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The Tuesday Q&A: Balancing Personal and Professional in Essays

August 09, 2011 :: Admissionado Team

Got a question about those MBA applications? Stuck on an essay? Need a little clarity? Chances are, you’re not the only one.

Thankfully, Admissionado founder and Harvard MBA Jon Frank has an answer… for everything admissions-related. And he’s going to share all of his answers with you, right here, every Tuesday.

And on this lovely Tuesday, we’re going to talk about essays. More specifically, finding the perfect balance between personal and professional. Here goes:


“What’s the best way to strike a balance between the personal story and the professional story when putting together the overall package of essay responses? Haas, for instance, has 2 long and 4 short. Someone advised me to do half and half. What do you think?”


Ah, yes. A very common question/dilemma. And here’s my best advice:

Assess that situation only after you’ve written your first drafts. Get those drafts down QUICKLY. Then pull back, and size it all up. Any major imbalances will make themselves apparent.

The worst thing you can do is be too calculating, too early. Answer the question as honestly and forthrightly as you can.

To be sure, the perfect balance will vary from person to person. Don’t bother making a science out of it (X amount devoted to purely personal, Y to purely professional, etc.) We don’t advise that at all.

For some, there’s much to learn about their personal life and personality THROUGH their work experiences. For others (perhaps those with less work experience, say), there’s plenty to extrapolate about what they will be like in the workforce THROUGH a simple personal story.

Rather than focus on which essay should get what dose of personal versus professional, focus instead on hitting these two THEMES, always: (1) who you are as a person, and (2) what you’re gonna do with your life professionally.

How you personally balance those things doesn’t really matter.

But, to repeat, ONLY consider that issue during the revision stages. On that first go of writing, let your pens fly. Then start sculpting.

Hope that sheds a little light,
— Jon Frank

Got a question you want to ask Jon? Email info@admissionado.com!