Don’t Write Boring MBA Essays! Here’s How to Start.

Crafting the perfect MBA Application essay is hard and confusing work, but this week, Angela Guido, Founder of Career Protocol helps you start your MBA essay right with tips and MBA essay mistakes to avoid.

BTW, we filmed this many lifetimes ago, before the Corona-pandemic made each cough terrifying. 

Angela was really sick that week with a cold, but that didn’t stop her from talking about effective MBA essay writing for your MBA applications! Listen is as she also talks about how to start MBA essays and the crucial mistakes to avoid as you craft the perfect MBA essay for the business school of your dreams!

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript.

Hello, everybody, I'm Angela Guido, founder of Career Protocol and possessor of one serious cold.

Today, we're talking about how to start your business school application essay. I have three things I want to talk about today.

  • How not to start your essay, number one.
  • Number two, some better ways to start your essays.

And then finally, number three, I want to talk about my process for really great writing. First, let's talk about how not to start your essay.

Common MBA Essay Mistakes to Avoid

  1. The first MBA essay mistake that people make is starting with a quotation. Here's an example. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” – Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's a great quote. It's actually really inspiring. But starting an MBA essay with a quotation is boring. It's not about you. It doesn't get into your story and it's really the most hackneyed and recycled way of communicating imaginable.
  2. The second way you don't want to start your essay is to be too abrupt to just jump right in and answer the question. So take, for example, Stanford's question “What matters most to you and why?”. Well, you don't just want to start by saying what matters most to me is family, because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. This is not as big an MBA essay mistake as the quotation. However, it really spoils the mystery. Mostly what you want to do in your essays is tell a story. Don't give everything away up front. Take the reader on a journey and then answer the question.
  3. Now, the third way, you don't want to start your essay – and this one is subtle – is what I call the irrelevant, vivid, moment opening. The irrelevant, vivid moment opening. So let me give you an example. Come into my office, said my boss. It was 2:00 a.m. and I was so tired I wondered what he wanted this time. He had been micromanaging me for the last week and I couldn't imagine what he had in store for me now. There's been a change in the project team and I need you to take the lead on Marco Workstream. Now, I could keep going because typically these kinds of openings go on after that. But you can see how I've wasted a ton of words. This was one hundred and nineteen words to showcase a moment that's really ultimately very unimportant in your personal story. It may have been important to you what had happened, but it's not important in your story.

Importantly, because you're not doing anything in this moment, all you're doing is standing there and then kind of nodding your head. While it's really tempting to start the essay in some kind of impressive, powerful, vivid moment – especially one with dialog – this is this is a misinterpretation of solid advice and it doesn’t make for an effective MBA essay opening. Solid advice is to get the reader right into the story. But that doesn't mean that you want to try to impress them with some crazy, vivid scene that actually doesn't foreword the story you're trying to tell. Great essays are essentially an exercise in great storytelling. And storytelling language is very simple. It's direct, it's clear, it takes the reader from one point to another fairly quickly without a lot of excess verbiage.

Tips on Crafting the Perfect Essay

Let me read you just a couple of examples of really impressive MBA essay openers.

Here's one: “Growing up, sweeping floors and packing boxes in my family's bread factory gave me ample time to ruminate on my dreams.” One more: “I believe that every person should have one great story they can tell, any audience. It gets right to the point.” It's simple, clear language and it does all the work for you, you don't have to work so hard. Check out this article on a screenwriter’s guide to epic narratives for your MBA essays for some inspiration!

OK, so last thing I said I would tell you are my tips for really great essay writing. I think there are three things you need to do before you sit down to write an essay.

  1. The first is you need to have some conception of what you're going to say so you don't need to have a bulleted outline. For a lot of people, this can be actually a distraction. For other people, it's helpful. But you want to have a sense of basically what's going to go into this story and what your MBA essay topic is going to be. Number one.
  2. Number two, you want to have an opening sentence. So, I actually sometimes recommend to my clients that they think of 10 different ways they could start a given essay, try 10 or 12 different openers, just brainstorm all the different ways that you could launch into the story.
  3. And the third thing to do is get inspired. So don't sit down to write like it's a mechanical exercise or like it's something that you have to do. Watch the movie up, watch WALL-E, watch Finding Nemo, watch a Pixar movie that's guaranteed to leave you in this, you know, in a mood of upliftment and happiness and joy at the human experience. And from that mental space, then sit down and write your essay with that opening line and with the structure that you have in mind and just see what comes out.

That's all I’ve got for how to start your impressive MBA essays, I hope you find that useful. I didn't want you to miss this very important advice, even though I'm sick. Check out this article for even more on the essential first steps to awesome MBA essays. That's it for #MBAMonday. Hopefully next week I will be in better shape. Easy MBA applications and a new tip every Monday. Please be sure to subscribe.

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Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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