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Brainstorming: Developing Ideas For Your Mba Essay
Some people may want to use the following list as a springboard as they develop their own ideas for their MBA Essay. You can browse the questions below without a specific structure in mind and see what results from a free-association process. On the other hand, some people prefer to have more guidance as they brainstorm, and for those people we have ordered and grouped the questions into a logical structure.
Each subtopic begins with a series of questions and then an explanation of their potential relevance to the big picture. You may find that some of the questions actually appear on your applications, but our purpose now is more to spark ideas than to think about specific essays.
Long- and Short-Term Goals
*What draws you to business in general?
We have started with the question of what you hope to be rather than what you are because the former provides a broader context into which everything else should fit. You possess a wide range of skills and qualities, of which some are more relevant and significant than others to your candidacy for business school. Once you clarify your long-term vision (even if you haven't planned as specifically as deciding which companies and what positions, you should at least outline areas of interest), you will be in a better position to recognize how the details fit together.
The questions about your short-term goals and how the school can help you attain them also have additional importance because they may help you assess your current strengths and weaknesses, which will come up again in later categories.
Business is a very goal-oriented field. We saw several admissions officers comment on the importance of focus, and so your answers to these questions are important in themselves as well as in their impact on your thought process for the remaining sections below. You must have a thorough and practical plan, and you must present it convincingly even if you harbor private doubts. Your degree won't be revoked because you later fail to execute your plan. What your readers want to see is that you're mature and clear thinking enough for business school at this stage of your career.
*What significant challenges have you overcome, in your personal or professional life?
The important point here is that you develop insight into your accomplishments beyond their face value. Your essay should not merely list your most significant successes, nor is it enough to say that you're proud of them. You need to dig deeper to discover what these accomplishments mean to you, what they say about you, and how you learned from them. Also, reflect closely on your path to achievement rather than the result itself.
*To what non-work (or non-academic) activity did you give the most time over the past year? Or past several years?
Again, do not summarize your resume. Don't feel obligated to bring up every activity you've ever done, especially if it has been sufficiently covered elsewhere in the application. Remember that depth is more important than breadth. Your readers want to gain insight into what you care most about, and to see how you've devoted yourself.
Community service and volunteer work can be great ways to demonstrate such characteristics as compassion and civic concern, but you should not force the point if you don't have a significant track record. If you have one important experience, you can write about what that meant to you, but it shouldn't degenerate into a sermon about your moral commitment to helping others.
At the same time, you should not feel obligated to stress community involvement at all if that's not genuinely important to you. A lack of sincerity would likely shine through, and you're better off focusing on activities for which you have a real passion. Your readers want to know about who you are, and not about who you can pretend to be.
Skills and Characteristics
*What are your strengths and weaknesses?
In this section you should begin by thinking broadly. Don't just name skills that you know the schools are looking for, because that will detract from the unique portrait you're trying to paint. Also, you might be surprised about how you can tie a skill from one area of your life into your current goals in business. That's why we also suggested that you come up with different combinations of your skills and characteristics. This exercise will help you to see yourself from different perspectives and recognize all that you have to offer.
Just as listing accomplishments and activities is unfruitful, you won't accomplish anything by simply naming skills. That's why this section has emphasized the question how. How have you demonstrated your skills and characteristics? Where is the evidence? Here again it's important to remember the movement within this brainstorming section from broad to specific. Perhaps you showed a specific ability in activities unrelated to business. The evidence can come from this separate area and still be tied in ultimately to your current situation.
*When and why did you first become interested in working in business?
In your responses to these questions, you may want to draw on answers from previous sections. The purpose of this section is for you to begin synthesizing your previous accomplishments and activities into a coherent argument for your candidacy. Because there won't be room for you to describe every aspect of your involvement in an activity or job, you may choose to relate a particular episode that epitomizes the key points you want to convey.
One issue you must be cautious about is placing too much emphasis on one-time events. In most cases, you will be adding meaning to a scenario retrospectively. Few of us are ever in the situation to make life decisions based on epiphanies. You don't want to attribute too much significance to any one event, because that would detract from your purpose of demonstrating a well-reasoned, serious commitment to your goals in business. Nevertheless, detailing the most meaningful, significant episodes from your background can help ensure that your essay stays concrete and personal.
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