Some of the common prompts you might be asked to tackle include:

  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • What are your outside activities and interests?
  • Whom do you admire most?
  • What unique contributions might you make to our diverse student body?

Although essay questions vary by school and can span a number of topics, there is one critical theme around which the majority of business schools beg an answer:

  • Why do you want an MBA? Why do you want it at this time in your career? And why here, at this school?

When it comes to business school admissions, this is the million dollar question.

Answer convincingly and authentically, and you may well find yourself on the way to earning admission. But answer lazily or with half-baked reasoning, and you can inadvertently torpedo your application.

The fact is, if you can’t articulate why you want an MBA, schools will be far less inclined to award you one of their coveted spots. Because MBA coursework is rigorous, those who are not fully committed to the degree may not make it through. If you are just applying on a whim, or without a clear direction for your future, you will be seen as a high-risk admit. Students who aren’t sure about the value of their degree often squander important opportunities while at school. This is another reason for prospective programs to ding you.

The bottom line? This is the foundational essay for your business school application. What you write will define your candidacy and greatly impact your chances of getting in.

Any MBA candidate, no matter their background or goals, needs to explain their reasoning for pursuing business school in specific terms. Earning an MBA is expensive and time consuming; it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Schools are looking for focused candidates who know what they want and where they’re headed next. Applications should reflect a solid plan, and should sell that plan to admissions officers.

The more specific you can be about your career path post-MBA, sharing both short and long term goals, the better. In particular, admissions committees want to hear how you will take full advantage of their school’s resources, tailor your studies around their specialized curricula, and go on to become a successful and proud representative of their institution.

But what if you’re uncertain of your career path, but still want an MBA? How do you answer questions about your future plans?

Try to select an industry that you have some interest in or one that relates to your current field, and do some research around it. Again, choose short and long term goals that complement your plans for entering this industry, and elaborate on those plans in your essay. Armed with an MBA, what kind of position will you want to pursue? Will you be seeking higher management roles? Switching careers? There are plenty of acceptable pathways to pursue post-MBA; it’s just important that you plan to align yourself with one of them, rather than meandering about.

Business schools are keenly interested in your potential. That’s because, right or wrong, the schools will be judged for their career placement stats — meaning the number of grads who get a position, along with their post-MBA earnings. To keep career placement numbers strong, schools seek candidates who are likely to do well once they enter the business world.

This does not mean that you can’t change your mind about your career once you are enrolled in a business school program. In fact, many students do. But first, you have to get in.

A final word: your essay should not only reflect your commitment to specific career goals, but also to that individual school. Tailor your writing to talk about the program’s offerings and unique focus. Don’t let prospective schools think that you would go to any old MBA program. Declare your love for their institution. Tell them why this is a match, and why you can only find true meaning in their hallowed halls. With any luck, your love will be rewarded with an offer of admission.

Nedda
Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.