Sample Essay Questions Mba

 

Good luck to all those who submitted to HBS in Round 2! The final wave of interview invites (and the dreaded “release”) happens on Jan. 30. If you were given a Further Consideration in Round 1 then you’re likely to hear something on the final-wave day. Read up on the interview process at HBS here.

 

The Harvard MBA application guide to the Class of 2020 Harvard essay and app will help you understand what needs to be in a successful pitch. Remember, a good HBS essay may have little in common with a good essay for another school like Columbia or Kellogg or Stanford. And OMG, apps were up 6% at HBS last year?!??


 

 

Harvard 2017 MBA Essay & Recommendations – Class of 2020

The Harvard essay question will be the same this year:

“As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?”

This is deceptively simple. You need to know what you bring to the table — and who you are — before you can even begin to craft a response.

This is also one of the easiest essays to unintentionally come across as disingenuous and fake. We began a series of posts on The Strategy of Authenticity which is designed to help you build an awareness for what is, and isn’t, authentic, so you can present yourself truthfully, sincerely, and with impact in your MBA apps.

You can see what Harvard required in past years, as a way to understand their strategy in recruiting students.

Harvard’s Can we just say “OUCH”??  Class of 2019 profile is INSANE. They got over 10,000 applications (which hasn’t happened since 2001) — 10,351 to be precise. That’s a 6.1% increase over their prior year. And that prior year was almost 1% more than the year before, which was 1.5% more than the year before THAT, which was 2.4%… You get the point. Hopefully you can see what you’re up against: Average GPA of 3.71, which in case you didn’t read that right is three point seven. 80% GMAT range of 700 to 770. DID YOU SEE THAT? 80% RANGE STARTS AT 700?!?? Yield is back up to 91%. Given these daunting figures, maybe you’d like to get EssaySnark’s opinion on your Harvard essay?

 

HBS 2017 MBA Dates and Deadlines

HBS MBA Admissions Deadlines

  • Interview invites will come in two batches in the first week of October (October 2nd and October 5th, to be specific). If you aren’t invited in the final batch, you’ll be “released” (that is, if they’re not going to keep you on the further-consideration list; see this post for an explanation).
  • ; interview invites will likely be issued in two waves, with the bulk of them coming on Jan. 25 and the remaining one-third of invitations to come Jan. 30; if you aren’t going to get invited, then you’ll be hearing that on the second batch release day. Those offered a deferred consideration in Round 1 should also hear something on the second-wave day.

Yes, we do recommend a Round 1 application to Harvard. Definitely. It’s still possible to make it in during Round 2 but you have a LOT more competition against you then.

Got that Harvard essay ready? See if it’s REALLY ready with our Harvard Essay Decimator!

 

Harvard MBA Recommendations

Harvard is again using semi-standardized recommender questions in 2017 — however if other schools will also stay “standardized” remains to be seen!
  • Two recommendations
  • Two questions for them to answer

We explain the concept of “standardized” recommender questions and offer an important resource for you to give to your recommenders, to make their job easier. In 2016, there was a small group including Harvard that used one version of “standardized” questions, and there was a larger group of schools using a different set of NEWLY standardized questions. (are you confused yet? yeah). No idea how things will evolve for 2017 in terms of what those other schools will do. We can say that Harvard is sticking to what it’s done for the last several years, so there’s consistency on their side.

The first issue of course is, who do you choose to write for you? We have a number of posts about recommenders here on the blahg (on the first page of the site, use the dropdown menu in the righthand panel to choose Recommendations to get a list of all of them). If you want more help, our Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator walks through the specifics and lets you submit your recommenders’ strategy for feedback from EssaySnark.
 


 
 

Interview Invitations at HBS

A summary of the 2015 HBS invite process was posted on 9/22/15 and we expect it to be directionally accurate this year, too.

HBS works like this: You submit your app, the Admissions Board reads all of them (in no particular order – it doesn’t matter what time you submitted or if it went in earlier or later than someone else’s, or what geography or career you’re in), then about a month-ish later, they will issue interview invites.

When they implemented this process originally, those invites came out in three waves over the course of two weeks (three Wednesdays in a row), then it went down to two; for Rd 1 2015 it was three waves of invitations scattered over only about a week. Round 2 in January 2017 is now confirmed as two Wednesdays in a row, so just one week total.

The first wave has tended to be significantly bigger than the second one (the bulk of the invites will go out on that first day). The day of the last wave of invites is when everyone not being invited to interview is told that they didn’t make it; they call that the “release.” Instead of getting an invite or release on that final day, it’s also possible to be put in the “further consideration” bucket, which is sort of like a waitlist but you’re not accepted, you’re just someone they’re hanging onto because they’re still interested in you.

The invitations are issued in batch mode, all at once, at noon Eastern time on the scheduled day. If they want to meet you, you’ll get an email which says to check your app for status. If you don’t get an email on either of the first two days, you didn’t get an interview (yet – but it could still come on the last day). Everyone who wasn’t already invited to interview gets an email on the last day of the sequence. If you haven’t received any email by, say, 12:05pm Eastern time then it’s not gonna come that day.

In 2013, HBS invited 1,887 people to interview across the whole season. That’s 20% of the 9,543 applications they received. (We don’t recall seeing this data from HBS for 2014 but it’s comparable, they tend to invite similar numbers every year regardless of app volumes.) Generally speaking they invite more of their applicants in Round 1 – something like 1,000 – yet most schools including Harvard tend to get more applications submitted in Round 2 – so right there tells you that Round 1 is an advantage. It appears that in Round 1 2015 HBS got enough apps that they decided to issue interviews to ~50 more candidates. Here’s more details on the data as of the 2012-’13 season if you want to see how it broke down in past years.

Remember that getting invited to interview in one wave versus another within the invite-day sequence means nothing in terms of the strength of your candidacy. Dee Leopold says this every year. We did a post on the blahg about it on 10/9/13 (but nobody seems to believe us… so we wrote another post on 10/11/13 to explain it all again). HOWEVER: There are greater chances that you’ll be invited in the first wave, if you’re going to be invited at all, simply because in past years, they have invited the bulk of applicants in the first chunk.

If you’re placed on the pre-interview waitlist in Round 1 – what they call “Further Consideration” (other schools just call it a “waitlist”) – then you’ll either get invited to interview, or released, on the Round 2 interview dates, usually in the first wave. If you’re on the post-interview Round 1 waitlist, you’ll probably get the final answer (admit or deny) on the Round 2 decision date.

If you get an invite, you need to be prepared to travel, since these are adcom-interviews conducted in hub cities around the world. They won’t be flying to your doorstep to meet you. You’ll need to make some arrangements, and yeah it’ll likely require taking some time off of work. But don’t freak out about that part; if you end up getting the invite, you will make it happen, we’re confident (and Harvard is flexible with extreme situations like deployed military).

So that you can be prepared: here’s an explanation of the HBS Mid-Cycle Decision and the Moods of a BSer.

 

Harvard’s Post-Interview Reflection

The gist of it is, within 24 hours after your interview, you’ll need to submit something (an essay that’s not an essay but it’s basically an essay – even if the admissions people claim it’s not an essay) that is, again, totally open-ended. Can you see how much Harvard wants to see how you deal with ambiguity? That’s kind of what leaders have to do all the time, right?

The Post Interview Reflection is a chance for you to tell the Harvard Admissions Board that thing that occurred to you, that you realized you should’ve said the moment you walked out of the interview room. Or it’s an opportunity or try to fix your answer to that one question you completely flubbed. Or if you can’t think of anything else, maybe reiterate your application “theme” (though honestly we don’t think that’s such a great idea, that’s just our personal Snark opinion).


If you’ve been invited to interview at Harvard – GREAT! CONGRATULATIONS!! Now you really should pick up our HBS Application Guide if you don’t already have it.

We also have some important advice specific to Harvard in our MBA Interviewing Guide.

Yes we’re telling you to buy two guides. (In fact you’d also benefit greatly from our Custom Interview Questions service.)

Do you want to make the most of this opportunity or not?

 

HBS Useful Info and some Snark

Harvard posted a preliminary Class of 2017 profile on 6-8-15 – but then later we saw the full profile including GMAT scores and we blinked.

An 80% range of scores of 700 to 760?!? Really?? OUCH! It’s still possible to get in with a score outside that range but boy is it going to be tough.

For reference, here’s the Class of 2016 profile posted at the same point in time the prior year (6-3-14) — which looked very similar to the Class of 2015. So, same GMAT (median 730, full range 510 – 790 – but you know there’s only one or two in the 510 range); same GPA (3.67 – ouch!) and same age (27 years old). The only difference is there’s more apps than ever – a 1.5% increase – and they marginally bumped up the class size, to 948.

Takeaways? That it’s just as hard as ever to get into Harvard Business School.

Direct from Harvard

Snarkety snark snark

and finally, just:

 

 

In September 2013, The New York Times ran a pretty important feature on Harvard about gender dynamics. A few days later, a follow-up article was published on class at HBS (not the kind of “class” with teachers). This resulted in lots of media coverage and big conversations across all the business schools. EssaySnark’s reaction is here.

For Reference: Harvard’s Past-Season Questions

Provided for posterity. And because it helps you to understand this school.

Click to view last year's question



This year they have rolled back to a simplified version of the question they asked previously:

One essay, unlimited length:

“As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?”

They first asked a version of this question in 2013, for the Class of 2016. This year’s incarnation is really the epitome of a perfect essay question. They’re basically saying, “Tell us what you think is important.”

Here’s advice from the ‘Snarchives which offers a very good place to start thinking about that: The most important thing to remember with your Harvard essay

It also doesn’t hurt to view the video that was part of the official question last year . Knowing what a school is about is the first step in figuring out how to express that you’re a good fit to the place.

Every year, EssaySnark provides insights and recommendations for how to handle the HBS application – and we have now done that for all you Class of 2019 prospects! Expanded and revised to give you the greatest advantage in setting your strategy.


 

Harvard’s Class of 2018 profile shows you what you’re up against: Average GPA of 3.67, median GMAT of 730. The average GMAT is – gulp – 729 (frequently when the median and mean diverge then that tells you the numbers are scattered across a wider range, but this implies that the full 100% range of scores isn’t that much different than the 80% range reported of 690 to 760). App volumes at Harvard have increased for many years running: up 4% for the Class of 2015, up 2.4% for the Class of 2016, up 1.5% for the Class of 2017, and up 3.2% for the Class of 2018 (the last data available at this point).

 

 

[end discussion of 2016 HBS app]


Click to view the 2015 question


They mixed it up in 2015-’16, but it’s not THAT different from what they had before. Our 2015 HBS essay guide goes into the details.

Here’s the question:

It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.

Introduce yourself.

Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.

We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.

 

First step: Review that video – and review it again! You should also check out their HBS MBA Voices student-focused blog , which should serve as a real goldmine of insights about the school (though PLEASE do not simply parrot the information you view/read/hear from any of these sources into your essays!!! that’s like such a rookie mistake – and yeah, we see it all the time).

As a reminder, this is what they asked for the two years previous:

“You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career intentions, test scores, and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”

Advice from EssaySnark: The most important thing to remember with your Harvard essay (August 2014) – this is still relevant even with the new wording of the 2015-’16 question. And: Here’s how everyone is muffing things up with their Harvard essay (August 2015).

Advice from Harvard: Be sure to read their Direct from the Director post dated 15 May 2015 (you may have to scroll down on that page to find it) – Admissions Director Dee Leopold gives some useful guidelines to use as an important starting point.
[end discussion of last year’s HBS app]

Yes, we do recommend a Round 1 application to Harvard. Definitely. It’s still possible to make it in during Round 2 but you have a LOT more competition against you then (and it sounds like this year’s Round 1 was as full as ever). Regardless, a great app is needed in any round for Harvard Business School.

Harvard’s Class of 2017 profile is pretty crazy: Even higher stats for GPA and GMAT (80% range for students starts at 700?!??), average age still 27, admit rate down to 11%, even with an increase in class size. They received almost 10,000 apps for the Class of 2018 and we expect these stats to be very similar. Given these daunting figures, maybe you’d like to get EssaySnark’s opinion on your Harvard essay?

[end discussion of 2015 HBS app]


Click to view the 2014 question


They had the same-exact requirements in 2013: One essay, unlimited length, technically optional. We discuss it quite a bit here on the blahg. Here’s the question:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

We’ll say it again: Our HBS MBA application guide is very detailed, and it gives you important insights into how the HBS Admissions Board thinks about stuff. It’s been revised to reflect the new “Introduce yourself” question, with additional checklists and tests you can perform on your essay to make sure it’s presenting you as it should. Don’t apply to Harvard just because it’s Harvard; you’re likely to end up heartbroken. Read that guide, and study this blahg, and then make an informed decision – and create an infinitely stronger strategy – with your approach.

How interviews worked in 2014’s Round 1 – deadline was 9/9/14

  • First wave interview invites: October 8 – an estimated 800 candidates received one (for 2015 Dee Leopold said they’d issue 900 invites that first day)
  • Second wave invites (another 150 candidates got one), “further consideration” invitations (a variation on the waitlist but essentially the same; about 200 of these went out), and release of all others: October 15 (for 2015 there were two more waves, with ~350 total invites between them, and another ~100 FC invites)
  • Interviews held from October 20 to November 21. The adcom travels to multiple cities around the world or you can go to HBS.

How it worked in 2014’s Round 2 – deadline was 1/6/15 – sorry that we don’t have data, only dates

  • First wave interview invites: January 28
  • Second wave invites, waitlist invitations, and release of all others: February 4

 

[end discussion of 2014 HBS app]



Click to view the 2013 question


2013 application and what we said about it
Just one question!

With no word limits!!
Harvard asks:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

They’ve also reduced the number of recommendations to just two, from three.
[end discussion of 2013 HBS app]



Click to view the 2012 questions


2012 questions – these are REALLY OLD
In case you’re curious about what they’ve asked before:
Two essays, 400 words each:
  1. Tell us about something you did well.
  2. Tell us about something you wish you’d done better.

[end discussion of 2012 HBS app]


ADVICE FOR BRAVE SUPPLICANTS GOING FOR HARVARD: EssaySnark REALLY (really really really) recommends that you don’t write HBS as your first essay, ever. You’ll end up doing a lot of rework, we can almost 100% guarantee it. We suggest enlisting our help with the Complete Essay Package on such an important school – or on some other school first. Or getting another school’s essays reviewed by us before even writing a single word for Harvard. No matter what, the HBS essay shouldn’t be the first essay anyone writes. You’re not going to optimize your chances by cutting your teeth on the very hardest one. You need to figure out how to write an admissions essay before you try to write one for Harvard. Just like Neo in the Matrix: Everyone falls the first time. Don’t use the hardest essay in the world as your learning process.

 


Highlights from HBS Admissions Webinar July 2, 2014

  • In 2013, HBS invited 1,887 people to interview. [That’s almost 20% of the 9,543 applications they received. The Class of 2016 is 936 students. -ES]
  • A new section of the app this year asks about non-degree coursework; you can include MOOCs and other online (non-credit) work you’ve done. [This is to help you demonstrate analytical abilities. -ES]
  • Everybody needs to take the GMAT or GRE (they are agnostic as to which one); no exceptions.
  • The resume you upload can be more than one page, but you should ask yourself, “Does it need to be?” [No. -ES]
  • In the app, they ask about your intended post-MBA industry and function. HBS does not want a “laminated life plan” but they do want to know your general direction.
  • There’s a separate app question to cover additional information; this is not an essay. [You can use this to explain gaps in employment or circumstances surrounding a low GPA, as you would with other schools’ “optional essays” – but again, with HBS, this is not an essay – and also, you should be able to cover that in your actual Harvard essay, probably. -ES]
  • All financial aid awards are need-based; they don’t do merit-based fellowships. This means you don’t get news of scholarship money at the time of admission, like other schools do. [Basically you should be happy with the admit itself! They don’t feel the need to bribe you to attend. -ES]
  • Of course, Dee talked about the “optional” essay and what they saw in successful applicants last year.

EssaySnark covered many of these points in detail in the 2016 Harvard Guide.

Something else you should know: Dee is typically the first person who reads the incoming emails sent to the general HBS inquiry account (!). The most common question they get is, “Do I have to take the TOEFL?” The next most common: “Do I need to take the GMAT?” (Hint: Their requirements are pretty darned clear on their website .) Takeaway message: Don’t write a stupid email to Harvard admissions. Do your research first, and then – and only then – ask the question if you cannot find the answer elsewhere.

 

EssaySnark reviews of Harvard’s 2014 essays

 

EssaySnark reviews of Harvard’s 2013 essays

We did a bunch of reviews of Harvard essays on GMAT Club in September 2013; the question hasn’t really changed even with the “Introduce yourself” thing, so you may want to check those out. Alas, our contract with GMATClub was not extended so we’re not doing reviews over there any more.

EssaySnark reviews of Harvard’s 2012 essays

And even older than that (2011 and later) – these are still relevant because Harvard is still Harvard – they’ve been looking for the same qualities in a Brave Supplicant year after year:

 

 

Our Essay Ideas App Accelerator includes a free BONUS: a sample essay that won! Review the original draft and EssaySnark’s complete Essay Decimator critique for the 2011 HBS Essay 1, on “three accomplishments” – study it for free and make your Harvard essay that much stronger.

 

And we’ll say it again: Our HBS MBA application guide is very detailed, and it gives you important insights into how the HBS Admissions Board thinks about stuff. Don’t apply to Harvard just because it’s Harvard; you’re likely to end up heartbroken. Read that guide, and study this blahg, and then make an informed decision – and create an infinitely stronger strategy (with a professional’s opinion on your HBS essay, even).

[Index of essay questions by business school]

The applications for MBA programs are unique in that rather than asking for one large admissions essay, they usually have 4-6 prompts of varying lengths.

The applications for MBA programs are unique in that rather than asking for one large admissions essay, they usually have 4-6 prompts of varying lengths. Sometimes an application will have one long essay and several shorter ones, while others will have 3 medium length essays and 4 short-answer ones. Whatever school you’re applying to, it’s highly likely that you’ll be dealing with a set of essays rather than just 1 or 2.

And unlike other schools that have multiple prompts, MBA applications require you to answer all of the prompts offered, or at least most of them. So get ready to write several essays.

Because of this variety, it’s impossible to say exactly what type of essay prompt you’re going to be focusing on in your particular application. Instead, we’ll take a look at some of the most common general categories of admissions essays in this market.

If you'd prefer to have some advice that is specifically tailored towards the exact essay prompts you're focusing on in your applications, then you'll want to head on over to EssayEdge and take advantage of the Ivy League graduate editors there.

"Why This School?"

Prompts of this type are relatively common, and are looking to see whether you can eloquently describe why you will be a good “fit” at a particular institution. These prompts aren’t trying to see if you match the description of an ideal or average student at that school. Instead, you should view them as an opportunity to show that you are familiar with the school and have a clear reason for thinking that you could do well there.

When facing a prompt like this, make sure you take time to carefully plan an answer. You want to avoid regurgitating information that’s presented on the school’s website (such as average class size, faculty-to-student ratio, etc.), since admission officers are intimately familiar with that data. To really impress them, you need to dig a bit deeper – try to find at least one particular aspect of the school that you believe really matches something about you, and then explain that fit in your essay. This may be a particular faculty member, a class or learning method, scheduling option, or any number of other things. By digging beyond the basics, though, you’ll make your essay much more compelling.

Also, don’t forget to explain how that aspect of this program connects to you. Saying “I want to go to your school because of X” technically answers the question, but saying, “I want to go to your school because of X, which perfectly matches Y element of me” is much more effective.

"Why do you need an MBA now?"

Another common prompt, this one wants to see if you can give a clear reason for seeking an MBA at this point in your life.

The most common mistake made when responding to this prompt is to simply list your qualifications and say that you have the necessary education and work experience. Doing so often makes it sound like you’re pursuing an MBA simply because you happen to have the necessary qualifications. It’s kind of like being asked why you’re baking a cake and responding “Well, I had some flour, sugar, and eggs, so I figured why not.”

Instead of saying that you’re qualified, focus on explaining how an MBA will enable you to take the next step in your career. It’s fine to say that you feel that you’re qualified now, but be sure to complement such a statement with a detailed explanation of what an MBA will allow you to do that you can’t do right now.

In addition, you might want to even note a particular deficiency in your skill set right now, and then show how an MBA is the best (or only) way for you to fill that gap and prepare for the next step in your career.

"What are your career goals/plans (both short and long term)?"

This is a tricky prompt, since it’s difficult to find a balance between a goals statement that is too vague and one that is too detailed.

Some applicants focus on goals that are vague. What often happens then is that their goals sound clichéd, since they’re applicable to a huge number of people. If you talk about your plans to “become a business leader,” “make the world a better place,” or “maximize profits,” you will disappear into the crowd.

If, on the other hand, you sketch out a year-by-year plan for the remainder of your career, you’ll often come across as unrealistic or worse, pompous.

To ace this essay question, strike a balance between those 2 extremes. When discussing short-term goals (usually defined as within the next 5 years or so), talk about where you want to be both professionally and personally. Focus on what you’ll accomplish by earning your MBA and how those skills in particular will enable you to progress.

For long-term goals, be ambitious but don’t be unrealistic. If your goal is to become the CEO of Microsoft or some other such company, it’s usually best to find a way to put that in a more generalized context. Emphasize that you are motivated to move up the corporate leadership ladder in a technology-based company, and that you are committed to attaining a position where you will be able to make decisions that direct the company’s future. You can then say that you are particularly interested in advancing within company X. If you make your point in this order, your point will be more compelling because your goal will have justification behind it along with a broader base of possibility.

"Describe a challenge and how you overcame it."

Talking about challenges can be… well, a real challenge for many applicants. After all, when you’re filling out an application and trying to paint yourself in a positive light to an admissions committee, it can be difficult to admit that you struggled with something. Discussing a failure (which is the next prompt we’ll examine), can be even tougher.

When thinking about which challenge to write on, many applicants choose something relatively superficial. I think this is because they want to seem like they’re capable of handling anything and that this challenge was only a minor blip. In addition, they write about the challenge in an extreme nuts-and-bolts fashion: here’s what happened, here’s how I overcame it.

The purpose of this prompt is to see if you can accurately and honestly assess yourself, and to see how you handle adversity. As a result, you want your story to not only describe the challenge and your solution, but also give the reader a deeper understanding of you. To do this, you’re going to need to color your story with some reflective comments that show what you were thinking during that challenge and how your unique personality shaped your response. At the end of your essay, you should be more concerned with the reader understanding how you handle challenges than understanding the details of this particular situation.

"Describe a time when you failed and what you learned."

Like essays that discuss challenges, essays discussing failure do not come naturally to most MBA applicants. Most are used to constantly painting themselves in the best possible light and not to focusing on mistakes and failures. That’s one of the reasons that adcoms ask this question; they want to see whether applicants are capable of doing this important exercise, which is vital to business success.

When writing about a failure, the most important thing is to be 100% honest. Don’t try and minimize the scope of the failure or to shirk blame. In addition, don’t write about some “failure” that was really a triumph or success. You need to talk about some situation in which you clearly failed, admit that failure, and ideally explain why it happened.

Just as important (if not more so) is your assessment of that situation, particularly what you learned from it. While you want to avoid clichés like “learning from mistakes,” you still want to describe how this failure helped you grow in some way. Maybe it motivated you to strengthen a personal weakness, maybe it convinced you of the importance of teamwork, or maybe it helped you realize that a particular job or field was not a good fit for you. Whatever it was, show the admissions committee that you have handled failure to this point in your career and that because of that, you’re prepared to do so again in the future.

"Describe a situation in which you demonstrated leadership."

There are few things that MBA applicants and applications alike enjoy discussing more than leadership. Since it’s so closely related to success in the business field, this is unsurprising. But a surprising number of applicants respond to prompts of this type in fairly boring, uninspiring ways. It’s not enough to simply share a story of a time when you were a leader. Instead, you have to convince the reader, through this story, that you are a leader in all situations, not just in this one.

How did you demonstrate leadership? How is your leadership style unique, and what caused it to become that way? How has your leadership helped you, and how will it continue to help you? Answering questions of this sort will make your response stand out and lead the reader to a deeper understanding of your overall leadership abilities.

"Describe the career accomplishment you are most proud of."

Prompts of this type are not asking you to simply brag about yourself. Instead, they exist to gauge what you consider valuable and worthwhile. Asking you to share which career accomplishment you are most proud of is not the same as asking you to share which career accomplishment you think is most impressive.

To help you better understand this, let’s say that you launched an advertising campaign that increased sales at your firm by 200% in a single quarter. That’s definitely an impressive accomplishment and one that most people would be quite proud of. But what if you had also launched a charity initiative through which many of your fellow employees began volunteering at a local community center – which accomplishment would you be most proud of?

While you could easily write compelling essays about either of those accomplishments (and countless others, both larger and smaller), the question is not which is better but which you feel most proud of. If your firm had been struggling financially and your ad campaign provided a desperately needed spark, you would likely write about the first accomplishment. If your firm was already on sound financial footing and your charity initiative caused a substantial shift in corporate culture, maybe you’d instead write about the second. Whatever your particular situation is, don’t worry about writing on the most impressive accomplishment; write on the one you’re most proud of.

"What will you contribute to this program?"

My suggestion for this prompt is short and sweet: be honest and be personal. Remember, MBA programs are full of elite, accomplished scholars and businesspeople. You’re probably not going to be the smartest or most experienced one there, so you shouldn’t try to play up those aspects of yourself.

Likewise, you’re not going to be the most hardworking or studious one, nor will you be the best team player or most inspiring leader. What you will be is you… so ask yourself what makes you unique, and how that trait will enable you to enrich your program.

"Describe an ethical dilemma and how you handled it."

This question has seen a tremendous jump in popularity in recent years, as the importance of business ethics has continued to grow. My suggestion for tackling a question like this is identical to my suggestions for tackling a question that asks about a challenge you overcame, since this is essentially a more focused version of that same question. As you respond to this prompt, though, focus on showcasing your personal belief in the importance of business ethics.

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