Alumni can ruin MBA essays: 6 steps to collecting useful feedback

Good writing is essentially rewriting. It can be so helpful to get the input of a trusted friend or family member on your MBA stories. 

As you reach the point of finalizing your essays, you may decide that you’re interested in hearing a second or third opinion about them. In the past, we’ve found that really well-intentioned friends, family, and alums typically do more harm than good when they try to help you edit your essays. Everyone wants to be helpful and everyone brings to the table their own specific perspective, but these are frequently based in wrong ideas about what matters in this process.

For example, you might find people wordsmithing your essays to make the “writing better” and in the process damaging your natural voice. Ensuring your unique voice comes cross in the essays critical, so that kind of input can be destructive.

Likewise, when people (alums, cough cough) have ideas about “which goals are right for this school.” If I had a nickel for every time I talked a client off a ledge because of the well-meaning but wrong advice they had received from alums about their goals, essays and story, I’d have, like, at least a couple bucks.

If you do want to get the input of select friends and family on your essays, then follow this process to get the most drama-free value out of it.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Wait until you feel the essay is final or nearly final. This is at least the 95% draft – it’s at or near recommended word limit. It’s been through multiple iterations so the story is well-refined, and it’s very close to what you might submit when the time comes. Use friends and family at this point to give you the final “blessing” or the last-minute tweak that will make it even stronger.

  2. Prioritize story essays over personal statements. Take, for example “Why Stanford?” or Wharton and Columbia Essay 1. These questions are much more about your goals and the school itself than your character. As such, friends and family will have very limited useful perspective to add. “What matters most and why?” (Harvard’s essay), Booth essay 2, and the Kellogg essays on the other hand, provide a better glimpse into you and your character. So these would be good ones to run by someone who knows you well if you choose to do so.

  3. Pick 1 or at most 2 people you really trust. Everyone will have their own point of view and too many cooks spoil the broth, as they say. So if you’re doing an essay fly test, don’t do it by committee. Pick 1-2 people who know you REALLY well, and share essays only with them.

  4. Convert the essay to a pdf. Do not send them a word document as that will invite edits and wordsmithing that you do not want. Remove word limit and word count and all distractions. Just keep the question text and the essay itself and then pdf and send that.

  5. Then email the pdf to your friend/family member and copy and paste the text below with it. Feel free to customize this and personalize it to your taste. But please keep these 3 core questions and only these 3.

  6. Once you get the feedback, consider what if any changes you want to implement. Hopefully if you followed the steps above, all the feedback will be constructive, but so as to avoid rewrites that make the essay worse, please do not feel the need to act on feedback that doesn’t resonate for you. Trust yourself when filtering helpful comments from destructive ones and use your time to make additive improvements to the essay.

Text for your email to friends and family

Thank you so much for your input. 

My goal with my MBA application essays is to show the admissions committee the most inspiring and authentic picture of myself possible. I am leading with my strengths and values and my goal is to connect with the reader in a way that they feel like they really know me.

Language, word choice, grammar, punctuation, etc. are not important in the grand scheme of things, nor is the idea of “what schools want.” Please don’t evaluate this essay on any of those dimensions. Where you can really add value is in helping me make sure this essay really resonates as me. Like when you read it, you say “Yeah. That’s YOUR NAME HERE!

Here are some questions I’d love your input on:

  1. Do you feel like this essay shows my best self as you know me? Do I come across as humble and inspiring in my own unique way?

  2. Does it touch your emotions (does it inspire you and evoke a feeling of connection?)

  3. If you think it could be improved on in either of the dimensions above, what specifically would you suggest I do to improve it?

(Feel free to give them a deadline. Make it 24-48 hours.)

Thank you so much for your input and support!


Have fun and enjoy!!! Your goal is to make your essays as inspiring and authentic as possible and to submit essays that make you say: “No matter what happens, this is me; this is my best. If I am rejected based on these essays, so be it!!” If the input of people you love can help with that, then use this guide to do so!

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