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The Tuesday Q&A: Can I Tell Personal Stories in My Application Essays?

September 27, 2011 :: Admissionado Team


I am working on the third essay for MIT application: Please describe a time when you had to make a decision without having all the information you needed. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page).

For this kind of topic, it is OK to write something not work-related, but purely personal? Like a life decision, etc? Will this kind of topic fit in with the application, or is should all essays be focused on work and business?


The answer to your question is that by all means, YES – and this goes for any school you may be applying to – you can absolutely write an essay that is not work related.  In fact, we recommend that you do!  Like we always say, b-schools are hiring people, NOT profiles, and throwing something a little personal in there really humanizes you and shows the adcoms who you are as a whole.

But, of course, there are some ground rules here, folks.

First of all, you must remember that you are applying to business school and not…erm…life coaching school. What does that mean? It means that if you want to write about a personal experience, you should only do that in one essay per application. One. Then make sure that aaaall your other essays are work related.

The other thing to keep in mind is…well, business. Even if you’re writing about something personal, try to keep business in mind. For example, you could write about a time that you went to meet a friend for dinner but you didn’t know where the restaurant was. That qualifies as a “decision without having all the information,” but what does that really say about you (besides the fact that you don’t have a navigation system in your car….)? Nothing. So why tell it? When you’re using a personal story in response to this question or any question, you want to make sure there’s a GOOD reason to include it.

Does this story show that you have the skills (able to think on your toes, resourceful, rational, logical, etc…) to be good in business?

Does it present you in a way that will be endearing and appealing to the admissions committee?

Make sense? As long as you keep those two things in mind, throwing a personal story into your application can (and should) only help ya.

Good luck!

— Jon Frank

P.S. MIT loves to hear about your past more than your future. Just a little tip from me to you.
P.P.S. For more guidances on those application essays, check out our MBA Essay Analyses.

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