Tag Archives: MBA essay questions

Columbia Business School: 2013-14 Deadlines and Essay Analyses


Early Decision (August 2014 entry): October 2, 2013

Regular Decision (August 2014 entry): April 9, 2014

January 2014 entry: October 2, 2013

Important: Columbia admissions is on a rolling basis (first-come, first-serve), so you should apply well before the posted deadlines.

Columbia Business School offers a few different application options.

If you know for certain that Columbia is your top choice, you should definitely consider applying through their Early Decision program. The deadline is earlier (October 2 this year) and you need to make a commitment to attend if admitted. The advantage is that you can submit your application for consideration well before the rush of other applications comes in. If you’re a strong candidate and Columbia is your first choice, you will likely have your strongest chance of getting accepted in this round. It is beneficial for a school to know with some certainty that the applicant they admit will actually come.

If you’re flexible as to when you can start your MBA and you’re looking for a shorter program, you might want to consider applying for their January 2014 entering class. The January program is 16 months and can work well for you if you are looking to return to work soon and don’t need that summer internship. The deadline is also October 2.

Otherwise, there is regular admissions for entry in August 2014. I imagine that this is the most competitive round in terms of volume of applications.

Rolling admissions means that Columbia accepts applicants on a first-come, first-serve basis. If they like you, they will extend an interview invitation to you. They will then make a final decision shortly after your interview is done without waiting for and comparing you against other applicants. So, unlike most other schools that do not operate on a rolling basis, it is better to apply earlier rather than later to Columbia (do not wait until the deadline!). They won’t start reviewing applications until early January for regular admissions, but you can submit yours even before then to get yourself in the pipeline. We have had strong clients who received feedback from the admissions office that they wished they could admit them, but unfortunately there was no space left (they had submitted applications after the winter).

Below are the essay questions for the 2013-14 application and my comments and advice:

(1.) What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? Required by all applicants.

This is not technically an essay but appears in the essay portion of the on-line application. You are asked to write in one succinct sentence your post-MBA career goal. Be specific and clear here as to what you plan to be doing after graduation (e.g., “I will be returning to my company to lead the marketing department in our new office in Delhi.”).

2. Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (500 words) 

I would interpret this as the usual goals essay that is asked by most business schools. They want to know how your background has led you to apply to Columbia’s MBA program at this time. You’ll need to discuss your background (be careful not to simply repeat your resume but instead focus on the most salient points as related to your goals (talk about key points in your career development and the main experiences and issues that have led you to your goals)), your short- and long-term goals (you can go into a little more detail in this essay), and why you want an MBA now and why at Columbia in particular.

3. Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital – Manhattan. How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? (250 words)

Please view the videos below [available in the essay section of the on-line application]:

New York City – limitless possibilities

New York City – fast paced and adaptable

Yes! You have to watch these two videos first. However, they’re both very short (the longer one is just a little over 2 minutes). The first video provides an introduction to the atmosphere and culture of New York to those who aren’t familiar with the city, while the second talks more about the access that Columbia students have to businesses and leaders because they are studying in New York.

Looking at your own situation, why do you want to be in New York and how do you wish to benefit from the location? You’ll need to think about and write this essay from the view of your goals. Specifically, how can studying in New York help you grow in the ways that you hope? Definitely talk about the professional aspects of what you hope to achieve, but you can also talk about personal aspects. For example, maybe in addition to studying finance and doing an internship in Manhattan and listening to speakers, you also have an interest in volunteering in the ethnic communities, and you would like to explore this while you are in New York. Or perhaps you are from a remote part of the world, and it will be the first time to be in a city like New York. Think of the different ways you believe that studying in New York will help develop both your goals and your growth as a person.

4. What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (250 words)

The Cluster will be the group of 65-70 students to which you’ll be assigned once you start at Columbia. You’ll be taking most of your first year core courses with these students as well as socializing with them outside of class.

In this essay, you are asked to reveal something interesting about yourself. Since these Cluster mates will be your friends, you are invited to write something personal here. The purpose of this essay is to offer a glimpse of you that is not apparent in the other parts of your application, which will focus entirely on your professional side. Is there anything interesting or unexpected or unusual or funny that you’d like for your future classmates to know about you? This is an open ended essay and there is no set rule as to how to write it, but if applicable, talk about (as a conclusion) how you can also somehow contribute to your classmates with this particular attribute (e.g., If you choose to discuss your hobbies in singing or acting you can also mention how you would like to contribute your talents to their MBA Follies, the students’ annual comedy show.)

5. Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. (Maximum 500 words)

Use this optional essay to shed light on any aspect of your background that you are concerned might impact the way the admissions committee views your application. Examples include less than average test scores or GPA, employment gaps, and inability to secure a recommendation letter from a current supervisor. If in doubt, it is better to explain it, since the admissions committee will see the problem whether or not you actually talk about it. Without an explanation on your part, they will not give you the benefit of the doubt but, rather, assume the worst.

When addressing concerns, be sure to never offer excuses. Put yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee and try and anticipate how you can help them, by providing the information that they need. For example, if your TOEFL score is low, then you’ll need to provide them not reasons why your score is low but a description of the ways that you use English effectively. After all, the admissions committee is trying to gather evidence that you will not struggle in the curriculum.

For reapplicants:

How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate how you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals. (Maximum 500 words).

If you applied in the past but were not admitted, discuss here the different ways in which you have improved your candidacy since that application. Consider any weaknesses that you had, and talk about how you have worked on improving them. For example, if you had applied with average test scores, hopefully you can now show them higher test scores; if you had insufficient international experience then but have since gotten involved in some international projects, talk about that. The admissions committee wants to see an improved applicant.

Finally, update and reconfirm your career goals.

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.

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: http://www.wharton.upenn.edu/mba/admissions/apply-to-wharton.cfm

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 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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Haas Business School Essay Question Analyses and Deadlines, 2011-12

Haas, for the first time this year, has clearly laid out the core principles that define their culture. While they have always looked for a certain set of qualities in the admissions process, they say that this is the first time they are actually articulating them. As you explore Haas, please take some time to study their 4 guiding principles and see how they might match your own philosophy and experiences:  http://www.haas.berkeley.edu/strategicplan/culture/

Important Dates

Deadline Decision Notification
Round 1 October 12, 2011 January 12, 2012
Round 2 December 1, 2011 March 1, 2012
Round 3 January 18, 2012 April 12, 2012
Round 4 March 7, 2012 May 17, 2012

Essay Questions

Haas has renewed most of its essay questions this year. My comments and advice are in orange. The black text is from the Haas website.

At Berkeley-Haas, our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles — question the status quo; confidence without attitude; students always; and beyond yourself. We seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. Please use the following essays as an opportunity to reflect on and share with us the values, experiences, and accomplishments that have helped shape who you are.(Learn more about Berkeley-Haas’ Defining Principles).


  1. What brings you the greatest joy? How does this make you distinctive? (250 word maximum)

This is an open-ended question and there really is no trick to it. To give you some point of reference, in the past this question used to be “What are you most passionate about?” The question is designed for the admissions committee to get to know you better, to understand what makes you “tick” (what motivates, excites or fulfills you) and to get a sense of what you value. What brings you the greatest joy could be creating something from scratch, beating your own time in an athletic endeavor, playing your favorite musical instrument, or parenting your children or helping the elderly. Remember that the purpose of the application is to let the admissions committee get to know and like you, and not necessarily to impress them. Use this essay to tell them who you are.

2.    What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 word maximum)

What have you done that you are most proud of? In many cases this is a professional accomplishment, however, it doesn’t have to be. Whatever topic you use, consider the following: qualities shown and skills exercised; impact made (whether on yourself or others (or both)); obstacles overcome.

3.    Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change? (250 word maximum)

This question supports Haas’ principle of questioning the status quo. UCB believes that true innovators are those who are not afraid to challenge convention. Have you ever introduced change or tried to bring about improvement to an established or conventional practice? What kind of resistance did you encounter and how did you deal with it? What was the outcome?

4.   Describe a time when you were a student of your own failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 word maximum)

This question supports Haas’ strong desire to recruit students who “have confidence without attitude.” To be “a student of your own failure” is to learn from your mistakes. Do not be afraid to talk about something that you really messed up on. The admissions committee will not be focusing on the mistake itself – they know that everyone makes them – but on the humility with which you recognized the failure and learned from it. 

5.   Describe a time when you led by inspiring or motivating others toward a shared goal. (250 word maximum)

Please note that this is not simply a leadership question but one that focuses specifically on your team skills as a leader. In what ways did you support your team members or subordinates to accomplish a goal? You will need to discuss your work leading and motivating your team members in writing this essay, rather than talking about your individual actions to reach the goal.

6. a. What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How have your professional experiences prepared you to achieve these goals?
b. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (1000 word maximum for 6a. and 6b.)

This is a straightforward goals question that asks you to talk about the interrelation between your career experiences, future goals, and a Haas education. How are they connected? How did your professional experiences lead you to the career goals that you now have, and how are those goals now leading you to make an application to Haas’ MBA program?

Wharton Essay Question Analyses and Deadlines 2010-11

Please find below the deadlines for the regular 2-year MBA program and my comments/tips (beside the vertical orange bars) on the essay questions. (For deadline and essay question information for the MBA/MA Lauder program please refer to the Wharton website.) Wharton has changed its essay questions dramatically, and has done away with its traditionally long essay about goals and “Why Wharton.” They ask several specific questions to get at the qualities that they are looking for, and this essay set requires you to tailor your stories to Wharton.

All deadlines are 5:00 p.m. EST.

  Deadline Decision Notification
Round 1 Oct. 4, 2010 December 17, 2010
Round 2 January 4, 2011 March 24, 2011
Round 3 March 3, 2011 May 12, 2011


From Wharton’s website:

Fall 2010 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.

Required Question:

What are your professional objectives? (300 words)

This is a shortened version of their traditionally long goals essay question. In 300 words or fewer, you are to state your future career goals. You can go ahead and explain briefly why you wish to attend Wharton as well. My sense here is that they are more interested in finding out about you, and can make their own determination as to whether or not you are the right fit based on the three longer essays below.

Respond to 3 of the following 4 questions:
  1. Student and alumni engagement has at times led to the creation of innovative classes. For example, through extraordinary efforts, a small group of current students partnered with faculty to create a timely course entitled, “Disaster Response: Haiti and Beyond,” empowering students to leverage the talented Wharton community to improve the lives of the Haiti earthquake victims. Similarly, Wharton students and alumni helped to create the “Innovation and the Indian Healthcare Industry” which took students to India where they studied the full range of healthcare issues in India. If you were able to create a Wharton course on any topic, what would it be? (700 words)

This is an essay in which you can demonstrate your creativity, awareness of current and pressing societal issues, professional skills and experiences, personal qualities, future vision and potential to contribute to the Wharton community and beyond. A strong and credible essay would include your vision for a relevant course rooted in your own experience and expertise. Let’s say that you’d like to create a course to address the topic of microfinance. (And, by the way, you are not restricted to writing about topics related to developing countries.) Why would you be the right person to develop this course? What experiences, skills and knowledge do you have that will enable you to do this? Why is this course important and why would it be relevant (or be of interest) to Wharton students? What would be your mission in the course? When writing this essay, make sure that you focus not just on the future and the hypothetical but also on your own strengths and expertise. Ultimately, this essay is a way for them to learn more about you as a candidate.

2. Reflect on a time when you turned down an opportunity. What was the thought process behind your decision? Would you make the same decision today? (600 words)

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, as some applicants will talk about a lost opportunity that they do not regret, while others may talk about having done things differently. Again, the admissions committee wants to get better insight into you as a person, and is more interested in understanding how you go about making decisions. The key question here is “What was the thought process behind your decision?” They are asking for an honest, reflective and thoughtful response. In business and especially in high level management, executives are asked to make significant decisions on a regular basis. Sometimes they must do so with limited time and limited information. Wharton wants to know how you go about making decisions. Are you thoughtful? Do you weigh carefully the different options available? What risks do you take? If you do regret a decision, what have you learned from it?

3. Describe a failure that you have experienced. What role did you play, and what did you learn about yourself? How did this experience help to create your definition of failure? (600 words)

This is a standard question with a slight challenge at the end. It is important for business schools to understand how you respond to failure. No person will go through a career without making mistakes, and here it is not the mistake that the admissions committee cares about but your follow up and lessons. They want to know if you have taken the time to reflect on what you did and, if so, what you had gained from it. They want to see honesty, maturity and growth. In choosing an appropriate topic, don’t be afraid to go with a fairly big failure. The important thing is telling them what you learned as a result.

As for your own definition of failure as a result of this experience, think about what failure means to you. How would you define it? Is it a terrible? Is it a reflection of your character, or something else? What does it tell you about yourself? Think about what “failure” means to you now that you have experienced it.

4. Discuss a time when you navigated a challenging experience in either a personal or professional relationship. (600 words) 

Wharton wants to know how you handle conflict and difficulty, since this is something that you will inevitably go through in your future career, and how successful you are at managing relationships will be key in determining how successful you will be in your work. The word to pay attention to here is “navigated.” Show the process, how you dealt with with this person and evolved the relationship. And though they say “personal” here, I would limit the use of personal topics – e.g., no discussion of romantic relationships or other relationships that involve issues not relevant to business school. 

Harvard Business School Essay Question Analysis 2010-11

Please find below the instructions and essay questions from the HBS website along with my analyses:
Essays for the Class of 2013

As an opportunity to present your distinctive qualities, your essays are an important part of your MBA application. You will be asked to submit your personal statements online with the balance of your application materials. Essays should be single-spaced. Please limit your response to the length indicated.

All applicants must submit answers to four essay questions. The first two questions are required of all applicants. The remaining two essays should be in response to your choice of the next four sub-questions.

Joint program applicants for the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School must provide an additional essay.

  • What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)


The classic HBS question. Accomplishments mean achievement and impact. In what ways have you stretched yourself, gone above and beyond, and made an impact on others? The examples you choose should represent you well, meaning, as much as possible, combine professional examples with an academic, community or personal example. However, your own combination will depend on your own experiences. Do not force a weak example simply to diversify your stories. Try to find a balance between quality and diversity.

  • What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)


HBS wants to know how self-aware you are and how willing you are to learn from your mistakes. That is the main point of this question, not how badly you have messed up. So be honest in the mistake you choose and don’t be afraid of showing a weakness. Describe what you did wrong, but show how you handled it and what you learned from it.

Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):

  1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?


This is a question designed more for recent graduates who have fewer professional experiences to talk about. If you had a rich undergraduate life and you didn’t attend university too long ago, this may be a good option for you. I often get asked if it is okay to talk about non-academic experience. My answer is yes, as long as you are not talking only about your club and sports activities. That is, your answer needs to discuss your academic and intellectual work even if you want to talk about other activities as well. Questions to think about: What kind of a student were you? Were you intellectually curious? What kinds of intellectual pursuits did you have? If you were also active outside the classroom, talk about that too: leadership, community involvement, etc. Your experience as an undergraduate student will give the admissions board an idea of what kind of HBS student and leader you might be.

2.   What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?


This is more or less the standard goals essay, although many people ask me why HBS uses the expression “career vision” instead of “career goals” which is used by most other schools. HBS wants to know more than just the concrete things that you plan to do after graduation (e.g., become Director of Marketing); they want to know what your mission and career plan and path are (e.g., serve consumers in developing countries through a position as Director of Marketing). “Vision” is what you see for your future: what do you hope to do, what are the steps you will take to get there, what fundamental value, belief or desire is driving this career path for you? However, don’t get overly anxious about this essay question; if you write all your essays well, this goals essay should not be any different from the goals essays you write for other schools. The one difference between HBS’s goals essay and that of other schools, though, is that you don’t need to spend a lot of time convincing them why HBS is your top choice. ;-)

3. Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed.


This is a completely new question for this year. Through this essay the admissions committee wants to see how you deal with setback, when things don’t go your way. As usual, choose an episode and give enough context to explain what frustrated or disappointed you. Then focus on the main message, which is how you reacted and dealt with the situation. Please keep in mind that, if you choose to write this essay, you’d need to use a different story from the mistake essay above. The two topics sound similar but are different.

4. When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?


Another brand new essay question. Keep in mind that this is a self-introduction to your future classmates. Reading between the lines, it means that it’s alright to cover some more personal topics here as well. What would you say to your new classmates – what would you like them to know about you? Cover the different areas of your background, values and personality but make sure you do more than simply regurgitate your resume. Let the reader get to know more about you as a person here.

Joint degree applicants:
  • How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400-word limit)


This is a straightforward question asking you to talk about why you need the joint degree/joint degree experience. They want to know how studying for both degrees will help you professionally and personally.