June 17, 2019

Michigan Ross School of Business MBA Essay 1

University of Michigan (Ross)

Part 1: Short Answer Questions

Select one prompt from each group of the three groups below. Respond to each selected prompt in 100 words or fewer (<100 words each; 300 words total).

Group 1

  • I want people to know that I:
  • I made a difference when I:

Group 2

  • I am out of my comfort zone when:
  • I was humbled when:

Group 3

  • I was aware that I am different when:
  • I was challenged when:

Don’t overthink this. As we always say, don’t pick the question, pick first from your “Greatest Hits” – the stories you need to tell, the traits you need to reveal that show you’re marked with future success … no matter what. Then find the questions which provide the cleanest opportunities for you to tell those stories.

“100 words or fewer” (for each of the three responses) is the real trick. That’s just not a lot of words, folks. We’re at 86 words so far by the way (92 if you include this parenthetical). Adds up, fast. (95.)

You’ve really only got a couple sentences and that’s hard as hell. But it’s also helpful in some ways. You’re actually unable to get too stuck. You need to be seriously efficient with your words. So let’s go through each prompt and figure out where to focus your attention.

GROUP 1

I want people to know that I:

Think about this one carefully. It shouldn’t be “an impressive resume bullet.” That would be more appropriate for something like “It would be nice if people happened to find out X about me.” Right? Isn’t that how a REAL badass approaches things? It’s always the quiet guy/gal who decidedly DOESN’T give you his/her resume, but you end up finding out somehow else, and go “holy crap, I had no idea.” So much cooler.

Have fun with this one. Think of this more like “These people will never know this STRANGE thing about me unless *I* tell them right now. So, strap in folks, and try not to smile and LOVE me after I tell you this thing.”

It can be an honest admission of … something funny, charming, silly, embarrassing, weird.

Example 1:

“I want people to know that I do not like nickels. Can’t stand em. Thickness. Worthless amount. I like Jefferson. But I don’t love Jefferson. I’d rather be poor than have a billion nickels. What else. I’m trying to find a way to fill my 100 word allowance, but I can’t say it better than that. I hate nickels. If you give me change, and there are nickels present, I’m an adult, and I’ll seem composed, but inside, as small part of me will weep a little.”

Example 2:

“I want people to know that I genuinely don’t know if I’ve ever sneezed properly. I’ve observed people sneeze so loud that they injure themselves, or at the very least, a sneeze that warrants an “Excuse me.” Is it possible I’ve never sneezed before? On the one hand I feel like it may mean that I’m some kind of X-Men-esque inevitability of evolution. Mankind’s 2.0. And while that’s a fun thought, I can’t help but wonder, what have I been missing all these years? I’m tired of wondering. I’m going to go inhale a cloud of black pepper. Pray for me.”

Example 3:

“I want people to know that I really like Justin Bieber. I want people to know that I don’t care what YOU think of him, or what you think of people who typically like him. The kid is rad. Fact. I like his hair. I like his muscle T-Shirts. Before you decide things about my musical taste, consider this: I like Nirvana. I like Dre. I even like Mahler. But, yeah, also, I like Justin Bieber. I don’t know what it means, but I know is it’s 100% true.”

See the pattern? There’s something about “not taking yourself too seriously” that can make someone want to take you… more seriously. Ironic how that works out right? As opposed to the guy who pulls up in an electric blue Lamborghini and announces with chest puffed: “I want people to know that I bought this Lamborghini after I closed the deal of a lifetime–” (if anyone is still listening to that guy speak, I’d be surprised).

So the safe bet here: don’t take yourself too seriously. If you do it right, it should have the opposite effect. It’s not always true, there is an art form to it, so give it a whirl, see where it takes you.

I made a difference when I:

We need a clear understanding of what things would have been like WITHOUT YOU. And then we need to appreciate the delta that resulted after you were added to the equation.

First, paint the picture of “If I hadn’t done X, this is how things would have gone.” Then take a few sentences and show us how the thing YOU did made a meaningful difference.

This question lives and dies by our understanding of that delta. Without the context, your accomplishment may seem… kinda impressive? But we won’t know much about how much of a DIFFERENCE you made. It’s inside THAT aspect that we can gauge just how much of a change agent you can be. And based on that, ponder what your future potential is like.

GROUP 2

I am out of my comfort zone when:

The key here is that you have to be comfortable ADMITTING to something. Meaning, if there isn’t any discomfort along the way, you’re probably not doing it right. We need to feel uncomfortable – as you did – when you take us through the quick version of this story. We need to understand where you were comfortable, and why you felt uncomfortable when pushed outside that zone. It’s not enough to drop us into the “outside of comfort zone” and just tell us THAT this thing was outside your comfort zone. We need to know what it means, and the only way to do that is for you to establish the “normal” first. (Or whenever, but at some point.)

I was humbled when:

You need to open your kimono up a bit here and expose yourself. You need to get comfortable revealing a belief or position you once held that later proved to be wrong. Or, the equivalent of that. If not a belief, then an attitude you had about yourself that was shattered.

This one (similar pattern as the others) lives and dies by the contrast between the post-humbling moment and the BEFORE picture. If it was overconfidence, let us see it. Whatever it was, allow yourself to look bad for a second. The fact that you can admit that you were humbled will quickly have the opposite effect, and make you stronger (instantly) than the guy who is afraid to admit being on the wrong side of an issue.

This one takes some courage, and says something about those who GO for it, and go for it all the way.

GROUP 3

I was aware that I am different when:

The moment they’re asking about has to have been something of a SURPRISE to you. If you set out to be different (in some way), and then it proved to be true, that’s not exactly what we’re going for here.

It’s almost needs to be the opposite. Either you tried to be SIMILAR to others, or weren’t conscious of it at all… but discovered (inconveniently, or simply in the form of a discovery) that your version of whatever it was, was different. Walk us through that realization, that discovery moment. And then how you reacted, what happened next.

Remember, 100 words, this can’t be a richly textured narrative. So, whether you like it or not, you will HAVE to be efficient. The key is to establish the thing that was to be expected and then dwell on the realization that something about you (or your choices, or whatever) made you different.

I was challenged when:

We need to mull this one a bit. On the one hand, you can take this prompt at face value and talk about a garden variety challenge: this was the challenge, and this is how I dealt with it. But who the hell wants garden variety?

We’re gonna suggest a few other angles:

“I was tested when”:

“I didn’t realize what a real challenge was until”:

“I discovered what it felt like to NOT know how to solve a problem when”:

To answer any one of THOSE questions is to isolate a particular “lesson” or “reckoning” that is more closely aligned with what Ross is truly after. Well, let’s say it differently. Ross’s prompt is perfectly good enough. The problem is, it’s just open-ended enough to allow applicants with truly killer stories to potentially lay an egg, take those words at value, and choose a less-compelling story by accident. In the normal course of things, everyone is challenged in some way. Isn’t that life? Swatting the endless onslaught of flies that life throws at you? It’s useful to be cognizant of that because if you describe a challenge that feels too commonplace, you might seem out of touch, not that observant, not that worldly.

“Oh so you needed to meet a tough deadline? Congrats! That makes you just like… approximately 98% of your competition!”

“Gee, you had to step up and pitch something to the Board of Directors?” Congrats! Haven’t heard that one!

Now… if your situation is different, and starts to hit on one of those alternative, Admissionado Twist prompts… now we’re getting warmer.

“I was tasked to pitch something to the Board of Directors. Except, I was stepping in for someone in a different department, and had to present on a topic I knew nothing about, and I had 24 hours to make it happen.” (that might hit all three actually)

If your story options meet the “I was challenged when” but don’t quite meet any of those three alternatives, keep digging.

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