How to Stand Out in Your Kenan-Flagler Essays

While UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Full Time MBA application has gone live for the 2019/20 season with slightly different essay questions, the key things that UNC Kenan-Flagler is looking for does not appear to have changed. If anything, the change to the second question about providing an example of how you upheld a core value gives UNC Kenan-Flagler the opportunity to reinforce how important these core values of excellence, leadership, integrity, community and teamwork are to the program. There are awards given to students who best exemplify these core values so getting applicants to think about these upfront will help UNC Kenan-Flagler attract students that identify with these values. Here are the questions below for this year along with commentary on how to approach each of these essays.


We have two required essays and one optional essay. The essays for the 2019-2020 application season are:

Question 1:  Required
(500 words)
Please respond to the questions below that will assist us in learning more about you:.

  • Tell us what your immediate career goals are and how you will benefit personally and professionally from earning an MBA at Kenan-Flagler Business School.
  • As the business world continues to evolve, circumstances can change and guide you in a different direction. Should your goals that you provided above not transpire, what other opportunities would you explore?

This question is somewhat similar to last year’s essay question 1 with a few important distinctions.

  1. The word “immediate” is a clear signal that UNC Kenan-Flagler wants to know you have done your due diligence about the first job you seek directly after an MBA. They have dropped the part about longer term goals and given the 500 count word limit this will give you more space to provide some insight about why your career goal is both realistic and attainable given your career progression to date.
  2. Kenan-Flagler would like to better understand HOW you benefit both personally and professionally from the UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA. This is a great opportunity to show some self-reflection about what you need from an MBA and how the resources that UNC Kenan-Flagler provides can help you reach your goal. There are lots of links to clubs, student ambassadors and other specialized centers on the website where you can do this research and demonstrate that you understand the value a UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA can provide.
  3. The last part of this question will help UNC Kenan-Flagler see if you are resilient and resourceful. When market conditions indicate the need to change your plans slightly, UNC Kenan-Flagler wants to see that you have the self-awareness and positive attitude needed to pivot into an alternative pathway that still makes sense in the context of your overall personal and professional history.


Question 2:  Required
(250 words)
The UNC Kenan-Flagler community lives by its core values: excellence, leadership, integrity, community and teamwork.

  • Pick a core value that resonates most deeply with you.
  • Identify the most challenging situation that you have encountered and how you responded while upholding that core value.

This new essay question helps reinforce how important these core values are to UNC Kenan-Flagler. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you answer:

  1. Clearly answer why this core value resonates with you and be sure that your example clearly relates to one of these five core values.
  2. Give enough detail about the challenge you faced and your role in this situation. The CAR model (Challenge/Action/Result) can be a good framework for approaching this question.


Question 3:  Optional
(300 words)
Is there any additional information not presented elsewhere in your application that you would like the admissions committee to consider? Optional areas to address include:

  • If you have not had coursework in the core business subjects (calculus, microeconomics, statistics, financial accounting), how will you prepare yourself?
  • Inconsistent academics, gaps in work, or low standardized test scores
  • Choice of recommenders


This essay truly is optional depending on whether any of the above situations apply to you. There is no extra value in answering this question unless you have something specific to address. Here are three tips to keep in mind in approaching this essay.


  1. If you have not taken these courses, mention your plans to familiarize yourself with this subject material. It is most compelling if you plan to take those courses at a university however there are more ways than ever to get familiar with these subjects and the admissions committee will appreciate knowing specifically how you plan to address this deficit. UNC Kenan-Flagler offers an analytical skills workshop (ASW) in the summer to help students become more familiar with the quantitative expectations of the program so mention if your plans include enrolling in this summer workshop.
  2. Do not make any excuses. If your GMAT score or GPA is not in the target range, address your quantitative strengths from work experience or from additional coursework. If there is any context that would be helpful for the admissions committee to have as background, you can provide it here as well.
  3. If you have not asked your current direct supervisor for a recommendation, explain the rationale for this decision and also explain why the recommenders you did choose can provide an effective recommendation for you.