What were the consequences, and what, if anything, did you learn? Would you make the same decision again? (300 words)
This question is entirely new this year, and it provides a great opportunity for you to demonstrate maturity and depth in your application. For essays like this, we encourage applicants to use the “SAR” (Situation-Action-Result) method, with a lot of emphasis on the “Result” part. In this case, the result addresses the second and third questions in the essay prompt: What happened? How did it change your view of the world and how to work with others? How did you take what you learned and put it into action in another, later situation? You on;y have 300 words here, so don’t get too bogged in describing the situation. Tell admissions officers what they need to know to understand the situation you were facing, and then move on to the real meat of the story.
- The Yale School of Management provides a leadership education characterized by broad-minded and intellectually curious students with diverse backgrounds, a distinctive integrated curriculum, connections to one of the great research universities in the world, and the broad reach of an innovative and expanding global network of top business schools. What will you contribute to the Yale SOM community, and how will being part of it help you extend your professional vision? (300 words)
This question is an evolution of one that Yale asked last year. At its core, it’s a “Why Yale?” question that asks you to demonstrate that you have done your homework on Yale and are passionate about the program. They have a particular vision for Yale SOM and its student body… Help them see that you share that vision and will fit in at Yale.
- What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishment? Why? (300 words)
Ideally the story you choose will demonstrate at least one or two of the key themes in your application. Is it your leadership abilities, your analytical skills? Be sure to work in those themes here, especially since Yale’s essays give you very few other places to do that this year. All things being equal, a story from your professional life will serve you best, but don’t feel that your significant accomplishment MUST be from the workplace.
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Stanford GSB recently released its MBA admissions essays for the 2012-2013 application season. You may notice some changes to the essays since last year; we’ll dig into those changes below. Perhaps most significantly, Stanford removed one of its required essays this year, although the total recommended word count remains the same.
As it has done for the past several years, Stanford’s admissions committee provides some high-level advice right on its own website. While we think this advice is generally good, we don’t see anything in Stanford’s advice that hasn’t been said many times before. Still, any advice that comes straight from the horse’s mouth deserves your attention!
Stanford GSB Admissions Essays
- What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended, out of 1,600 total)
This question has been around for years, and while our advice has evolved subtly over the years, it mostly remains the same . With this essay, take Stanford’s advice to heart: “The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.” This question requires a great deal of introspection, after which you should create an essay that truly answers the question asked, whether or not you feel that it’s directly applicable to your candidacy. Obviously, the more relevant your essay is to the goal of getting into business school, the better, but where many Stanford applicants go wrong is by writing about grand ideas and using impressive-sounding words, rather than a real glimpse into who they are as a person. The latter is much more powerful and, ultimately, much more effective in getting you into Stanford GSB.
- What do you want to do — REALLY — and why Stanford? (450 words recommended)
This question also carries over unchanged from last year. The part in ALL CAPS is a very obvious hint that the admissions committee feels like it doesn’t usually get 100% honest answers from its applicants. Also, note that this question is deliberately pretty open-ended. Stanford is inviting you to dream big. They’re less interested in whether you want to do buy-side vs. sell-side research in the banking sector… They’re more interested in what you want to do with your life. Naturally, the job you take in the near term matters, but here is your chance to reveal some big dreams. If the first question is supposed to be a super-introspective look at you past, consider this the same exercise with your future. Finally, don’t forget the “Why Stanford?” part, too. Obviously it’s a great school with a terrific brand name, but the admissions committee already knows that. Why is Stanford specifically the school that will help you achieve your dreams?
- Answer one of the three questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years. (400 words recommended)
Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.
Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.
Gee, do you think Stanford only wants to hear about stories that have happened in the last three years? Stanford included the “three year rule” here last year, but the fact that the admissions committee inserted it into every option suggests that too many applicants weren’t paying attention. Why do they only want to hear about the recent past? Because you’re young, and you’re still changing and growing a great deal. Something that you accomplished five years ago (perhaps while you were still in college) is far less useful in helping the admissions committee gauge your potential as a professional.
Two of these options carry over unchanged from last year, while one of them (Option B) is essentially a marriage of two separate questions from last year. For Option A, note the emphasis on “whose performance exceeded expectations”… Results matter, and you need to show them here. This is a classic Situation-Action-Result (“SAR”) question. While Option B doesn’t specifically use the word “impact” (as it did last year), it’s pretty clear what the school looks for here… It wants to find young professionals who leave a trail of success and positive, meaningful impact everywhere they go. If you have a good example to use, we strongly urge you to answer Option B.
Option C is another results-oriented question that also gets at a core component of leadership: the ambition and ability to do more than what is listed in your job description. We think the way this question is phrased may actually lead some to misinterpret it and tell an underwhelming story, but a great response will show that you’re someone who readily goes beyond your job description to make things happen. In some respects, we consider Options B and C to be very similar… It’s clear that Stanford is itching to find go-getters who go beyond what’s normal to make things happen!
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After releasing its application deadlines for the 2012-2013 admissions season, Columbia Business School has released its admissions essays, and we’ll dig into those today:
Columbia Business School Application Essays
Short Answer Question
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)
You read that right… It’s 200 characters, not words! This question was new last year, and naturally it made waves by being so short & sweet. It has changed every so slightly this year: Columbia added the word “immediate,” presumably to keep applicants even more focused on what they plan to do coming right out of school. Think of this “essay” as the positioning statement that sums up your career goals in one sentence. Do you want to be known as the applicant who wants to run a sports team, or perhaps the applicant who wants to launch a renewable energy startup? Columbia provides some examples on its site, and you’ll see that there’s nothing particularly creative or special about them. No need to take too many risks or get too gimmicky here, but remember that this is the one thing (about your career goals) that you want the admissions committee to remember about you.
- Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and how do you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals? (500 words)
This question has evolved a bit since last year. First of all, Columbia broke it into two parts, with Columbia moving the “Why Columbia?” question to the second part. Despite the changes, we’d still categorize it as the typical “Why an MBA?” question that many top MBA programs ask. Yes, you are right to point out that this question is a tad redundant given the Short Answer Question, but think of that as the headline that partly sums up this essay. Like every other school, Columbia asks this question to get a sense of where you’re going with your career, whether your goals are realistic, and whether you “get” what an MBA can (and can’t) do for you.
- Please view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong community. Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)
This is where those other 250 words went. As we have said before, many applicants fail to adequately to explain why Columbia is the best place for them to earn their MBA, given the school’s culture, academic strengths, ties to certain industries, etc. Yes, Columbia has a big name and proximity to Wall Street. Those strengths are obvious. What else does Columbia offer that you can’t find anywhere else? This is what the school is looking for when it asks about “fit.” Also, pay attention to how many times the phrase “Despite being in NYC…” (or something similar) comes up in the video. We’ve noted before that Columbia doesn’t want to be viewed as a commuter school in the middle of a huge city… Keep this in mind as you spell out how you will fit in at Columbia.
- Describe a personal experience and how it has influenced who you are today. This essay should have a personal rather than a professional focus. (500 words)
This question has been reworded, but the thrust of it is the same as it was last year, when Columbia introduced it to its application. Therefore, our advice mostly remains the same. We still like the more direct nature of this question, which asks for a specific life experience, rather than simply asking about your personal interests, which Columbia’s application used to do. Remember that, when a school tweaks an essay prompt from year year to the next, that usually means that the admissions committee wasn’t quite getting what it wanted. Our guess is that Columbia is trying even harder now t put the focus on your personal side, not the professional you. Don’t be afraid to reveal something that seems a little more personal than what you thought you would share going into this process… They clearly want to see how you have grown and evolved in your relatively young life.
Columbia also provides space for an optional fourth essay. Our advice here is always the same: If you really do feel the need to explain something, then address it and move on. In other words, don’t dwell on it or provide that weakness with more stage time than it deserves!
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Last week Harvard Business School released its admissions essays and deadlines for the 2012-2013 application season. What’s new? This year’s HBS application includes fewer essays… Just two required ones this year, although you will now have to do a fast-turnaround essay AFTER your admissions interview!
Here are Harvard’s essays for the Class of 2015, followed by our comments in italics:
HBS Application Essays
- Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)
It looks like MBA admissions essays are going on a diet this year. Two years ago, this question asked, “What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such?” and last year it asked, “Tell us about three of your accomplishments.” Now, HBS is basically saying (in our own words), “Cut the bull. What’s the one thing you want us to remember about your brief career to date?” Notice how we said that: “your BRIEF CAREER”… Remember that you’re still young, and the HBS admissions committee knows this. You may not have already led a department of dozens or structured multi-million dollar deals… That’s perfectly fine. Also, we put the emphasis on CAREER since this example will ideally come from your work experience. This is not mandatory, but, all things being equal, we would urge you to go with your professional example. In previous years, you had the ability to pick three stories that highlighted different aspects of your profile: leadership, teamwork, maturity, analytical abilities, etc. Now, you need to be choosier. Of course, one story can (and even should) convey more than one of these attributes, but avoid the temptation to cram too much into this story. Focus on something you truly did well, explain why it was a challenge, show what you did, and then don’t be afraid to brag a bit about your results.
- Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)
Another example of HBS slimming down its essays. Last year this essay prompt was, “Tell us three setbacks you have faced.” There is an interesting change here… While last year’s question was often referred to as a “failure question,” one could (and many did) interpret “setback” to mean something that an applicant had to overcome, but wasn’t necessarily his fault. As an example, a setback could be a college athlete who suffered a horrible knee injury, and had to work his way back to being able to play sports again. But, now HBS asks more explicitly about “something you wish you had done better”… In other words, we’re really talking about failures this year. In either case, your mission is to show introspection (What did you learn?) and a motivation for self-improvement (How did you use what you learned to better yourself and avoid that mistake again?). A great work-related story can be powerful here, but remember to look for experiences in all aspects of your life. Your richest story may very well come from outside your job.
- Joint degree applicants: How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400 words)
This question carries over unchanged from last year, and so our advice remains the same. Applicants to joint degree programs often have a hard time articulating why exactly they need multiple degrees. Harvard wants to see that you “get” what the joint degree (no matter what combination it is) will do for you, particularly when it comes to how it will help you reach your career goals. Interesting that HBS also includes the “and a personal level” part… We normally see applicants fall short on the “professional level” side of the story, since they can’t explain why a joint degree is necessary for their career goals. On the personal side, our advice is avoid going overboard with high-minded language. You really do need to nail the professional side of the story, first and foremost. Think of that as the “bones” of this essay, and your personal values and goals as the “flesh.”
Interestingly, while it’s not an essay that you will submit with the above ones, there is actually one more written piece you will submit after you interview with HBS, if you make it that far. Harvard calls it the “Post-Interview Reflection,” and it gives you a chance to include anything you wish you had been able to mention in the interview, and to reframe anything that you discussed but have since thought about a bit more. You will submit this piece within 24 hours of your interview. While many of these changes are framed as Harvard’s way of making the application process less stressful for applicants overall, this deadline is pretty tight! (And note that this essay is not optional… it’s required.)
This is understandable, since HBS needs to keep moving on your application, but we partly wonder if this is also an attempt on Harvard’s part to try to minimize the amount of coaching an applicant can receive before submitting this essay. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming admissions season!
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