The Tuesday Q&A: Quantity vs. Quality in an MBA Application

MBA FAQ, MBA frequently asked questions, bschool questions, mba questionsQuestion:

I’m working on my application essays, and I feel like the word limit is often pretty tight. Should I describe one thing very specifically, or touch on many attributes but with less detail?


This is an easy one, my friend. You always need to write GOOD essays. And this involves SHOWING, and not just TELLING. What’s that mean? Well, here’s two examples to compare:

  • “I built a big boat, put my family and some animals inside, and survived a big flood.”
  • “I singlehandedly built the largest wooden boat ever made, loaded it with two of every animal from the land and air, and saved life on earth from a cataclysmic flood that wiped out everyone else on the planet.”

They’re both TELLING us the same story, but only one of them is SHOWING us what happened. So what does “showing” really mean? Details. Context. Accomplishment. Perspective. Scale. These are the things that give the reader insight into the situation and a sense of the results in light of the details.

So given the choice, if you can cover 3-4 topics by only briefly touching on them, versus 1-2 topics but really DIGGING INTO them, you should 100% dig deeper.  Fewer topics covered well are MUCH more valuable than more topics covered poorly. Imagine two stacks of cash. One has 100 one-dollar bills. The other has only 10 bills, but they’re $100 bills. You’d want the shorter stack. Why? Because it’s got WAY more value. Your essay topics work the same way. Fewer topics with more depth will ALWAYS be more valuable.

Worried you might not mention all the topics you want to? Don’t worry. After all, your resume will cover everything you’ve ever done.  So in the essays, focus on the few things that are worth digging into…and dig DEEP!

Make sense?

— Jon Frank

MBA Essay Writing Tip #4: Discussing Sensitive Topics