This article was updated January 19, 2021!
You are applying to business school and you are ready to tackle your MBA essays when suddenly, you realize that plugging through weeks or months of GMAT study, revising your resume to make it MBA-ready, corralling two or more recommenders, and crafting your life story in essay form aren’t enough. On top of all of that, some of the world’s most elite MBA programs want you to show them your creative side too. The dreaded Creative MBA Essay has found you!! If you are like most future business leaders,
- NYU Stern’s Personal Expression Essay
- MIT Sloan’s “Optional Essay” – see “Additional Information (Optional)”
- Chicago Booth’s option to create a “Presentation”
- Texas McCombs’ option to introduce yourself via Video
- Or IE Business School’s option to answer two of their three questions through “the following forms of human expression: poetry, photography, drawing, video (with a response that is spoken, sung, danced, or played on a musical instrument), animation or presentation.”
If you do a little poking around on the internet and find some of the amazing things people do for these “essays,” (like this, and this), they probably strike a little extra pang of anxiety in your heart.
Am I creative enough?
How can I make a stand out creative MBA essay if I have no technical or artistic skills?
Where should I even start?
These are the most common questions my clients have.
Fortunately, we live in exciting times when almost anything can be designed for free or cheap online. Even the most non-creative among us can find unique ways to express ourselves via multimedia platforms.
As you begin crafting your creative submission, I recommend a four-step process.
- Begin with the big picture first – think about what aspects of yourself you want to highlight in the creative MBA essay. Will you showcase your community service? Will you instead focus on your family background and the people who have meant the most to you? Lessons learned through failure? A chronological tour of your most important career decisions? Decide on the overarching content you will highlight first.
- Then come up with structure for the piece – will it be a linear timeline format? Will you structure it around key themes? Will you use a metaphor to showcase ideas in a more creative way, say, by doing a walking tour of your neighborhood? Make these decisions next.
- Then, storyboard it and write the text. If you plan to narrate a story along with a video or slide show, write the text of the story first – treat it like an essay and revise, revise, revise. As Roald Dahl famously quipped: “All good writing is essentially rewriting.” Will your presentation be more like a photo essay with pictures accompanied with explanatory text? Again, start with the written word and perfect it first.
- THEN, finally, move onto creative implementation. Reworking a video is way harder than reworking a word document. Make sure you are confident in your content before you begin the painstaking and potentially time consuming process of bringing it to life in a more complex form.
I love art projects and frequently find myself making movies, collages, and even websites in my free time. So below are my top 10 favorite tools to help you express yourself creatively (in no particular order) even if you think you completely lack creative talent. I promise you are wrong about that, but in any case…
These tools for your creative MBA essay will help you bring out your inner Michelangelo!
2021 Tool Winner: Milanote!!
Milanote just came on the scene as our very favorite Creative MBA essay tool because it's so versatile and the free plan let's you do so many different things!
Create a mood board, a project, a brainstorm whiteboard, or a mind map. Basically any way you'd like to dynamically organize and visually display information about you and then share it via the web, Milanote can help you make that happen.
Check out this quick Back of the Resume essay I put together in 45 minutes, using mostly free stock images in Milanote!
Qwilr is my new Number 1. I have become a huge fan of this dynamic, graphic document display platform. It’s not just user friendly, beautiful, and an innovative approach to what-you-see-is-what-you-get webpage design, it’s also one of Australia’s hottest young startups. Try out one of their templates (I like the Graphic Design Proposal, Copywriting Proposal, and the Business Proposal Templates best) and customize them with your text and images.
Side note: This is the best tool to use if you need to submit multiple creative essays because their simple clone function allows you to duplicate each page you make and repurpose it with a different link for each school. You get three pages with a free account. If you fall in love with Qwilr like I have and want to do even more with it, my buddy Mark has agreed to extend the student discount to all Career Protocol readers. Just drop him an email at [email protected] and mention Career Protocol to take advantage of it.
Design Wizard is a cool new graphic and video creation platform that enables you to leverage stock content plus your own awesome stuff to put together pretty slick content pretty darn quick.
With a huge library of stock videos and images to use (for a premium fee) and a ton of free images as well through it's buddy site, PikWizard even the least creative folk will be able to out together something that looks outright awesome. It's a paid system, but you get 14 days free when you sign up!
A former favorite of UT McCombs’, about.me allows you to create your own personal webpage with a picture, a backstory, and a few other cool components. Here is my page, but I am sure you can do much better than this.
Want to do a presentation with narration for your creative MBA essay? Try Camtasia screen recording software, a program that can record anything happening on your computer screen with audio. Though the program is not free, if you work efficiently, you can make your presentation during your 14-day free trial. Watch this video for more info.
Sign up for a free Zoom account and record a video of yourself using your webcam. After you record it, you can retrieve and edit it. One cool way to use this tool would be to invite some of your friends to join via their webcams and interview them. What are three words you would use to describe me? Why am I the person you want on your team? Tell the viewers something surprising about me. This video gives you a quick tutorial on setting up a Zoom.
2021 Super Bonus Tip: Want a free way to add some pizzaz to your videos, try Veed. Their free plan allows you to edit videos up to 10 minutes long if you don't mind the watermark!
6. Create a blog for your candidacy
It’s free and easy to create a blog these days. Platforms such as WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr, allow you to design robust and complex displays of photos, stories, insights, and just about whatever you want to post. Be sure to keep the content relevant and public-safe. The blog you are now reading was created with WordPress. Here is an example of what a Tumblr might look like.
Prefer to paint with words instead of images for your creative MBA essay? Create a cool mind map of your candidacy using this handy online tool. It’s hard to explain what a mind map is without a visual, so check out an example here. A free account entitles you to three mind maps that you can link and share.
Canva is “the easiest design program to use in the world,” according to the Webby Awards. Create a free account and edit photos, add text and design elements, and even create your own infographics. The main image for this blog post was created with Canva. To see what the other images look like, click the share links below to see some other examples of images designed using Canva.
Here are some bonus ideas for work with images:
- Piktochart– create cool infographics for free and check out this blog post for tips on great infographics.
- Photogramio– free photo editor
- Picmonkey– another cool free photo editor
- Unsplash– beautiful free stock photos
Pinterest has been around for a while now, but it could be a great way to showcase your candidacy to the admissions committee. Populate a “Why I’m an Ideal Candidate for NYU” board with a mix of articles you love with commentary, photos of you and some of your meaningful achievements, organizations you have been involved with, your favorite aspects of NYC, and other random things that make you unique. For some ideas and a pick me up, check out my favorite board of mine. While you're there, you might want to follow the official Career Protocol Board.
Don’t want to tackle your creative MBA essay alone? Collaborate with a creative friend! Know someone who’s a video editor? Graphic designer? Audio engineer? Create a team and direct the project! Don’t have any creative friends, but want to design something really cool? Use Fiverr to get someone to design a trendy logo for you, do an animation to a story you narrate, or design an app or webpage for you. For Five bucks.
Whatever creative platform you choose, be sure to make your creative MBA essay your own. What ultimately wins the day in job applications, MBA admissions, or any other attempt to get the attention of people who can help forward your career is to truly be yourself.
Last, but perhaps most importantly, have fun!!!!