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Guest post: Writing the MBA essays in your application

Writing MBA essays is never the most fun activity, but you can reduce the pressure by mapping out your plan ahead of time.

Guest blogger Nkem Nwankwo is a 2015 Consortium and University of Michigan Ross School of Business alumnus. He is a product manager at Microsystems, a software company in the Chicago area. Nkem is also the author of After School: Is Getting an MBA Really Worth It? and the After School Blog.

Nkem Nwankwo

Essays aren’t easy. Writing is easily one of the most painful activities I regularly participate in. Some days, I don’t even know how or where to start, especially if I’m given constraints. If you’re like me, you can understand my dread when I finally had to start writing my MBA essays for business school. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. You just need a game plan.

We already talked about why you would actually want to go back to school. But after you have that figured out, how do you actually put it on paper? Business school competition is fierce. You have to make sure you put your best foot forward. A genuine, well-written response to the “why MBA?” question will always strengthen your application.

The key to answering this question lies in how specifically an MBA will get you from where you are to where you want to be. This sounds easy, but many applicants struggle to deconstruct this progression on paper while also sounding authentic. In the process of writing After School, I got the opportunity to ask a number of MBA grads about their application MBA essays.

The two most prominent types of applicant answers were what I called the “logical progression” and the “career switch.”

The logical progression usually involves a change of job title, while the prospective student’s industry, general function, and maybe even company stays the same. Many of my interviewees reported that they hit a ceiling in their current positions. The MBA served as a fast track to the next level.

The career switch, on the other hand, directly addresses how and why an MBA will fill the necessary gaps required to get a job in an industry you couldn’t have without it.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Logical progression: Robert, now a management consultant, had ample experience in change management as an analyst in the financial services industry. He really wanted to explore the management consulting side of things. His “why MBA?” focused on building his academic credentials and exposing himself to other companies.
  • Career switch: Liana worked in asset management, but she wrote about eventually starting her own dance studio. In a previous career, she was actually a member of two dance companies. With dance, she saw an opportunity to make an impact on the business side of things. The opportunity was there for her target market.
  • Logical progression: Everette worked in telecom as a consultant. He wrote about becoming a chief strategy officer for a large telecommunication company because he felt it was the practical answer to get him in. It was a believable story.
  • Career switch: Amara now does education consulting, but she discussed how her career in insurance gave her experience in managing finance and interpersonal relationships. After pointing out the flaws she saw in the educational system from a structural standpoint, her essay walked through how she would strategically make the change to education management after obtaining necessary skills from her MBA.

All four had different motivations for going back to school, but they all clearly deconstructed their career strategies for their respective applications. Before you begin your own MBA essays, make sure that you’ve adequately vetted whether an MBA even makes sense for you. The story you write should be your own. Application reviewers can tell when something doesn’t sound genuine.

Finally, don’t be afraid of feedback! Knock out some first drafts and have your trusted friends read and critique them. They may uncover gaps in your story you didn’t realize you had. Writing MBA essays is never the most fun activity, but you can reduce the pressure and periods of writer’s block by mapping out your plan ahead of time. After that, the pieces should start to fall into place.

You can reach Nkem at Find his book at his website.

Note: Photo above via Mike Mantin, Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

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