Not too late to apply to MBA programs: spring and summer deadlines

Perhaps you only recently decided to apply to business school, or perhaps you were frantically working on your test scores over the last few months. Or, maybe you did apply, but were unsuccessful. Well, it’s not too late to still apply if you have hopes of attending business school this fall. Most U.S. business schools still have one deadline remaining, and many MBA programs in Europe have deadlines throughout the spring and even summer.

Applying in the 3rd or final round

American business schools will finalize their fall entering classes after this final spring round of deadlines. You’ll need to check the individual deadlines of your desired schools, but these final rounds usually take place between March and April (e.g., Duke is March 21 while UCLA is April 17).

What does it mean to apply in this last round? Well, you will be running a risk. By this time the majority of the class has been filled, and admissions offices have, in their own “admissions speak,” described this round as the one in which they will look heavily at class composition and diversity. What this translates into: “We will use Round 3 to fill in gaps in profile. Already too many men? We’ll need to select some women. Only this many students from the non-profit sector? We’ll need to take more.” So if you have the profile of a “typical” MBA applicant (e.g., male,  mid-20s, banker or consultant), the odds are likely against you. But you never know. Some schools – especially those outside of the top 10 – may find many open seats after their admitted candidates have chosen to go elsewhere, thereby leaving more spaces for R3 applicants.

When should you apply if a school has monthly deadlines?

These European MBA programs have the following deadlines (I did not include London Business School and INSEAD as they both have just one deadline remaining, like the U.S. schools):

Oxford:  Open field between March 23 – June 28

Cambridge:  March 8, April 26

Manchester:  April, 1, May 1, June 3, July 8

HEC:  April 1, May 1, June 1, July 1

IMD:  April 1, June 1, August 1, September 1

IESE:  April 8, May 27

IE:  rolling, no deadline, though the program starts in either April or November (you have a choice of 2 intakes)

As always, you should submit your application when it is strongest. Ideally this is also not in the final deadline round/stage. You’ll want to apply when there are still plenty of seats remaining, and so you can be eligible for scholarships and have enough time to get your visa processed. If you can plan ahead for this to happen, you will be able to maximize your chances of admission. If you really can’t, then it’s better to wait until you can put together a solid application, even if it means waiting until the end. A poor application will be viewed negatively whether you submit it early or late.

How do I answer that?? Tough MBA Essay Questions Round-up 1: Haas, Chicago, Duke & MIT

– Cecilia Wu Tanaka

As you’ve probably seen by now, MBA application questions run the gamut from straightforward (“Tell us about a meaningful leadership experience”) to the bizarre (“If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, whom would you choose, and what would you order?” (an old Haas question)). MBA programs, unlike other academic programs, focus on the individual. To be successful as a business person you’ll need not only intelligence and the hard skills of leadership, but also sound personal character and an attractive personality. Many of these “stranger” or more difficult essay questions are trying to get at those more personal aspects of your background. In this post I’ll discuss some of the less straightforward essay questions that are out this year:

University of California, Berkeley, Haas

1. If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 word maximum)

The purpose of this question is the same as the “dinner” question I cited above. Basically, they are trying to learn more about who you are as a person: what are your values? What do you care about? What are you like, not just as a professional, but as a person?

When you choose your song, be sure to choose a song by its lyrics – the words – rather than by the tempo of the song. In other words, don’t select an upbeat song to show that you are an upbeat person. Rather, find a song whose words best capture who you are. And the song does not need to be in America’s or UK’s greatest hits lists. It can be an old song, a folk song, a song that is popular only in your country, or even a song that was passed down through your family. My point being, it is not the song that matters but rather how you can use your selection to talk more about who you are.

For example, I’ve always loved the song True to Your Heart by 98 Degrees, ever since I saw the Disney film Mulan when I was younger. Of course, if you read the lyrics literally, the song is a love song, but I have applied the message to life in general. The lines “Open your eyes / your heart can tell you no lies” basically tell my life story of fighting back against my family’s traditional teachings to create the life that is true to me. If I were to write this essay, I would mention only briefly what this song is about and then spend the rest of the essay explaining how I’ve developed this belief in my own life, and how I have lived by this philosophy, bringing in my own life examples.

The University of Chicago Booth

3. Presentation/Essay
The Chicago experience will take you deeper into issues, force you to challenge assumptions, and broaden your perspective. In a four-slide presentation or an essay of no more than 600 words, broaden our perspective about who you are. Understanding what we currently know about you from the application, what else would you like us to know?

This, too, is a question asking you to tell them more about who you are. Chicago’s other essay questions will ask you about (Q1) your professional goals, (Q2a) a challenge you’ve overcome, and (Q2b) an experience which has transformed your way of thinking. Presumably, you will cover some of your professional career in any of those 3 questions. Now, this Presentation/Essay question is a chance for you to supplement the information already provided in Questions 1-2a & 2b. What else would you like the admissions committee to know about you, that isn’t already apparent in the other essays? What is compelling or essential information about you? I recommend presenting or discussing a few things about you – for example, perhaps you’re wildly creative, and have been building and inventing small things on the side since you were a kid, and you also love all types of adventure sports. Or, maybe you wrestled with a rather difficult childhood illness or condition and this has led you to a life-long dedication to volunteer work, something that has also taken you to many diverse communities in and out of your country. The activities you present about yourself will be vehicles to show your character, values, and/or personality. For example, something as common as a life-long hobby in tennis can be a way of showing your unrelenting dedication to excellence; a series of solo backpacking trips in developing countries can convey your spirit of adventure and curiosity in less privileged cultures. In the end, it is not what you write about that will make you stand out, but how you write about it – by allowing the admissions committee to get a sense of the person behind your application.

Duke Fuqua

Long essay 1. The “Team Fuqua” spirit and community is one of the things that sets The Duke MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. When a new person joins the Admissions team, we ask that person to share with everyone in the office a list of “25 Random Things About Yourself.” As an Admissions team, we already know the new hire’s professional and academic background, so learning these “25 Random Things” helps us get to know someone’s personality, background, special talents, and more.

In this spirit, the Admissions Committee also wants to get to know you—beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of “25 Random Things” about YOU.

Please present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may be only a few words, while others may be longer. Your complete list should not exceed 2 pages.

Duke makes it very clear here that they are trying to learn more about you beyond your career and academic experience. They are not looking to see how unusual you are; they simply want to get to know you. When approaching this question, think of all the things that define and characterize you. The Random Things can range from your favorite book to your favorite hero, from your most embarrassing moment to the experience that changed your life. They can include relevant information about your identity or life like the fact that you were adopted or are an American child of multiracial parents or a former semi-finalist for American Idol. I recommend mixing the topics (small, big, funny, dark, touching, inspirational, etc.) so the admissions committee can get to know you on different levels. In the end, just make sure that the list portrays you as someone who would be an interesting addition to the entering class, and who will fit in with the team-oriented and collaborative community at Fuqua. (Too many facts painting you as a brooding, dark person who likes to be alone probably will not get you admitted!)

A helpful guide is this post written by Fuqua Director of Admissions Megan Lynam, where she provides some actual examples of fellow Duke colleagues’ 25 random things about themselves.

MIT Sloan

Cover Letter

Please prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should describe your accomplishments, address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application, and conform to standard business correspondence. Your letter should be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions.

This will be covered in a future blog post, but let me touch upon this question here. Though not listed as one of the main essays, this classic MIT question is, basically, one of the main essays. It’s their substitute for the goals essay and it is also a way for them to get an overview of your qualifications and to see how well you are able to promote yourself (something that will be useful once job recruitment time comes).

A cover letter is designed to sell a candidate. Without embellishment or arrogance, you will need to sound a bit stronger than you normally would in a regular goals essay. You need to start the letter with the “60 second elevator pitch.” That first paragraph needs to grab the reader’s attention and make him/her interested in reading more about you. How would you summarize what you have been doing, what you have achieved, and in what way(s) you have made impact? In the rest of the letter, explain to Mr. Garcia why they ought to be interested in you and what you have to offer: what you have achieved, what you want to achieve in the future, and how you can add value to MIT’s community.

When considering appropriate topics for your essays, especially in essay sets that ask you more personal questions, be sure to efficiently and wisely use all the questions to present your candidacy as a balanced whole.

I will do another round up of difficult MBA essay questions within a week.

Cecilia Wu Tanaka is co-founder of Reve Counseling and a veteran graduate admissions counselor. Prior to starting Reve 7 years ago she headed up a $1.25 million counseling department at the largest test prep company in Asia. In her previous life, she sat on various admissions committees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted interviews for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and directed the interview program at Harvard Medical School.

Kellogg Essay Writing Tips and Deadlines 2012-13

– Jessica Nitschke


The Kellogg deadlines are quite complicated, involving a 2-step application process and separate deadlines for interview requests. For further details on their deadlines I’d like to direct you to Kellogg’s deadline instructions  here.


For the 2012-2013 application season the admissions team at Kellogg has completely changed three of its four required essay questions and reworded the remaining one (about leadership) to make what they’re asking more explicit. The new questions seem to be aimed at getting applicants to focus their answers more – to be more specific and direct about who they are and what they plan to get from their MBA education. These changes in Kellogg’s application are further evidence that, as always, applicants should strive to avoid generality and vagueness in their essays.

1. Discuss moments or influences in your personal life that have defined who you are today. (500 word limit)

This question is about allowing the admissions officers to get to know you more deeply, beyond the facts of your resume. This is your chance to introduce yourself and make a memorable impression on the reader, which is important when you consider that admissions officers read thousands of essays from applicants, many of whom have similar types of work experience, test scores, and so on.

What they’re looking for is a description of an influential episode or person in your life that had a lasting impact on you, such that it is in part responsible for the choices you have made in your life and the type of person you have become. It could be an encounter you had while traveling, a childhood experience, a personal setback, an influential teacher, or a book you read. Whatever you choose, you need to make it clear how this experience contributed to make you the person you are today. With only a 500-word limit, it is best to focus on just one or two moments or influences, giving sufficient explanation or narrative detail to make the episode meaningful, rather than create a list, which will be too general and not have much impact.

2. What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely (personally and/or professionally). (500 word limit)

The admissions team at Kellogg has updated this traditional leadership question to address the specific characteristics that they look for and cultivate in leaders: courage to think outside the box and to influence others, collaboration, innovation – all of which are part of their “Think Bravely” tag line (applicants would be wise to read more about this on their website). So in approaching this question, applicants should use examples that reflect these qualities. The question asks for more than one example, but you have limited space, so it’s best to stick to just two examples, preferably ones that highlight different strengths. They don’t both have to come from your work experience (although one certainly should), and if you have had leadership experiences in sports or volunteer organizations, this is an excellent place to call attention to that part of your resume and background.

3. Imagine yourself at your Kellogg graduation. What career will you be preparing to enter, and how have the MBA and Kellogg helped you get there? (Please answer in terms of your program choice: One-Year, Two-Year, MMM, JD-MBA) (500 word limit)

What they’re looking for here is concrete evidence that you have seriously thought through your decision to pursue an MBA – that you’ve done the necessary self-reflection of yourself and your career to date; that you’ve researched what an MBA can and cannot do for you; and that you have thoroughly investigated Kellogg’s program and can articulate precisely what aspects of this program will help you in your goals.

In answering this question, be sure you present a clear idea of what you want to be doing when you finish – it’s ok if you’re not 100% sure – no one is going to hold you to exactly what you write in this essay. But you do need to demonstrate that you have specific goals that are ambitious but still realistic, and that an MBA from Kellogg is an important step in reaching these goals. The more specific you can be on this point, the better, to show your familiarity with Kellogg’s offerings and how they are well matched to your academic needs.

4. What one interesting or fun fact would you want your future Kellogg classmates to know about you? (25 words or less)

These types of questions are always difficult, as it’s challenging to try and guess what others would truly find interesting about yourself. Look at the question this way: this is a chance for you to round out your application. After you’ve finished all the other essays and finished editing your resume, you should try to take a step back and look at your application as a whole, consider the picture that you’ve painted of yourself, and ask, is there something missing? Is there something important, something beyond your professional identity, which makes you interesting and enjoyable to be around, which you just haven’t had the chance to put anywhere else in your application? Then this is the place to put it. This could be a hobby or skill, an interesting childhood pursuit, an unexpected part-time or summer job, or something else entirely. Just be sure that it doesn’t duplicate something you’ve already discussed elsewhere in your essays. If you’re struggling to answer this one, the best course of action is to consult with a variety of friends or co-workers – people who know you pretty well – about things that they find interesting about you.

Reve Counselor Jessica Nitschke has a BA from the University of Chicago and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. She has taught at Berkeley and is a former faculty member at DePauw University and Georgetown University. Most recently she was living and conducting research in Tokyo, Japan before moving to Cape Town, South Africa.

From the Harvard Business School Admissions Director’s Blog

– Cecilia Wu Tanaka

With this post I am going to become one of those people who “dissects” and analyzes everything that HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold says, but I’m also an applicant advisor and applicant advocate who’s spent some time on the other side of the admissions table at Harvard. If I can help shed some light on this nerve-wracking process for you, I will definitely try.

In particular, when I saw this director’s update this week on the HBS website, a number of things jumped out at me. So let me do a little bit of interpretation and translation here for you (black text is from the director’s blog, orange is mine):

  • Try to resist the urge to make "standing out" your primary goal in the admissions process. If you have made traditional choices all along (college, extra-curriculars, major field of study, jobs), own it. You’ll look silly if you try to portray yourself as a rogue daredevil. There are plenty of people at HBS who come from traditional backgrounds.

Be yourself. This is what she is saying. It seems simple, but you’d be amazed at how many applicants do try to sound a bit “fancier” in the application process. Imagine a guy trying to impress a date, or someone feeling self-conscious at a cocktail party…it’s human nature to try and sort of shape oneself into a slightly better image of what and who s/he really is in situations where selection and evaluation take place. Dee is asking you to be yourself, nothing more and nothing less, because if you try to sound more than you really are, they will be able to see right through you, because they’ve got a lot of experience reading people. But the good news? It’s okay to be yourself. You have nothing to lose by just being you.

  • Do your homework about the case method. It’s our signature pedagogy and it is nothing like traditional academia. Watch Inside the Case Method (link below) on our website and ask yourself if you find this method of learning intriguing and exciting. If it’s not for you, choose another school now vs. later.

Are you sure you want to go to HBS? Do you really know what you are getting yourself into? The case method is unique and not for everyone. Will you appreciate it? Will you be able to not only function but thrive in it? In your application and interview the admissions committee will be evaluating your fit for this particular method. They are looking for people who are proactive, who can take charge of their own learning and contribute actively to that of their classmates, because the case method is not about sitting back in a classroom and absorbing lectures. If the case method does not work for you, this will come out in your application, and the result won’t be good. They want to save you potential heartache. So make sure you’re the right fit before you apply.

  • When choosing recommenders, determine whether or not they can answer the question we pose: what piece of constructive advice have you given to the candidate? If they can’t answer, they probably don’t know you well enough to write a helpful recommendation.

The admissions committee doesn’t want recommenders with fancy titles or HBS pedigrees writing for you, if they are not even close to you. They are looking for people – regardless of status – who really know you well and who can give them information that will actually help them in their attempt to understand you better. The CEO of Famous Company who writes a couple of lines about what a nice person you are does not help your case in any way. If the admissions committee reads this kind of letter, they will throw their hands up in disgust and curse, because they are looking for detailed information and they are not getting it. So help the admissions committee help you and choose your recommenders carefully.

  • Realize that we’re serious when we say that our challenge is "selection" vs. "evaluation." Our promise to our faculty and to every student is to deliver the most diverse class – on multiple dimensions – as we possibly can. I’ve never heard an HBS student say: "I wish there were more students just like me in my section." Selection can look mysterious to the outside world because not all of the elements of diversity can be captured in metrics. Some, like leadership style, are subtle and communicated more obliquely.

I love this one…because this ultimately sums up the application process. The admissions committee is selecting a class, NOT evaluating it. What it means: if you are denied admission, it does NOT mean you are not capable, it does NOT mean you are not a good fit. They are checking you out, but they are not making decisions based on who is good, who is not. Because applicants to HBS tend to be self-selecting, and there are way more outstanding candidates than there are seats.

But what they are doing is trying to figure out WHICH of those great candidates they should take. How about a recent, happy-go-lucky grad from New York, a more cerebral older former attorney from Prague, a scrappy mid-20s female entrepreneur from rural China? They’re imagining future section mates and what students would make for an interesting and vibrant mix.

Bottom line: There is a huge element of chance in this selection process. Once you’ve met a certain academic and professional standard, your fate is out of your hands.

  • Stay curious. It’s so easy to stay "heads down" during the application process and become so introspective that you lose sight of the larger world. Keep reading. Keep listening. We’re looking for people who can dig into a case about a company they have never heard of, in an industry they don’t think they care about – and be 100% engaged.

Stay interesting and know what’s going on in the world. Be prepared to talk about current events, a business leader who’s impacted you, a good book you have read. Who knows? We may invite you for an interview, and that will be your final chance to show us why we should select you.

Cecilia Wu Tanaka is co-founder of Reve Counseling and a veteran graduate admissions counselor. Prior to starting Reve 7 years ago she headed up a $1.25 million counseling department at the largest test prep company in Asia. In her previous life, she sat on various admissions committees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted interviews for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and directed the interview program at Harvard Medical School.

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Stanford MBA Essay Question Tips and Deadlines 2012-13

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Chi Pham | Reve Counselor | Sept 2012

The structure for the Stanford MBA application essays has been slightly modified for the 2013 application season. The essay portion of the application continues to have two required questions: Essay 1 and Essay 2. The change is in Essay 3 where applicants are required to answer only one question from a series of options rather than two as in previous years.

Is this good news? Yes, in the sense that applicants now have one less essay to write. However, Stanford continues to expect high quality essays that reflect each applicant’s own voice, personality, and story. They probably feel that they can glean enough about your professional experiences from your one short essay, resume, and recommendations. This now allows them to focus more on Essays 1 and 2, and on your potential future interview. Stanford, perhaps more than any other business school, requires you to sit down for some soul searching and begin asking difficult questions about yourself.

Below are the deadlines, essay questions, and my analyses.

For further information about Stanford GSB application procedures and deadlines, please go to:

Deadlines (all 17:00PT)

Round 1: 3 Oct 2012

Round 2: 9 Jan 2013

Round 3: 3 April 2013

Essay Questions

Essay 1: What matters most to you and why?

This is the classic Stanford question and is designed to get to know you beyond your academic credentials and professional accomplishments. The admissions committee is trying to understand what makes you tick, and what makes you who you are. There will be dozens if not hundreds of other candidates who share a similar profile as you. However, even if you are among several hundred bankers (for example), there is only one you. This essay is designed to get to the root of that individuality and uniqueness. So think broadly about what really matters to you, beyond getting the next promotion or business deal. But, also ground your story with past experiences and concrete evidence rather than lofty ideals such as achieving world peace or finding the cure for cancer.

My advice for answering this question echoes what Cecilia has written in previous posts: brainstorm the various key experiences you’ve had in your own life and find the common theme or value that runs through these experiences. The theme or value you discover should be the answer to “what matters most to you.” As for the “why” part of the question, this is where you back up your claim with specific evidence. Tell the story of how this value came to be. Where and how did it arise? How has it impacted and shaped the person you are today? What has it led you to do or achieve? Where will it lead you in the future? This will be a study of who you are as a person as well as your ability to self-reflect deeply. This is THE place to be authentic – be honest, show your weaknesses and fears if appropriate, and be yourself, because Stanford will be able to tell easily if you are manufacturing something that isn’t coming from the heart.

Essay 2: What do you – REALLY – want to do and why Stanford?

It’s important to remember that this essay is for you to share about your future. You should address two distinct topics: (1) your career goal; (2) why/how Stanford can help you to achieve your goals.

For the first part, your career goal should be focused. Furthermore, it should be ambitious but believable and achievable. This is the time to show that you’ve carefully thought about your future career, where you want to go, what you want do, and why it’s important that you do this. Are you the type of person who might possibly change the world in some way? Stanford will look at your potential to do this at some point in your future.

For the second part, know Stanford’s unique programs, culture, student body, and mission thoroughly. Show the school that you have done your research and have thought about their school and what they offer constructively (i.e. why its MBA program is the best program for you to accelerate your career). Don’t fall into the trap of repeating what the school already knows about itself, such as its world-class academic environment, great professors, and bountiful opportunities to collaborate with classmates. Repeating these wonderful characteristics in your essay is like singing to the choir. Yes, Stanford knows it’s great. You do not need to repeat this. Rather, show how these great areas will benefit you and boost your career. Research Stanford’s MBA program, student clubs and activities, other institutes at the school that you would join or participate, and location. Make a case, with evidence, why what Stanford offers is exactly what you need right now and that you are a fit with Stanford.

Essay 3: (Answer 1 of the following 3 questions. Use only experiences within the last 3 years.)

Remember to only use experiences in the last three years. Ignoring this part shows that the applicant cannot follow instructions.

Option A: Tell us a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

This question is about leadership and teamwork and the key words are “built or developed.” Use an experience where you worked on a team and ultimately delivered exceptional results as a team. While it’s tempting to talk about how you shone as a leader here, try to use examples that show HOW you work with people (i.e. your interaction with your teammates, your collaboration and motivation skills, and your ability to empathize with team members). Highlight your understanding of the makeup of team members, how they worked together, and how you utilized each member’s strengths and weaknesses that led your team to deliver better-than-expected results. Use specific outcomes to “show” that your team exceeded expectations.

Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.

Stanford looks for students who can take initiative to leave a mark on an organization. For this question, it is best to briefly explain the opportunity while spending most of the essay describing HOW you initiated and implemented the change that has improved the organization. At the end, highlight the impact on the organization by focusing on the implication of this improvement (e.g., efficiency, effectiveness, better culture/relationships, more innovation, more partnerships, etc.).

Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

This question is about innovation and pioneering abilities. Stanford wants to know if you’re the type of person who goes beyond what is expected or what is safe to achieve higher, better, more impressive results. Appropriate examples here include something that you did that was out of the ordinary but still effective, perhaps creating something for the first time, or performing at a level above your age, rank or expected responsibility. Be sure to identify the established norm and show how you went beyond that norm to achieve the desired results.

The above questions reflect Stanford’s values: humility, self-awareness, maturity, focus, the human side of management, initiative, creativity and an independent/risk-taking mindset.

Please go here (Stanford’s website) for instructions on formatting.

Reve Counselor Chi Pham holds degrees from the London School of Economics, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Wellesley College. A former business management researcher at Accenture, Chi’s works have appeared in business journals and have been used to improve leadership development programs at Fortune 500 companies. She also worked in school reform in Abu Dhabi before becoming a counselor to graduate and undergraduate applicants.

Wharton Essay Question Tips and Deadlines 2012-13

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From Wharton’s website:

2012-2013 application deadlines and decision release dates:

MBA Program
Application Deadline Decision Release Date
Round 1 October 1, 2012 December 20, 2012
Round 2 January 3, 2013 March 26, 2013
Round 3 March 2013 May 2013

All deadlines are 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Class of 2015 Essay Questions

The Admissions Committee is interested in getting to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, candid, and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.


How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)

Wharton has changed this question twice before. Previously, the question used to be a long essay about goals. Then the question became a 300 word description of professional objectives. Now the question gives you 400 words to answer. Wharton wishes to have a summary of what you aim to learn from their MBA program. This short question requires you to be focused and succinct in discussing your goals and academic needs. It also requires you to demonstrate your familiarity with their program in order to show a strong academic fit.


1. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)

Wharton wants to know why you are a good match for their MBA program and they want to understand more about your interests and/or values. Read through the course descriptions, the co-curricular opportunities, and the extra-curricular activities offered by Wharton. Wharton offers a very rich selection of co-curricular opportunities; see, for example, their entrepreneurial internship programs and networks,

or their leadership and service programs,

A great example of using the leadership programs to further career development comes from Dominic Skerritt, in the current class at Wharton. He is an Australian with a background in the Australian military, and will be working at McKinsey in New York after graduating. Dominic explains that he was already a leader in the Australian military, and took part in three leadership programs at Wharton: climbing Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador, leading classmates on a trek in Antarctica, and ice climbing in the Adirondack mountains in New York state. Just from these selections, you get a strong sense that Dominic is someone who looks forward to challenges. He relates that on the Ecuador climb, one of his teammates became ill from altitude sickness, and the team made a poor decision to push on to the peak. Dominic says that the next time this happens, he would stick to his values. This comment shows us another important, ethical angle to Dominic’s character. It’s also a good choice because it shows us that Dominic is being honest in his evaluation of his own weaknesses.

Find an aspect of Wharton that you can use to link your past activities and future goals, thus demonstrating a deep-seated interest in some area. For example, if you have an interest to help companies discover ways to use clean technology, find a Wharton course or activity that will allow you to develop this interest further. Also take advantage of this essay to demonstrate what you have done so far to pursue this interest. Be specific about why you’ve chosen the course or activity and how you see yourself engaging in it. Try to explain your choices in a way that illuminates your character.

2. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself "work free" for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)

This is another way for Wharton to find out more about you and to learn about some aspect of your personal character and background that isn’t obvious from your professional experiences. For example, in the current class at Wharton, there is a Japanese student named Akihisa Shiozaki. He is a lawyer who graduated from Tokyo University. He states that he tried stand-up comedy for the first time after coming to Wharton, after being encouraged by a classmate who was a professional comedian. Akihisa mentions that the experience “completely pushed my limits. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into, but after I did it, it felt really good. It opened a new world to me. It was one of those things you’d only do in a low-risk environment like Wharton, which really pushes you to discover new facets of yourself.”

This story, like the one about Dominic Skerritt above, shows how a reader can glean quite a bit about a person’s character from his or her choice of activity. Keep in mind that there is no “right” or “wrong” choice of topic here; your goal is to allow the admissions committee to understand a little more about who you are through the non-work activity that you choose.

3. "Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership." – Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School

Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)

The distinguishing aspects of the Wharton MBA are the ambitiousness and prominence of its alumni. These are not people who go to school to learn; they are eager to put the ideas into profitable practice. This question is an opportunity to show the Admissions Committee that you are an active, decisive person, rather than a passive watcher. Think about the times when you were able to take knowledge that you learned from school or other sources, and were able to apply that knowledge effectively. Ideally the story you choose will be taken from a business or work-related environment.


All reapplicants to Wharton are required to complete the Optional Essay. Please use this space to explain how you have reflected on the previous decision on your application and to discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). You may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)

This is a chance to take advantage of any improvements in your application profile, such as improved test scores, workplace promotions, evidence of increased responsibilities or better focused goals. Reflect deeply on how you’ve grown since your last application and make a case for your improved candidacy this year.


If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware, please explain them here (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, or questionable academic performance, significant weaknesses in your application). (250 words)

If in doubt, it is always best to explain extenuating circumstances to the Admissions Committee. Keep your explanations brief and to the point and address any issues that may be of concern to them in order to maintain the transparency of your application.


The above three questions are quite broad and you will need to spend some time planning a set of answers that will display your character to your advantage. Question 3 appears to be the most straightforward and I imagine it would be the easiest to answer for most candidates. You can think about your professional life and find situations in which you were able to apply knowledge in an effective manner. Questions 1 and 2 allow you the freedom to discuss aspects of your professional or non-professional self, and will help to round out your application. Consider the most compelling stories and characteristics that you wish to convey, and pick the set of questions that best reflects your strengths.

Reve Counselor Stephen Le is a graduate of the Masters in International Relations program at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University and holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He has previously served as Lecturer at UCLA and as a writing assistant for international students at SAIS. He has advised numerous students in their applications to graduate programs around the world and has taught and/or conducted research in Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Washington, DC and Los Angeles.

Harvard’s New Essay Requirements and What It Tells Us About the MBA Admissions Process

by Jessica Nitschke

As Cecilia mentioned in an earlier post, Harvard Business School has radically changed the essay requirements of their application. They have reduced the number of initial essays from 4 to 2, narrowed the focus of these questions, and added a new, post-interview essay that they are calling “Have the Last Word,” in which the applicants are required to submit a written reflection within 24 hours of the conclusion of the interview.

In terms of actual number of words you as the applicant have to sell yourself, the HBS application has gone from 2000 words last year to 800 words this year, at least for the initial essays (more about the post-interview, “have the last word” essay below). Plus, admissions has thrown out more traditional questions like “Why do you want an MBA?” and “Talk about three setbacks” in favor of something more introspective: “Tell us about something you did well.” There has been a fair amount of speculation about what prompted these changes as well as concern about the challenges these changes they might present to candidates in trying to tell their story and sell themselves.

As to why HBS implemented these changes, the explanation is pretty straightforward. If the admissions office believed that having four essays – covering a broad swath of topics: various accomplishments, setbacks, reasons for getting an MBA, and anything else you feel like mentioning – was useful in deciding which candidates to interview, they would have kept them. They didn’t. They cut the number of words students can use to less than half the original. It’s clear the traditional essay requirement wasn’t working any longer.

Why is this? Well, there are several reasons. An essay on why you want an MBA is likely to just mimic what you’re going to say in an interview – why should the essays and interviews be simply duplicates of one another? Many have also pointed out that limiting the number of pre-interview essays and requiring an immediate, post-interview essay is an attempt to eliminate fraud and deception in the essay-writing process – both cases of outright ghostwriting as well as excessive editing or rewriting by outside professionals.

But beyond this, there is a larger dilemma with the MBA essays from the perspective of admissions. Even students who do not use a coach or counselor will often seek out models or guides for how to craft the “right” essay. There are no shortage of examples and templates online – if you haven’t already, just google “mba essays” and prepare to be overwhelmed. The rhetoric of a lot of these websites, regrettably, implies that there is a specific “winning” type of essay, thus implying (incorrectly) that an essay that doesn’t conform to its template or example will doom an application.

The result is thousands of cookie-cutter, formulaic essays, as applicants attempt to conform to what they think is the one, “right” way to present oneself. But the more similar applicants’ essays are, the less useful they are as a means of judging who truly is a good fit for the school. Essays were introduced into the application process as a means of allowing the students to explain who they are as individuals, rather than as just a set of data. But if everyone writes basically the same essay – slotting in their career data or their extracurricular achievements into an established template – then the essays aren’t really much more useful in expressing who you are as an individual than a GMAT score.

With their new essay questions, it’s clear that HBS is trying to cut through the conformity and guide applicants into really expressing who they are. Take the new question – “Tell us about something you did well” (replacing “Tell us about three of your accomplishments”). The new question is more introspective – it’s still a question about an accomplishment of sorts, but it’s asking for more context from you as the applicant, putting emphasis on your worldview and your perspective – not simply an elaboration of your resume. They’re asking you to think carefully about how well you know and understand yourself.

Harvard’s search for the thoughtful, self-reflective and authentic applicant is most clear in the “Have the Last Word” essay, which, in my opinion, is a brilliant move on Harvard’s part. In addition to bringing out a more honest, less polished and less rehearsed side of a candidate, it is a test that is more similar to the kind of communication and writing you have to do in both the MBA classroom and the real world.

But this new essay should be especially welcomed by prospective MBA applicants. While such an essay, with its 24-hour time limit, might seem daunting at first, I think applicants will find it a much, much easier and more worthwhile exercise than answering an essay prompt as vague and difficult as “Ask a question you wish we’d asked” (essay question #4 from Harvard’s old application). Why? You get to respond to something real (30 to 60 minutes of interaction with an actual representative of Harvard) rather than something abstract and hypothetical. I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t had something thoughtful and meaningful to say immediately after an interview experience.

For applicants to any program, Harvard’s changes to the essay portion of their application is an important reminder of something that Reve has been stressing for a long time: as you look for guidance, models and inspirations, and as you write, fret, rewrite, edit, and fret some more, don’t make the mistake of editing yourself out of your essays.

Jessica Nitschke is a counselor at Reve. Originally from Michigan, she has a BA from the University of Chicago and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. She has taught at Berkeley and is a former faculty member at DePauw University and Georgetown University. Most recently she was living in Tokyo, Japan before moving to Cape Town, South Africa.

Harvard Business School Essay Question Analyses and Deadlines 2012-13: Major changes!

HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold surprised the applicant community yesterday with an announcement of some substantial changes to the 2012-13 application requirements:

1. Reduction in the number of essays from 4 (traditionally) to now 2 (pre-interview).

2. The addition of a 3rd essay (a “reflection”) to be written within 24 hours of completing the interview, if invited.

3. Round 1 application deadline will be pushed up to September 24, 2012, the earliest ever. Applicants will be notified of their admission decisions on December 12.

Finally, HBS will begin conducting weekly Q&A webinars beginning June 1 at noon. Please register on their website if you want to participate.

Why the changes? Leopold says that they are all part of HBS’ overall effort to emphasize introspection among its students. The additional “24 hour essay” will be asking applicants to reflect on their interviews, to see if there is anything that they wished they could have communicated during the interview but didn’t. Also, she believes that the application process has come to emphasize essays too much, turning the process into an “essay writing contest.” Hmm. As an admissions counselor and former admissions officer, my thinking is that this move is a search for authenticity. The number of essays, when all is said and done, is only reduced by one (now 3 essays are required instead of 4); the only difference is that applicants now have a decreased chance of getting significant help writing them. Admissions committees across the board are finding it harder and harder to see the “real” applicants, given how overly polished so many essays are. The result is that essays can no longer be relied upon to serve the purpose of personalizing an applicant. I think this is a great move to weed out those applicants who have been relying too much on coaches and consultants to heavily edit or write their essays for them. (However, the one concern I have is how this would work for those applicants who are flying in from another state or another country; many of our clients, when visiting schools overseas, are going from one city to another and often need several days just to be able to compose and send a thank you note. I wonder if this is something HBS had considered.)

So, what are the new essay questions? I’ll list them below with my comments in orange:

Essays required for all applicants:

  • Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)

Given that you now have few opportunities to discuss in detail your proudest achievements, consider carefully the example you will use here. Also read carefully the question, and don’t simply cut and paste a “greatest accomplishment” story. They are asking not only for what you did, but what you did well; be sure that when you write this essay it is also a showcase of your greatest strengths and abilities, particularly those strengths most valued by HBS. Consider experiences in which you have shown leadership, teamwork, some level of introspection and self-awareness, and an ability to make things happen. If you accomplished something that few peers have, even better. Think about what is on your resume already, but don’t simply regurgitate what is already there. Bring an achievement to life, explaining why you were great in what you did: was it simply going through all the steps, or was there something bigger that you overcame? And what was the impact? The bigger your role and the greater the impact, the more memorable your story will be.

  • Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)

This question is targeted at your sense of introspection, something that HBS is now putting more and more emphasis on. It really doesn’t matter what you could have done better (though make sure it is substantial, and not something trivial), as long as you can show a deep level of self-reflection and attempt to understand how you could have done things differently.

Joint degree applicants only:

  • How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400 words)

This question is straightforward, asking you to describe the anticipated impact that studying for both degrees will have on your life. Why do you need to study both degrees? How will the experience help your career and how it will help you on a personal level?

With just 2 essays for most applicants, you may worry if the admissions committee will have enough to go on in order to make the decision of whether or not to interview you. In their minds, 2 essays are enough for them to determine whether or not you are appealing and genuine, and then they will look at the other core information, including your test scores, academic history, work experience, and recommendations. It is true that now there is less to offset less than stellar test scores, GPA and recommendations…however, I believe that those components were always looked at heavily anyway, with or without the extra essays.

Now, what if you get invited for an interview? You will need to write and submit a another essay within 24 hours of your interview. The advice I can give will need to be tailored to each individual so I can’t offer a lot here. However, I can say this: the best and only way to prepare is to write the first 2 essays; the less work you do on those essays, the less prepared you will be to write that final 24 hour essay. Further, you don’t want to submit the first 2 essays so polished and heavily edited by a consultant that it appears drastically different from the one you’ll need to submit in 24 hours. Get into the habit of thinking and writing on your own (and support is fine, just not to the point where your words are no longer your own), and you’ll be able to handle that 3rd essay with little problem.

Finally, here are the deadlines:

(All applications are to be submitted online by 12 noon Boston time)

Round 1
Deadline: Monday, September 24, 2012
Decision Notification: Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Round 2
Deadline: Monday, January 7, 2013
Decision Notification: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Round 3
Deadline: Monday, April 8, 2013
Decision Notification: Wednesday, May 15, 2013

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Writing your best essays by being honest

I see this a lot: essays that sound formal, that rely on platitudes, that sound like a wall has been built around the words. Usually in such cases I will ask my client to retell me his story as if he is emailing a friend. In fact, I often will ask this person to email the story to me, rather than try and fit it into the confines of a Word document. The story often sounds very different, and much more human.

Stanford Business School has a line on its website that goes something like this: “The best essays, indeed, are the ones that don’t start out trying to impress us.” All schools want authentic stories that are written from the heart.

Last week, I wrote a 250-ish word self-introduction to the clients who have signed on with us. I’ve made this introduction many times before. I usually talk about my career, why I enjoy doing what I do. But this time I wrote it differently. Instead of recounting my career path and the promotions or awards I’ve received, I told the story of how I got interested in admissions. Many years ago, when I was a high school senior, I was rejected by my dream school. I had good grades and a high class rank, and yet I did not get in. I was rejected in favor of others who I knew sat much lower than me in academic rank. It was then that I realized there was much more to the admissions process than just grades.

And I told the story of how I came from an immigrant family. I was not, in fact, even born in the US. However, this early experience trying to access the top educational opportunities despite initial language and cultural barriers, and my experience helping my Chinese parents navigate American society are what influenced me to work as a bridge for international applicants.

I have never told this story to my clients because I believed I needed to appear successful. I am helping them try to enter top American and European programs. How would it look if I told them I was an immigrant, and that I myself had failed to get into my top choice university?

To my surprise, my clients responded positively, writing back to me to say that I had inspired and touched them.

My point in sharing this story is to remind all of you how powerful honesty can be. You are all successful now, which is why you are considering graduate school, so there is nothing to be afraid of showing. Maybe you got to this point by overcoming language barriers, or surviving poverty or depression. Maybe you’ve learned to be a leader by having had doubts or stumbling or even failing earlier in your career. Whatever the path, the fact that you are here is admirable. So don’t be afraid to show it. Be honest, be human, and the admissions committee will be impressed by the real you.

HEC Paris Information Session (July 23, 2011)

This is the third in a series of information session reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York City. (Cecilia Wu Tanaka’s note: My apologies for the delay uploading this post…)

The HEC Paris representative, Marie-Laurence Lemaire, Development Manager, started off her presentation with a bit of history. HEC Paris was established two centuries ago and is ranked the #1 business school in Europe (I would later look this up; according to the website the source is The Financial Times.) The school is actually not located in Paris; they moved out because the students were too "distracted" (this drew a few chuckles from the audience.) This was good for getting to know each other anyway, the representative said (and the campus is not that far from Paris, about 18 kilometers.)

The student body is diverse: 85% is not French. There are 150 students in the September intake. Students are divided into working groups that rotate every few months. They also make sure a student is the only one of his or her nationality. HEC Paris wants students to get out of their comfort zone. Just when you get comfortable, your surroundings change. While other schools may do this, I like that this is something articulated explicitly, as change helps one grow.

Some general information:

Language. You don’t need to learn French as the program is conducted in English but if you don’t know French  you’ll study the language. Those who already speak two languages will study a third. A language is not just language but  about the culture.

Essay. Very important. Have people read your essays.

Recommendations. These can be from clients. Job titles of the writer are not important; choose people who know you, your work, and your personality.

GMAT (average: 690) is very important. If you have a low GMAT score then another part of your application must be strong. If you have a low quantitative score the admissions committee will look more closely at transcripts and calculus courses you’ve taken.

Interview. You will also be asked to give a 10 minute oral presentation in the subject of your choice. This presentation is very important.

Work experience. If you have more than 10 years of experience you’ll be rerouted into the executive MBA program. The school does not feel that less than 3 years of work experience constitute enough experiences to share.