What Makes For Compelling Personal “Stuff” In An MBA Application Essay?

Compelling Personal MBA Essay

Not gonna lie, this is a very challenging concept. Things may get a little heady, so stay with me…

Schools often ask (in some form) what kind of person you are, getting to know who you are, personal interests, etc etc etc.

But what IS that? What does “personal” really mean as far as making an imprint? Height? Weight? Favorite color? Favorite actor? That’s all personal info, right?

It is indeed, but it won’t help in an MBA essay. Let’s figure out what WILL.

There’s a very cool test we can apply to determine what makes for compelling personal stuff in an MBA application essay [get set, this is worth a mental note]:

Can the reader make a PREDICTION about your BEHAVIOR… based on your story?

Repeat this question in your head. Chew it. Take another bite. Chew slowly, digest. It’s a tough concept to get your head around, but with a little practice, you will master it. It’ll be second nature. And when that happens, your writing will start to devastate anything in its path.

At the end of reading your essay, we should be able to imagine how you would react to a certain situation. We should be able to get a sense of what your attitude is like. We should be able to say “This is the kind of person who would __________________”

You can’t do that with a GMAT score, or the number of languages you know, or the number of deals you closed, the amount of money you’ve made, a GPA, etc.

“This is the kind of person who would…”

That’s what the Adcom should be able to say after reading your application. [You’d be surprised, but majority of applications fail this test.]

Here are some examples for you. This is the kind of person who would:

  1. Most likely take the blame for someone else’s mistake
  2. Most likely throw someone else under the bus to protect himself
  3. Most likely tell a white lie to avoid chaos—sometimes lying is harmless
  4. Most likely tell the truth, no matter what—lying is always wrong
  5. Most likely quietly seek revenge if they saw someone key their car
  6. Most likely take down that guy’s license plate and report him to the police
  7. Most likely let it go and assume he had a troubled past and can’t help it
  8. Most likely rather cure cancer than invent the next “Facebook”
  9. Most likely rather invent “Facebook” than cure cancer
  10. Most likely give lottery money back to his parents
  11. Most likely put away lottery money for his children
  12. Most likely be honest and tell someone their performance was bad
  13. Most likely sugar coat the truth because human emotions are fragile

This isn’t a comprehensive list. The questions are infinite, but hopefully you’re starting to get a sense…

What’s the secret then? How do you write in a way that makes the reader able to answer those questions? What do you need to say?

There’s no single way or formula. Sometimes it’s puuuuuure style. The aura of the writing can sometimes say a TON about who the person is. Sometimes it can be an earnest anecdote, stripped completely of style, but provides a window into what the person is all about. Usually, it’s a balance of both.

Frustrating that there isn’t “a way to do it.” But, it’s like saying “how do you make an amazingly tasty dish?” Well, you can attempt to apply a formula to achieve that result, but ultimately, the tastiness is determined by subjecting the dish to a test—the taster.

Similarly, you need to subject your writing to this prediction test. Be able to fill in that blank several times over: This is the kind of person who _______________.

It’s also worth noting that we have an entire series on writing killer application essays and making them stand out. You can get started with the first post from our our MBA Essay Writing Guide, or read this post about writing a personal MBA essay.

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