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MBA Essay Writing Tip #22: Breaking Down Essay Questions

December 13, 2012 :: Admissionado Team

Breaking Down Essay Questions

Sometimes, we read some heartbreaking essays here at Admissionado.

Essays with compelling stories, great accomplishments and excellent writing that don’t work for a very simple reason… they don’t answer the question that the school is asking.

Every school’s essay questions are different and the questions change every year, so there’s no predicting EXACTLY what a school will be asking. However, variations on a few topics DO pop up annually and it’s a good idea to think about a few basic topics ahead of time. With that in mind, here are a few common essay topics along with our analysis of how to tackle them. Keep in mind that these analyses are for THESE questions and should be treated as guides to breaking down YOUR OWN essay questions.

1. What event or life experience has had the greatest influence in shaping your character and why? OR What matters most to you and why?

A variation on this question aims to find out about the writer’s background and character. The key here is to be honest (as a contrived story will ring false) while still sticking to a topic in sync with your application. The goal here is to present your QUALITIES rather than specific accomplishments, so build your essay around stories that SHOW us these qualities.

2. What have you learned from a mistake? OR Describe a failure that you have experienced.

The key here is NOT to sugarcoat your mistake or failure. Be honest and show us a story where you fell flat on your face… and then show us what you learned from it. A spectacular failure is fine as long as you demonstrate that it led to personal and professional growth – you can even conclude with a small anecdote highlighting how it led to success down the line.

3. What are your career aspirations? What are your short- and long-term goals?

Practically every school will ask a variation on this question, but the devil is in the details. CAREER ASPIRATIONS excludes your immediate academic plans whereas SHORT- and LONG-TERM goals can overlap with your time in school. Tailor your message to what’s being asked: if the question includes the words short-term and long-term goals, then be sure to include them in your essay.

4. How will you contribute to our school?

The trick to answering this question is two-fold. First, this is a good place to note any extracurricular activities at your previous job/school including charity work, volunteering, and any other noteworthy activities. Second, tie those activities to clubs and opportunities available at the school you’re applying to. This second step requires research into your school, but by showcasing your previous accomplishments and knowledge of your future school, you’ll knock it out of the park.

5. Tell us about a time you displayed leadership OR teamwork.

This essay is built around a STORY demonstrating the quality in question. The most important thing here is to make sure your story FITS THE QUESTION. If you have a similar essay but it doesn’t QUITE work, discard it and think of something new. The #1 mistake when it comes to these questions is to answer the wrong question, choose the wrong story, or make some other essay from some other school “fit” into this space.

Like this post? Check out more of our MBA Essay Writing Guide Tips!