Acing the MBA Admissions Essay

If you're working on an essay for an MBA program this application season, here's one big tip: do not mention Hitler when you're writing about leadership.

Julie Barefoot, admissions director at Emory's Goizueta Business School, said that receiving a leadership essay about Hitler was the most egregious mistake she ever saw in an MBA application essay.

"It showed horrible judgment," Barefoot says. "Inappropriate on every level."

Most MBA applicants probably know not to make this mistake--and if they didn't know before, they do now. But the Hitler essay mistake is a manifestation of a problem that admissions directors say they see on a smaller scale with many applicants' essays: poor judgment.

"The jobs that our MBA students are getting are very meaningful jobs. These are big jobs. They certainly can affect or impact people's lives," Barefoot says. "[Therefore we're looking for] good judgment, strong analytical skills. These are all things we look for in an application. Not all of those are characteristics you can discern in an essay, but a lot of them you can."

An essay is just one part of an MBA application, alongside letters of recommendation, GMAT scores, resumes, work experience and GPAs. Essays can ask applicants to address a variety of topics, including their post-business school plans, their greatest achievements, and their role models. But all admissions essays have one thing in common: they present an opportunity for students to inject a personal flair into the impersonal numbers and lists of internships that comprise the rest of an application.

Schools therefore use the essays to assess candidates' intangible qualities, such as whether they will participate well in class, interact positively with professors, impress recruiters and ultimately enhance the schools' reputation and brand when they join the ranks of alumni.

Many admissions directors describe the essay as a kind of test. If a student can't put together a coherent 300-word essay answering a simple question, how can he or she succeed in graduate school?...

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