Successful MBA essays showcase brilliant future goals, detailed future positions that inspire, and intimate and tangible school fit. Here’s how to achieve that in your own why MBA essay and MBA admissions process.
What is MBA school fit?
Fit is a really important thing. Have you ever worn shoes that were just a half-size too small? Or a suitcoat that wasn’t quite right and pulled in the shoulders?
Oh yes. Now imagine being in an MBA program that just doesn’t quite fit—the culture doesn’t align with your values, or the career placement, approach towards teaching and pedagogy, or the student clubs are a swing and a miss for the experience you want to have. That would suck.
School fit is mutual: you’ve got to fit the school, and it’s got to fit you! Showing school fit is your key to an amazing MBA personal statement and career goal essay.
When you’re creating your business school application, you need to
- choose programs that will support you with your personal and professional goals, and
- show these schools that you’d be a stellar addition to the program and your future classmates.
Let’s talk about what “school fit” really means.
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The word “fit” causes a lot of heartburn for MBA applicants because when schools say, “showing fit with our program is important,” candidates often mistake it to mean “showing you’re good enough.”
And remember, we’re not playing the good enough game here. You ARE good enough to get into business school.
But even if you put “good enough” aside, the concept of fit seems vague and unactionable.
So let me demystify it for you.
The admissions committee has a very short and precise list of questions about you that they’re contemplating as they evaluate whether their program is a fit for you.
1. Are you going to business school for the right reasons?
2. Have you done your research?
3. Will you leave the place better than you found it?
4. Is this school your top choice?
That’s it. Plain and simple. Notice that these four questions are all about YOU.
Notice also how practical and commonsensical they are. They’re questions you need to ask YOURSELF first before you can even decide to apply to a school in the first place.
In other words, here’s the question to keep in mind:
“How do I SHOW school X that THEY’RE a fit for ME in my business school admission essay?”
Whereas storytelling is an art form, exhibiting MBA program fit is more like a science.
Let me iterate just once more: “fit” is really not the same thing as “qualified to attend our program.” That is a separate calculation.
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Calculating your MBA Odds and determining your school fit are two totally different things
The first place most people’s minds go when they think about school fit is GMAT, GMAT GMAT. But the GMAT and GRE don’t play a role in school fit.
Each school WILL evaluate your GMAT or GRE score, your GPA, your resume (i.e. your accomplishments and career progression) and those will determine whether you’re qualified to attend the school.
To understand how competitive you are from the standpoint of these stats, be sure to look at school acceptance rates and the average class stats vis-à-vis the class profile links above and the rankings:
- Economist MBA Rankings
- Forbes MBA Rankings
- US News MBA Rankings
- Poets & Quants MBA Rankings
- Bloomberg MBA Rankings
(Sidebar — does it also strike you as odd that there are more than 6 different MBA school rankings? Do we really need that many? Try to keep in mind that the purpose of rankings is to sell subscriptions to the publisher’s service, not to actually help you get into b-school. So take them with a huge mound of salt.)
Or even better than consulting the MBA rankings, go get your personalized MBAmo MBA Calculator report. Just enter your GMAT, grades, and a little other data. And in 60 seconds you’ll get a 20-page readout on your MBA candidacy and fit with your favorite schools.”
Your stats do matter, but fit is an entirely different calculation. A candidate who is barely qualified can still get in if their fit with the school is strong. I could share dozens of case studies from my own client roster to prove this. People who were 10 years older than average. People with weak GMATs or GPAs. People with no community service or short careers to date.
It’s not the best MBA candidates that gain business school admission, it’s the best fit candidates
By some calculations, 70% of applicants qualify.
Fit, therefore, will play a huge role in determining whether you’re actually admitted from the huge pool of qualified hopeful students.
Just like bathing suits (or those shoes and suitcoats I mentioned earlier), MBA program fit is mutual. You fit the program and it fits you.
You’d never buy a bathing suit that doesn’t fit you, so why buy a $200,000 MBA that doesn’t?
Not everyone belongs at every school.
Although any MBA education is going to propel your career forward, school cultures, your fellow students, and the campus experience vary so widely that you’re unlikely to be truly happy at more than a few programs. Figuring out which ones are really for you is a part of the process.
Every year exceptionally qualified candidates get rejected because they don’t show MBA program fit. The most important thing you can do for your MBA applications is demonstrate fit.
So let’s dig in and talk about the first component of MBA program fit.
Step 1: Show the admissions committees you’re going to business school for the right reasons
There is really only ONE reason people go to business school: because they want more.
In fact, this is the only reason people do anything. Because they want more… more money, more stuff, more knowledge, more freedom, more happiness, more love, more sex, more joy, more power, more whatever. We all want certain things in life. That’s part of what defines us.
If you’re considering business school, it’s because you want more from your career. You want to do more of the stuff you love and less of the stuff you find boring. You want to have more impact at a higher level. You want more leadership experience. You want more authority, expertise, and regard. You want your career to matter more — to you and to the world. (We’re not your everyday MBA Admission Coches, but this is why we focus on MBAs at Career Protocol. Because we LOVE people who want that stuff.)
If this is the only reason people go to business school, then how could you fail to show that you’re getting an MBA for the right reasons?
People make two big mistakes in this regard.
MBA Application Mistake #1: People don’t do the work to figure out who they really are and what they really want.
Stanford gives you a great opportunity to do this in their application essay. “What matters most to you and why?” they ask.
Inherent in that question is an invitation to reveal who you truly are and what you truly value – your personal traits and personal experience, what makes you you. Remember, everyone wants more — in that way we’re all the same. Further, all MBA applicants want to make a bigger difference, achieve more impact, and help more people (including themselves and their loved ones) have better lives.
We’re all the same in that way, too. So keep this in mind:
What makes you unique isn’t what you want or even what you value, it’s the choices you’ve made in service of those values.
When it comes to any given pool of MBA applicants, one facet of diversity that stands out among the thousands of essays the admission committees read is the choices made. Some people took jobs in banking, others took jobs in nonprofits. Some people chose to mentor their peers, others chose to invest time in developing themselves further. Some stayed close to friends and family, some charted new courses in new geographies.
Who you are today is the reflection of all the choices, big and small, that you’ve made in your life, and the best way to launch your MBA application process is to explore, own, and celebrate those choices. In doing so, you’ll not only uncover your best stories for your MBA essays (more on how to craft winning MBA essays and write your Life Story), you may also discover in a new and inspiring way the course you want the rest of your life to take. And please don’t write like these terrible MBA sample essays.
How to AVOID mistake #1: Construct clear and well-motivated career goals when you talk about why you want to go to b-school.
There is no substitute for deep self-awareness as the foundation of your MBA application process. This is why our application services begin with the You Discovery Process™. Taking the time to explore and honor your life choices will get you a long way in this direction. If you want to home in even further on your motivations…
Ask yourself some hard, deep questions, and answer them as honestly as you possibly can.
Here are some useful avenues of exploration to help you build a compelling essay:
- What are the core values you strive to uphold in your daily life?
- List 2-3 times in your life when it was very hard to live up them, but you did it anyway. What did you learn?
- List 2-3 times you failed to live up to those values. How did you change after those experiences?
- If you could be known for only one thing in your career so far (a value, a choice, an accomplishment, whatever), what would it be?
- What one thing must you tell the admissions committee about who you are as a person to feel like you have helped them make a fair and good decision about you?
Here are some more tips to build a strong future career goals, a solid long-term objective, and strong reasons why you need an MBA for your essays based on those insights from our Career Guru, Aziz
If you want to chat through these questions — or any other part of your MBA applications with a seasoned savvy MBA Admissions consultant Professional Development Coach — apply for a free MBA strategy session.
Now let’s look at one more way applicants go wrong in answer the why they want an MBA essay question?
The misconception about goals is that you have to have a certain goal or a certain subset of goals in order to be an attractive candidate for a given school. And this is just patently untrue. There is literally an infinite array of MBA application career goals that you could have that both necessitate an MBA and that make you an attractive candidate for business school. And which goals or set of goals is right for you depends on you. It depends on your background, your experiences, your ambitions and your vision for the future. It depends on where you want to have an impact. It depends on the kind of work that you want to be doing post MBA based on the experience that you've had pre-MBA. You’ll submit a unique MBA application that is tailored to you and your personal experiences. I can't tell you how many times I've had my clients go and speak to their friends who are alumni, their alumni friends tell them “You need to destroy this entire essay and you need to talk about wanting to have goals in finance.” or “You can't say that you want to go into consulting, everybody says they want to go into consulting.” or “You have to have an entrepreneurial goal or the school isn't going to accept you.”. The problem with taking advice in general from alumni is that they have a data set of one. They have their own application process and what they believe made them successful in getting into business school. It's only natural to think that whatever worked for you is definitely what's going to work for everyone else. But this is crazy and it's wrong because for the most part, there's a very good chance that those alumni got into school, not because of their essays or their goals, but in spite of them.
This was definitely the case in my case. When I look back on all the horrible mistakes I made in my MBA essays, I can't even believe how lucky I was to be admitted because frankly, I was admitted not because of my essays, but in spite of them. So, taking advice from anyone who has a single data point is always a risky proposition. And where I see this most going wrong – with alumni in particular – is advising you to have a certain set of MBA application goals that they think the school is interested in or that they themselves met success with. But that has nothing to do with you or your specific ambitions or your unique MBA application. And I'm picking on alumni here, but if you go to the internet, you're going to find a lot of misinformation about what goals you should and should not have when you apply to business school.
Mistake #2: People have the wrong expectations for what an MBA program can provide.
Yes, any MBA will help you get more from your career by helping you develop better professional knowledge, some technical knowledge and a whole slew of soft skills: communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, managerial skills, team management skills, and an international perspective. Read more about why you should get an MBA in this article.
But no MBA is a magic wand. It is not a substitute for hard work, self-awareness, questioning, networking, relationship building, appetite for learning, willingness to fail, or an understanding of how the world really works.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Venture Capital is a tiny, competitive niche industry relative to many other business positions. Very few people get the chance to work in Venture Capital and those who do check many boxes. They have a demonstrated track record of entrepreneurial thinking and acting, they have elite relationship building and management skills, they have a highly advanced financial analysis skillset, and they ALREADY have at least the start of a strong network in the field. They frequently have already held technical roles or a position as a management consultant, investment banker, private equity analyst, or serial entrepreneur.
If someone like me — an English teacher with a little Human Resources exposure and a professional network based entirely in South Korea at the time I applied to bschool — claimed I wanted an MBA so I could get my first post-MBA job in Venture Capital in Silicon Valley, that would be magic wand thinking.
The MBA cannot grant any possible career wish.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have absolutely anything you want in your career. It just means that no degree is going to magically make it happen for you. And schools know this.
If the school admitted me believing it could magically make me a Venture Capitalist, I would have ended up a very unsatisfied customer indeed. Nobody wants that, and that’s why your application MUST reflect an accurate understanding of what the MBA offers vis-à-vis what you need to fulfill your goals.
How to avoid mistake #2: Have credible goals that are achievable with your specific background and knowledge (and a little bit of an MBA goose).
Create a tactical plan to get to where you want to go. What this really boils down to is
- Share an inspiring Long-Term Vision, and
- Have a credible Medium-Term Strategy to get what you want (i.e. a plan for your internship and immediate post-MBA job). Understand what it actually takes to get one of those jobs, and make sure your post-MBA goal makes sense given your business experience and current position.
Do you want to work at an e-learning company after school? E-learning companies do not tend to recruit en masse on MBA campuses. So how will you build your own network in that industry, leveraging your and school resources to create such opportunities? And then, of course, what skills, learnings, and experiences do you need from the school to prepare yourself for your target roles?
Pro Tip: If what you REALLY want isn’t achievable immediately post MBA, make it your second step or longer-term goal.
(Entrepreneurship falls into this category for 95% or more of applicants.)
Finally, and crucially, you have to understand what your dream schools actually facilitate in terms of recruitment. Where do alumni of your favorite MBA universities actually go to work?
Want to work in Silicon Valley? Stanford and Haas can help you out a lot by providing direct interaction with companies just down the street. Columbia Business School and London Business School will struggle more since they’re geographically so much farther away. How will you compensate for that with your own efforts, knowledge, and multi-disciplinary creative approach to recruiting?
Step 2: Show schools you’ve really done your research
School research is so important that we’ve actually got multiple articles explaining how to approach it.
When you’re constructing your career goal essay, be sure to research all aspects of the school: the learning environment, key classes and professors, the alumni network, the experiences of classmates and current students. Business schools aren’t just teaching business. They’re creating a two-year 360 degree experience in the type of environment that fosters learning both in an out of the classroom. Be sure you get to know it well.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Figure out which MBA programs are best for your goals
- Show your target schools the love
- Visit campus when you can
- Research the learning experience
- Ask good questions of current students
- And alumni
And since things aren’t so normal lately, here’s how to network with schools during a pandemic.
Step 3: Show them you’ll leave the place better than you found it.
Showing you’re going to have a positive impact on your MBA community and classmates goes beyond what you write in your personal statement. Your MBA resume should show a track record of contributions to the communities you’ve been a part of. Your story essays should reflect the values of inclusivity and service, character, empathy and kindness.
But I talk a lot more about showing school’s you’re going to be a contributor to the campus community in this article about showing showing MBA Program Committees You’re Worth Investing In
Step 4: Show them they’re your first choice.
SHOW (don’t tell) schools they’re your Number 1 choice.
This last one is tricky, and it’s basically the sum of everything we’ve discussed so far. As I mentioned at the start, you’re asking a school to invest in you — they have, let’s say, 575 seats in their program, and you’re asking them to give you one.
Schools have legitimate concerns about yield due to the pressure of rankings.
In other words, the higher the percentage of admitted students who matriculate, the better it is for their ranking. Harvard Business school is king here, then Stanford Graduate School of Business. The rest trail by a wide margin. So programs want some assurance that their choice to invest in you (i.e. give you one of their coveted seats) is a good one.
The best way to show them that their investment in you is safe is to invest in them first.
Important sidebar here: Don’t lie. Please don’t write “Wharton / Harvard Business School / Columbia Business School / Chicago Booth is my first choice school because blablablabla.” It will seem disingenuous even if it’s true, because schools know that you are almost certainly applying to multiple schools. Talk is cheap anyway. Remember, MBA admission is not about pandering.
This is part of why Harvard Business School doesn’t have a formal personal statement essay question. They don’t put a strong emphasis on school fit until the interview because they know they’re your first choice, so they don’t even bother asking. They will, on the other hand, note if you have visited campus, visited their website (multiple times and for how long), and engaged with their media.
So if you want to seal the deal on showing a school that you’re worth investing in…
Take as many actions as you can (big and small) to get to know your target schools and their communities.
Information about your web activity is being recorded at all times. The technology to track your behavior on websites isn’t even that new, and you can bet at least some schools are tracking your activities on their site. So get over there!!
Visit your favorite schools’ sites on a regular basis, click around, read stuff. It’s part of research, but it’s also part of your investment in the program. You’re investing your time, after all, in getting to know them.
Go to local events in your area hosted by target schools and their alumni community.
Go to the Forte Forum, QS MBA World Tour, the Poets&Quants Centre Court Event, and/or the MBA tour in your area and rub elbows with adcom members. Ask good questions and make sure your attendance is registered (i.e. sign the sign-in sheet).
Once again: When it’s possible to do so, go to campus. Even if you do it in the summer when students are away, make sure your presence is registered.
Finally, if the school includes a “Creative Essay” option — you know, the videos, PowerPoints or other multimedia that takes a lot more work and commitment — do it if you can tell your best story through that medium. Engaging with this alternative option shows your commitment and investment. Use one of these 10 cool tools to create it.
If you do all these things, your Why MBA essay should knock their socks off, blow their minds, and make the angels sing.
Or at least, it will give the very best chance at MBA admission at your favorite schools.
If you’d like a partner for your MBA journey and a team of MBA Admissions Coaches who’ll help you find your authentic voice and shine in your MBA applications in the most inspiring way, that’s what we’re here for.
Let’s have a conversation!
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