Using Quotes in Your MBA Essays is a Red Flag

Don't Use Quotes in MBA Essays | Admissionado

“As I received my bachelor’s degree in marketing, looking out on the crowd and seeing my imperious mother’s gaze, all I could think of was a quote from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, ‘She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.’ Just like Chopin’s Edna Pontellier, I felt like I was finally free to pursue my passions…”

While we happened to make up this imaginary opening to an MBA admissions essay, it’s not far off from many of the first drafts we receive from the applicants we work with. This biggest problem with this introduction is that it includes a quote from a famous book.

Using quotations from famous literature, plays, and films is one of the biggest red flags in an admissions essay, and something we ask applicants to avoid using or to cut 95% of the time. Below, find out why we think using quotes in your essays is a bad idea, and one of the few ways in which you can utilize quotes in an admissions essay to great effect.

Use Your Own Words!

The biggest problem with using other people’s words is, well, they’re not your own! Most admissions essays (except HBS!) have a pretty tight word count and very specific prompts that are focused on your short-term and long-term goals, and your personal experiences. None of the top programs‘ prompts ask you to respond with your favorite quote from a famous novel or movie.

As an MBA applicant, you simply don’t have the word real estate to venture into the realms of film or literature. You need to focus on your goals, your experiences, and your plans for finding success at your target program. No matter how exciting it may seem to you, a quote from Mad Max isn’t going to hook the reader into wanting to know more about your time as a management consultant.

Culture Isn’t Universal

Even if you’re able to craft a creative hook or punchline utilizing a quote from a book or movie in your MBA essay, it’s still a risky move, because there’s no way to ensure that the adcom has read or seen the book or film you’re referencing. Can you imagine what an adcom who hasn’t seen Terminator 2 would think of a candidate who randomly inserted the words, “Hasta la vista, baby” into their admissions essay? Not good things, we can assure you of that.

Is It Ever Okay To Use Quotes?

In a few rare instances, yes. The first instance in which you could potentially utilize a quote from a film or a movie is when answering a more lighthearted prompt like Fuqua’s “25 Random Things” essay. If you’re able to tell the adcoms something funny, interesting, or memorable about yourself by utilizing a quote from a book or movie, then that might be okay.

Another place where you might be able to effectively use other people’s words is when writing dialogue in your essays. Many MBA applications have a question about an example of feedback you’ve received in your career. A very effective way to explain what the feedback you received was is to actually write out what your boss, supervisor, or mentor said to you. If their words were particularly meaningful or inspirational, it is perfectly fine to simply write them out in your essay. You’ll note that this use of a quotation is only useful because it is directly related to you and your experiences.

So, as a general rule, quotations from movies, plays, musicals, or books are not a good thing to integrate into your MBA admissions essays. Remember, unless the quote tells the adcom something particularly interesting or memorable about you as a person and businessperson, it’s best to stick with your own words.      

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