Demonstrating Your “School Spirit” In MBA Essays

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MBA application prompts can sometimes sounds like a needy significant other.

For example, Duke’sTeam Fuqua” essay prompt, in which they ask you to demonstrate your passion for “Fuqua culture” and force you to write a long essay about how great they are, can feel eerily similar to your boyfriend/girlfriend asking you to tell them if you think they’re good looking. It can be an irksome task, but no matter how needy the prompt might feel on behalf of the MBA program, it’s important to look past the question at hand to understand why they’re asking you it in the first place. The program knows it’s great, so why do they need you to tell them?

Well, they don’t. In fact, what they’re really asking is: what brings YOU to our program and how will YOU fit into the kind of reputation they’ve established for themselves. Even when an essay seems to be entirely geared toward the school and why it’s so great, the question under the prompt is always asking about YOU. These “school culture” essays serve two purposes:

  1.  To show that you’ve done your homework on the program and know more about them than just where they’re ranked amongst their peer MBA programs, and
  2. To gain a better understanding of what you value – what matters to you when making a decision as big as where to pursue your MBA.

A solid response to these prompts needs to address both parts. The former is pretty easy. What do you think “Team Fuqua” is? What do you know about Wharton’s commitment to entrepreneurship? How do you think Columbia’s location in Manhattan informs the professional-forward culture of the school? You can get at all of these answers through approaching them with how you came to understand the school’s culture. Did you spend time on campus? Did you reach out to alums? What did you actively do to learn about the ins and outs of the program? Adcoms want to see that you’ve done your due diligence and gone beyond simply Googling the program’s specs. By showing how you’ve come to learn what a school’s culture is like, you can prove that you’ve invested time and brain-power into this important life decision.

The second portion you need to address is a little trickier. If the essay is supposed to be all about them, how do you find space for you? Remember, these prompts are no different than any other: they provide a space for you to make an argument about yourself. What do you want the adcom to know about you? What core value do you want to convey through this essay? When responding to the school spirit prompts, focus on YOUR spirit and how it lines up with the program’s.

Maybe you want to say that you value collaboration. Great. This is the essay for you! When discussing the program’s culture, talk about how the program values collaboration, and how you learned that this is a core value for them, and then quickly segue into WHY this value is important to YOU! Sure, you need to “frame” your responses as though you’re talking about the school, but make sure to circle around to yourself. For every attribute that you claim makes a program unique, also be sure that that attribute reflects back on why that value is important to you. Thereby, you can spin this school spirit essay into an argument about the core values that matter most to you, and the adcom can get a fuller picture of what kind of a person you are and how you’ll fit into their campus.

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