Personal Statement for Business School: 6 Tips for Writing a Stand-Out Essay
September 16, 2016
The Personal Statement for Business School: 6 Tips for Writing a Stand-Out Essay
The personal statement for business school is the most important part of your application. By the time you are applying, you probably cannot significantly alter your GPA or GMAT/GRE score. Thus, if your numbers make you a “borderline candidate” – someone who could be admitted but could just as easily be rejected – your personal statement for business school is your greatest opportunity to swing the decision in your favor. In this case, you should also make sure to pay close attention to the MBA application timeline - apply in the first two rounds. As one Director of Admissions put it: “If someone with your numbers has a possibility of being admitted to a particular school, but not everyone with your numbers is admitted to that school, the major deciding factor is the personal statement.”
On the other hand, even if you seem like a shoo-in – you have, for example, a perfect GPA and a 750 on the GMAT – a weak personal statement for business school is damning. Indeed, nothing looks worse than a candidate with perfect numbers and no personality – or, worse, who exhibits a lack of effort on their application.
In short, your personal statement for business school is what makes you a person, rather than simply a set of numbers and achievements. It is your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions officers, and one of the only opportunities you will have to make an admissions officer like you, rather than simply liking your achievements.
Like most written assignments, the personal statement for business school is more of an art than a science. Although there are no formulas for success, your chances of acceptance improve greatly if you are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to produce a masterful essay. This is no small task – it will involve dozens of revisions and hours of re-writing and re-organizing. However, by committing yourself to producing an essay that far exceeds adequacy, you can help swing the admissions fortunes in your favor.
6 Key Tips for Writing the Best Personal Statement for Business school
1. Tell YOUR story.
Everyone has their own story to tell. You may have the same test scores or GPA or even work experience as the application sitting on top of yours in the admissions office. But not everyone has your individual stories. Tell them in a way that nobody else can replicate.
In addition to that point, your essay needs to be about you. Admissions officers from nearly every elite business school – Wharton, Harvard, and Stanford, to name a few – lament the number of essays written about a candidate’s parents and grandparents. Those relationships obviously affect your life, but writing about these individuals in an essay does not help a reader understand who you are as individual.
2. Your essay should coherently tie together the other parts of your application.
Most people enjoy participating in activities outside of only school and work. Maybe you play the harmonica in a folk band, maybe you were a track star in college. Maybe you do both. Whatever experiences and background you bring to your application, the personal statement for business school is your chance to tie them together in a meaningful way.
That being said, they should come together in a coherent manner as well. Don’t try to explain every experience you have ever had. Choose the ones that will be most relevant to business, to business schools, and to the person sitting in the admissions office reading your essay. There should be a cohesive narrative that ties together everything you have ever done.
3. Your essay needs to stand out.
Your essay needs to stand out. Applications are read on a comparative basis, which means that your personal statement for business school is read next to thousands of others. That is a lot of essays for an admissions officer to remember, so you need to make yours count.
This can be done in many ways. For example, by demonstrating your unique perspective or background, discussing a particularly interesting or unusual passion, or discussing any other experiences and characteristics that would be considered rare or special among your co-applicants. Remember: your excellence is not evaluated in a vacuum; you must show in your personal statement for business school that you are not only excellent, but you are better in some way(s) than your peers.
4. An admissions reader should be able to sum up your personal statement (and the rest of your application) using the same phrase you would use for yourself.
When you pick up your personal statement for business school, think to yourself: “If I were reading this application, how would I describe myself in 10 words or less?” If you can’t come up with a memorable and compelling answer in a few seconds, go back to the drawing board.
Most admissions officers remember essays that have a very clear persona about them. Think of your personal statement for business school as very similar to a business’s “30-second elevator speech”. Perhaps you are the “entrepreneur who launched her first company at age 10,” the “fitness expert,” the “orthodox rabbi,” or the “professional musician.” Remember: every admissions officer will look over hundreds of applications. If your pages aren’t readily distinguishable from the other 14,985 pages an admissions officer must read through, you simply cannot expect that an admissions officer will remember much about you, much less advocate that you be admitted.
5. Show your motivations for pursuing an MBA.
This tip might sound obvious, but many people neglect to address it in their personal statement for business school. One of the key questions that admissions officers ask as they are evaluating applications is: “Why does this applicant want to pursue an MBA...at our school?”
If the answer you suggest in your application is that you want an MBA in order to get a pay raise at your current job, then a school might be less inclined to admit you. Top MBA programs are looking for people who will leave their schools to become change-makers and leaders in the business world. Even if you are applying to business school as a more experienced applicant, you need to have a compelling answer for "Why an MBA now?"
Maybe you have been working your way up the ladder at an investment bank for the past few years, and you want an MBA so that you can take your managerial skills to the startup world. That example tells a more compelling story than “I want a better job.”
6. Show that you have the personal and professional qualifications to achieve your goals (which means you need to have goals!)
Your past work experiences and qualifications should in some way inform what your future goals are. To take the last example, if you have strong experience in managing a team, but would like to switch to the startup or nonprofit or other fields, you need to show - through your personal statement for business school - that an MBA is imperative to achieving your goals. These goals should be explicitly outlined in your essay.
MBA programs are looking for qualified, experienced, and motivated candidates. Your application - particularly the essay - is your only chance to display how you fit the bill. While your test scores and GPA may qualify you academically for certain schools, the personal statement for business school is where you have to opportunity to stand out.
Make it personal. Make it coherent. Make it goal-oriented. And you just might make it into your dream school.
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