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Mentioning Family in Application Essays

March 21, 2019 :: Jacob Allison

They say, “write what you know,” and for the most part, that applies to your MBA admissions essays, too.

We often find ourselves encouraging the applicants we work with to draw on their unique personal experiences to create compelling narratives that will make their applications memorable for adcoms that read hundreds of essays in an admission season. However, there is one close-to-home topic that we caution applicants to take care writing about in their essays: their families.

This can be hard, especially for applicants who grew up in countries with cultures that prioritize the family over the individual. For many of our clients, their families have made huge sacrifices to help them succeed academically and professionally. However, the top MBA schools in the world are located in Western countries with cultures that focus on individual accomplishment and development, and international applicants need to tailor their essays to appeal to Western adcoms. Below, find two of the most common pitfalls that applicants make when trying to talk about their families in their admissions essays, and our advice to help turn those ideas into effective essay content.

Your Parents’ Accomplishments

One of the most common mistakes we see from applicants when talking about their families is spending way too many words describing their parents’ accomplishments. It’s great that your dad did pro-bono legal work for hundreds of poor farmers in rural Armenia, but you shouldn’t spend 150 words telling us about it. Your dad isn’t applying to get a Wharton MBA, and while his achievements might be impressive, they’re not what the adcom wants to read about.

Recommended Reading: How to Nail the MBA “Impact” Essay

In this example, the applicant could still use their father’s impressive accomplishments in their essay, but with a re-focus. We would suggest that the client talk about how their father’s pro-bono legal work demonstrated to them how rewarding it is to help those in need. Then, they could spend the overwhelming majority of their writing describing how their father’s work inspired them to give back to their community by volunteering at Organization X, focusing on who they helped, what the impact of their actions looked like, and how it made them feel to make an impact. In this example, the applicant has put the focus back on their actions, and communicated to the adcom that they’re able to effectively emulate the successful approaches of others to create meaningful results.

The Family Networking Trap

Another pitfall we see a lot is clients who write about their plans to use the networking contacts of one of their family members to snag a post-graduation position. For example, an applicant writes in their goals essay about how their uncle works at Goldman Sachs and that they plan on using him as a reference when applying for an Analyst position after graduation. While this applicant’s uncle is an awesome resource that they totally should use to boost their chances of getting a job at Goldman, we would advise that in their MBA goals essay, this applicant not mention their uncle.

Recommended Reading: Crafting Credible Short-Term MBA Goals

Instead, the applicant needs to lay out a strong case for why Goldman is the best place for them to go after graduation in terms of their long-term goal strategy. They should also write about a clear, workable plan for securing that Goldman job that includes things like planned internships and attending networking events with Goldman recruiters. With this approach, the applicant is communicating to the adcom that they’re someone with a plan to develop valuable networking skills, and that they’re not the kind of person that relies on shortcuts.

When writing your admissions essays, take care when mentioning your family. Writing about them can distract the reader from your own accomplishments and goals, but if done right, your family’s inspiration can help make your story more compelling and effective.


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