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6 Keys to Successful MBA Application Essay

How to Write A Great Essay For Business School.

Business school application volume has increased around the globe and the elite schools are tougher than ever to crack. In this climate, a successful business school application requires significant time, planning, and self-reflection. One of the most important elements of that application is the essay. The essay is where you set yourself apart. The right essay can have a positively transformative effect on your profile and, with it, your admissions decisions.

Given the decades of experience in advising top MBA applicants, at Stratus Prep we strongly recommend that prospective students start preparing now if they have not started already. Based on our results and understanding on the admissions climate, candidates who start the application process 12-15 months before they actually apply achieve the following four results:

  1. They are admitted into more schools.
  2. They are admitted into more elite programs.
  3. They are more likely to get scholarships.
  4. They are more prepared for b-school by the time they arrive on campus.

And the early starters, the better prepared applicants… They are your competition.

So that’s your first step. Step 0 = START EARLY.

There is a Japanese proverb that advises “The best time to start is yesterday. The second best time is now.”

Below are 6 steps you can and should take now for a successful MBA application essay.

1. Deep Dive

It is critical to understand yourself, your candidacy and your goals when, and even before, you begin the MBA application essay. In fact, it’s important for the larger process when it comes to things like school and program choice—a great deal of reflection and research is required. Take the time to do this active thought.

At Stratus, we have a lengthy introspection process wherein the candidate and counselor work together to identify strengths and weaknesses both professional and in the broader profile. During this time, counselors hone in on specific narrative threads—these are then used to ground the essay. Remember, you can’t build a skyscraper without a flawless foundation.

2. Organize Outlines

During your undergraduate work, and likely before, you’ve been told about the importance of brainstorming and outlining. What you may not have been told is that there is a right way and a wrong way to do so. You need to keep the narrative alive throughout the essay and ensure you support each point with evidence. However, You don’t necessarily need to write your essay chronologically.

Your essay also should absolutely not be simply a rehash of your resume. This is complicated and maintaining order in your pre-writing is key. Don’t waste time on full versions of drafts created from disorganized outlines. Have someone else review them before you start.

3. Be Specific

You aren’t writing AN essay you are writing an essay for EACH SCHOOL to which you are applying. In fact, you’re writing more than one. Columbia has three. INSEAD has seven! You need to tailor what you write in each essay to that school. That is why so many people work with Stratus, as our experts are familiar with each program. You will need to point to specific courses, specific extracurriculars and more as evidence for why you are applying to this program.

4. Be Authentic

Don’t lie. Sure, that’s easy. But more difficult is don’t write what you think the admissions committee WANTS to hear. At Stratus we have counselors who have read hundreds of admissions essays in official capacities and they can tell a genuine interest from a mile away. That’s why starting early on your application to build out time on projects and other pursuits aids in demonstrating a true investment and commitment.

5. Review

It may take you 3-4 drafts of an essay before you are ready to have it reviewed. However, this step is a must. The more knowledgeable the reviewer is on the school and their particular admissions process, the more valuable the review will be for you. That is why at Stratus we have secondary reviewers who are often alums of the program to which the essay pertains. They provide a blind read of the essay that acts as a virtual pre-admissions review. Having a second and even a third pair of eyes on your essay is necessary. However, make sure to apply proper skepticism to comments made by reviewers who are not professionally qualified—i.e. family and friends who are neither alums nor MBAs.

6. Proofread

There is nothing that can drain power from a sentence faster than a typo. You need to make sure to go over these essays with a fine-tooth comb. Evaluate flow and word choice as well as looking for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. At Stratus we use qualified proofreaders who scan each written essay and resume for any error and flag any formatting issues as well. Also, don’t forget to double-check things like school names, course names and professor names!

Using these six steps will certainly have you on your way to an excellent MBA application essay.

About Stratus

Stratus Admissions Counseling is a full service admissions counseling firm distinguished by its team based, multi-step process ensuring each application is crafted for optimum impact. Our MBA counseling team has a representative from virtually every top 20 MBA program, enabling us to provide school-specific guidance.


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