Essay writing lesson 1: Tackling the Question

Think of the essay as the face of your application. An application without an essay is a statistic - just another faceless person in a crowd. An application with a poorly written essay does not give admissions officers the chance to care about you. Use simple psychology: make them feel that they know you, and it will be harder for them to reject you. Make them know you AND LIKE YOU, and they might accept you despite your weakness in other areas. Understanding the importance of the essay is a necessary first step toward perfecting your application. If you are normally a procrastinator, you should understand that your success depends entirely on the amount of time and effort you put into the essay writing process. If all of this has you sweating, you can relax now. Taking this process seriously is the first step. This course will help you get through the other steps.

Admissions essay questions tend to be very broad and difficult to tackle. Yet, it is imperative that you actually answer the question in your essay. It should go without saying, but if your essay does not address the question, then everything you learn in the rest of this course is for naught.

While looking at your application, you are probably asking yourself: "Why in the world are these admissions people asking me this question? What do they want me to write about?" While there is no one answer to either of these questions, there is some reason behind the most popular questions posed by applications.

Most common application questions and Sample Essays with comments by admissions officers:

Note: The below
essays were not edited by EssayEdge Editors. They appear as they were
initially reviewed by admissions officers.


name=whymba> face="Arial, Helvetica, Sans-Serif" color=#990000 size=3>Why M.B.A.?

Discuss the factors that
influenced your career decisions to date. Please describe your
professional goals for the future. How will the M.B.A. experience
influence your ability to achieve your goals? (Wharton)

Discuss your career
progression to date. Why do you want an M.B.A.? How do you envision your
career progressing after receiving the M.B.A.? (Tuck)

Specifically address your
post-M.B.A. short- and long-term professional goals. How will Darden
assist you in attaining these goals?

Briefly assess your career
progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your
motivation for pursuing a graduate degree at Kellogg.

What are your post-M.B.A.
career plans? (Harvard)

This is the most common type
of essay question, asked on virtually every business school application.
This question asks you to present, clearly and coherently, your all too
familiar reasons for wanting an M.B.A. The questions usually consist of a
few distinct parts. Most will ask about your past (How has your career
progressed to date? What has motivated you thus far?), your future (How do
you envision your career progressing? What are your goals for the
future?), or both. All of them expect you to relate the information to
your present desire to attain an M.B.A.

Since this is usually the
first question asked, this essay will be the first one the officers see
when they get your file. Let it create your first impression. It is
similar to the moment in an interview when you shake the interviewer's
hand and smile. Similarly, your first essay needs to be confident, direct,
and to the point. The admissions committee uses this question to ascertain
your motivation, maturity, and focus. While undergraduate application
essays are understandably fuzzy about career choices and goals, graduate
essays should, in contrast, be crystal clear. If you have vague reasons
for pursuing an M.B.A., you need to reconsider your decision to apply.
Giving a vague response to this question is akin to having a weak
handshake and not looking the interviewer in the eye.

You must accomplish a lot in
this essay, so pay special attention to structure. You can tackle the
question by dividing your answer into three separate pieces. The first can
be about your past professional experience. The second can discuss your
future career goals. The third can be about the school's particular
program. At each step, demonstrate why and how these experiences, goals,
or attributes motivate you to get your M.B.A.

Limiting yourself to one
career goal is best, if it is general. If you have a couple of different
jobs in mind, that is all right, too. However, your reasons for them
should be easily inferred or specifically stated. If you are truly unsure
of what your goals are (and we cannot talk you out of applying) always
admit so honestly rather than make up something. At the very least,
though, give credible reasons for your indecision, and explain why you
believe that this school's program will help you overcome your

Even if the question does not
specifically ask for it, articulate why the particular program makes sense
for you given your unique professional and personal goals. To do this
well, you must spend the necessary time in introspection and also research
the school. When you understand the school's program and positioning, use
what you have uncovered only if you can apply it to yourself. Do not write
what you think they want to hear. Admissions officers can spot this kind
of insincerity from a mile away. They also seek a heterogeneous mix of
backgrounds and experiences. Therefore, trying to fashion yourself after
your conception of a typical applicant can hurt you even if you do it
well. The truer you are to your real motivations and desires, the better
your essay will be.


Discuss the factors that
influenced your career decisions to date. Please describe your
professional goals for the future. How will the M.B.A. experience
influence your ability to achieve your goals? (Wharton)

"Stop foolin' around, old
boy. How would an M.B.A. help you? Better get on with your career."
That's what they say. Friends, colleagues, others.

I ‘ve heard it all before.
"If I were you, I would not do it. Don't waste your time, get ahead with
your studies as quickly as possible", my professor for experimental
physics told me. That was back in '88, and of course he was not talking
about my M.B.A., but about my intention to go to China: Take a special
scholarship and go-for a year, to study Chinese, and physics, in China.
Get in line, professor. He was just one of many who did not approve of
my idea.

But for me, my plan clearly
was: A chance, a challenge, and a choice. A chance to open my
intellectual door to the world Europeans consider the (psychologically)
most distant one from Western culture, and to broaden my view well
beyond the usual. A challenge to learn a language Westerners see as one
of the most difficult in a compressed timeframe and to adapt to a
completely unfamiliar environment-while not letting this impact my
overall physics studies timeline. A choice to diverge from the
mainstream path to exclusive specialization in a single intellectual
realm, not just on a spare time basis-but with serious

Looking back after seven
years, I could not feel more assured that at that time, I made the right
choice. My unusual combination of experiences sets me worlds apart from
my physics-only ex-fellow students. Working for (Big Consulting
Company), (so far) exclusively on international assignments in high tech
industries, is the kind of job I had envisioned at that time. I could
not have come here without that choice I made back then.

Now I am-on a higher
playing field, though-back to square one: Once again, about to make an
academic detour form the prescribed path. An unnecessary delay for my
career progression.

But stop! Is that at all
true? Getting an M.B.A. makes perfect sense for a consultant-after all,
most consultants are M.B.A.s. Getting an M.B.A. makes even more sense in
my particular case: it is the perfect academic supplement to my physics
background-the one I need to become a leading edge high tech consultant.
Detailed technology understanding plus profound business and group
skills, that is a rare combination which really gets the career rocket
roaring. This is certainly true for me, and I think that this is one of
my most important and convincing reasons for an M.B.A.

Having spent considerable
time and energy studying Chinese and traveling in Asia (and the rest of
the world), an exclusively German career certainly is the opposite of
what I am interested in. No cozy, warm place in an easy, totally
predictable environment. Guaranteed career progression when the guy
above me retires. Getting a dog at 35 and the BMW and house that go with
it. No thanks.

So what is it I am
interested in? I want to be where the guerilla wars of business are
fought (the shoestring traveller resurfaces). Where global language and
intercultural/personal skills make the difference. Where intelligence
translates into quantum leaps (courtesy of the physicist). This is where
I can make my best contribution. In short, I want to be where the action
and the challenges are.

For the late 20th and early
21st century, this means, in terms of topic, clearly one industry: High
Tech (just watch the stock market). I am well equipped for this with my
physics background. In terms of region, it clearly means Asia. Through
language study and travel exposure, I have come a long way in getting
myself prepared. In terms of function, it clearly means strategy
consulting. If there is any place better for this than (Big Consulting
Company), please let me know.

Thus the reasons why I want
to go back to university and do a dual degree in business and East Asian
studies are: Get myself a thorough business background to put all the
pieces of case experience I have accumulated during my (Big Consulting
Company), life in their right places and understand their context. Do
the same with all my pieces of Asian studies and travel experiences. Get
ready for the real action I want to be a part and a driver of-and
satisfy academic ambitions lurking beneath the surface of the "hands-on"

The knowledge I will gain
should help facilitate a career change. After extensive work in European
High Tech industry, I want to transfer to Asia. Completion of my desired
academic program should give me perfect preparation, some initial
contacts, and, through a summer internship in Asia, a clear idea of what
to expect from working there (in contrast to studying and

Of at least equal
importance, the Lauder/Wharton dual degree program will also give me a
clear view on all the options that I have with my very special
combination of skills. While I currently cannot imagine going anywhere
else but to one of the Asian offices of (Big Consulting Company), after
my graduation, I am also realistic enough to understand that there
certainly is a number of other opportunities out there which I would be
attracted to, but just know nothing about at this time. I am a firm
believer in having many options and in exploring quite a few in
detail-whatever position you're in, there may always be one which is an
even better fit with your ambitions and capabilities.

I think it is obvious why I
apply to the Wharton School. Among all the leading business schools,
Lauder/Wharton is one of the very few offering a serious joint-degree
program that makes sense. With its strong international orientation,
Lauder/Wharton offers the type of courses I am looking for. With my
diverse set of unusual ideas, experiences and capabilities, I would make
a most valuable and colorful addition to the student body of

So what are my concrete
plans for the time after my graduation? Where in Asia can I be a driver
the way described above? One extremely attractive option for me would be
helping to set up the (Big Consulting Company), office in (Asian
Capital). Or one in (Other Asian Capital). Or in Saigon (Cantonese and
Vietnamese are no more different than Swedish and German). But frankly,
these are just a few options I can pinpoint now-and I am sure
that many more will become apparent during my Wharton

After all, my desire to
come to Wharton is just another manifestation of the characteristics
that made me go to China a couple of years ago: Take the chance to widen
your scope. Accept the challenge that goes with replacing narrow
security by broad uncertainty. Make the choice to put all your effort
into fully developing and playing out your talents.

So I am not going to take
my friends' advice. They have their dogs already, and the BMW is
ordered. Sorry-I am not ready for that.


The writer of this essay
begins painting a picture of himself by discussing his trip to China.
The fact that he took the trip instead of heeding all the advice others
gave him shows determination, maturity, and character without him ever
having to say the words. He clearly demonstrates why an M.B.A. makes
sense for him generally (as a consultant) and specifically (to
supplement his technical background). He pointedly bucks the usual
stereotype of, "Getting a dog at 35 and the BMW and house that go with
it." Instead, the essayist makes his reasons personal and unique by
relating them directly to his professional goal of high-tech consulting
in Asia. He then spends a paragraph specifically addressing the Wharton
program. To demonstrate the sincerity and focused nature of his goals
further, he lists a few very specific options that will be available to
him once he graduates.

Certainly, his background
and experience make him unusual. However, his style makes him stand out.
The essayist consistently uses questions to transition to each new point
without being distracting. He begins with a question. "Stop foolin'
around, old boy. How would an M.B.A. help you?" Then he carries the
theme throughout, "But stop! Is this all true?" and "So what is it I am
interested in?" Finally, he writes, "So what are my concrete plans for
the time after my graduation? Where in Asia can I be a driver the way
described above?" To every question he asks he gives a succinct and
pointed answer. He concludes by subtly reiterating his main points of
chance, challenge, and choice. His last sentence adds the final
stylistic touch by referring back to the question posed in the first
sentence. In doing this, he effectively nails down the impression we
have formed about his character-without him ever having to espouse his
own virtues directly.

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color=#990000>Contribution and Diversity Questions name=diversity>

Your background,
experiences, and values will enhance and diversify Kellogg. How? (1-2
double-spaced pages)

The Darden School seeks a
diverse and unique entering class of future managers. How will your
distinctiveness enrich our learning environment and enhance your
prospects for success as a manager?

Every essay question on the
admissions application is geared toward the same thing. Committee members
want to find out who you are, what makes you different from everyone else,
and how you will contribute to the school if accepted. This question asks
these things outright. Because it asks so directly what the admissions
committee wants to know, this is one of the most common questions you will
find. The question has a structure similar to the Why M.B.A.? question. It
asks both Why us? and Why you? However, the nature of this question lends
itself to a more personal response. Whereas the Why M.B.A.? question asks
what you have done, what you want to do, and how that relates to the
school, this question asks about who you are and how it relates to the
school. The Why M.B.A.? question asks about your experiences, and this
question asks about your qualities.

Just as you brainstormed
about your experiences, actions, and goals for the first question,
brainstorm about your qualities and characteristics for this one. What
sets you apart from everyone else? What words do friends and family use to
describe you? For some people, the focus of this question will come
easily. A minority can choose to focus on their racial or ethnic
differences. A person with an unusual professional background may use this
question to turn this potential weakness into a strength. Anyone with a
particular talent or calling, such as an athlete or a musician, can use
that as a topic. Less obvious characteristics can work just as well. Are
you one of those people who are forever getting tagged with an identity?
Do people say, "You know Chuck, the funny one," or "There's Jane, the
history buff."

If you consider yourself to
be a fairly typical candidate with a broad range of interests, you may
feel nervous about not being able to identify yourself with any one
particular activity or defining trait. You should not be worried. Listing
the combination of qualities that make you unique is perfectly acceptable.
None of your qualities has to be particularly unique by itself-whatever is
real and true will work perfectly. What words do people use to describe
you? Are you a risk taker? An academic? A leader? Unusually goal oriented?
Dedicated? Ethical? A good team player?

The qualities you choose to
describe are not nearly as important as how well you back them up. Because
this answer tends to contain many adjectives, you absolutely must provide
solid examples demonstrating each quality you have listed. You can take
examples from either your work or your personal life. You can even be
creative and take an example from your childhood, if you wish, as long as
whatever you choose effectively proves that you are what you say you

Because this question asks
"How will you contribute to our school?" it provides you with a perfect
opportunity to prove that you have researched and targeted yourself to the
particular school. Match your distinctiveness in whatever way is natural
to the distinctiveness of the program. Show the admissions committee that
you are not just perfect for business school in general, you are perfect
for their business school.


Your background,
experiences, and values will enhance the diversity of Kellogg's student
body. How?

During my senior year in
college, my father was diagnosed with terminal skin cancer. Like most
cancer patients, he spent the majority of his time in the hospital; he
often spoke of how nice the staff was, and how much his stay was
enriched by the services offered by the volunteers. I felt a great debt
to those people who helped my father and mother during that difficult
time, and I wanted to do the same for other people in similar

When I moved to New York
after graduation, I decided to volunteer at the Sloan-Kettering Memorial
Hospital until I found a job. Over the next few months, I worked thirty
hours a week helping patients and their families. One of the most
rewarding experiences at the hospital was organizing patient voting for
the 1992 Presidential election. I was responsible for coordinating the
procurement and distribution of absentee ballots with nurses, patients,
hospital staff, and the various voting administrations within the five
boroughs of New York City.

The response was
overwhelming. The patients were overjoyed to be included in the voting
process. I knew from my father that the most demoralizing circumstance
of a prolonged hospital stay was the feeling that the world was passing
you by. On that November day, however, I was able to help those patients
feel like part of society again. I will always be grateful for

Once I found a job, I had
to curtail my hours at the hospital, but I did not stop my volunteer
work. And although my job prohibits me from volunteering as much as I'd
like, I still try to find the time. My volunteer work has allowed me to
help others cope with the terrible pain of illness, which I have
experienced first-hand and through my family. The satisfaction that I
gain when I help patients and their families is unlike any other feeling
I have ever had in my life.

I've found that my work
also helps me to deal with and accept the loss of my own father. If it
were not for him, I never would have started volunteering. The good work
I do is a constant tribute to his memory.

As an individual, I have
learned the benefits of altruism, and I firmly believe that companies
should also take an active role in philanthropy. I was pleased to see in
the admissions brochure that other Kellogg students feel the same, as
demonstrated by their Business with a Heart program. I know that my
unique perspective and experiences would contribute to this group, and
enable me to enrich the lives of the community as well as those of my
fellow students.


This essayist is a good
example of someone who chose to focus on one trait rather than several.
By choosing only one quality, her essay is concise, to the point, and
easy to read. She also leaves a strong impression by introducing only
one theme. This essay is particularly strong because the writer does not
simply label herself as a volunteer and leave it at that. She makes the
topic personal. First, she walks us through her motivation, then through
the experience itself, and finally through how it has affected her and
made her different. She gives details to bring each of these steps alive
but manages to do so in a very short amount of space. She even
specifically details how this experience will help her contribute by
listing the name of the program she has

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color=#990000>Accomplishment Questions name=accomplishments>

Describe the two
accomplishments that occurred in the last five years of which you are
most proud. (Columbia)

Describe your three most
substantial accomplishments, and explain why you view them as such.

Describe your achievements
within the last five years that are good indicators of your potential
for a successful management career and why you view them as such.

What is your most valued
accomplishment? Why? (Kellogg)

Your answer to this question
will say a lot more about you than simply what you have accomplished. It
will show the committee what you value, what makes you proud, and what you
are capable of accomplishing. Applicants make a common mistake when
answering this question-they repeat information found elsewhere in the
application. A good student, for example, will be tempted to fall back on
stressing his or her high G.P.A. or G.M.A.T. score. A person who has won a
number of awards or acknowledgments will try to include all of them and
end up turning their essay into little more than a prose list. Many of the
questions specify that you choose one, two, or three specific
accomplishments as a way of avoiding this kind of response.

If you do choose an
accomplishment that the committee is already aware of-such as your
induction into Phi Beta Kappa or a promotion that appears on your
resume-then bring the experience alive. Demonstrate what it took to get
there and how it affected you personally. Do not be afraid to show
committee members that you are proud. This is not the place for modesty.
However, do not fall to the other extreme either-you can toot your own
horn, but do it without being didactic or preachy. You will not have to
worry about either extreme if you keep your essay short and to the point.
Spend the bulk of your essay simply telling the story.

If you are having trouble
choosing something to focus on, then remember that the best essays are
often about modest accomplishments. What you accomplished does not matter
as long as you found it personally meaningful and can make it come alive.
Unless specified, the accomplishment can be professional, personal, or
academic. Did you get a compliment from a notoriously tight-lipped,
hard-driving manager? Did you lose the race but beat your own best time?
As an English major, did you work around the clock to bring a C in physics
up to an A? Do not think about what they want to hear-think about what has
really made you proud.


Describe the two
accomplishments that occurred in the last five years of which you are
most proud. (Columbia)

Strategic Advisory for
American Savings Bank

In January 1994, my group
was engaged by Robert Bass' Keystone Partners to evaluate their
investment in California company, the culminating point of a five-year
banking relationship. Keystone Partner however, engaged Goldman Sachs as
co-advisor, thereby infuriating the Lehman team. We swore to keep
control of the valuation process by solely handling the modeling work
including complex simulations and projections, which I was solely
responsible for. I quickly drafted a couple of pages that I distributed
to both teams. Overnight, the Goldman team reproduced them line by line
and sent them directly to the client as their work. It was a great
strike against our team. I decided to design a completely different
model, and to draw upon the information that I could gather from a long
and fruitful client relationship with Lehman Brothers. I convinced the
senior vice president, vice president and associate who had covered the
company for years to pass on their knowledge, persuaded them to be
available for 36 hours straight to answer all my questions, and for four
more hours to be trained by me on the model. I designed a 23 page model,
stuffed with information, that we presented to the 42 person working
team, gathered at our request. The presentation, led by myself for
technical explanations and the senior vice president for strategic
conclusions, was a great success. The Goldman Senior Partner,
recognizing the "excellency" of our model, proposed that I remain in
charge of "all the number".

I value this experience
because I gained respect from the senior executives at all three firms.
But most of all, although one of the most junior banker, I was able to
inspire a cohesive spirit to our team in pursuing our goal to produce a
high quality presentation.

Learning to Surf

My move to Los Angeles in
August 1992 represented not only a great professional challenge-to work
with only two senior bankers and cover all California financial
institutions-but also a personal opportunity, a chance to broaden my
horizons. I grew up in Paris and lived in the capital for 21 years
before moving to New York; I definitely was a city girl! Los Angeles
demanded however that I adapted to a whole different world, where sport
rather than opera rhythms the season. I knew that my first year in the
Los Angeles office would be extremely busy due to the small size of my
group. In fact I averaged 90 hours of work per week that year. To keep
my sanity and maintain a good spirit, I resolved to try and learn a
sport that had always fascinated me: surfing. Thus I bought a brand new
wetsuit and longboard and started the experience bright and early on a
sunny Saturday afternoon under the merciless scrutiny of the local
surfers, all males, who did not hide their contempt for my pale skin and
weak arms so typical of investment banking Corporate Analysts. Surfing
seemed at first an impossible mission: my board always mysteriously
rebounded on my head, while the waves would break exactly where I was
paddling. At work, there was an explosion of laughter when I proudly
exposed my (only) personal project: why, a twenty-six year old Parisian,
surfing? This had to be French humor! I resolved however to practice
every week-end before coming into the office. Last summer, I finally
stood up on my board and rode the wave to the beach. It was one of the
most exhilarating moments of my life and although I still surf
regularly, nothing matches my first wave nor the pride that I felt.
Because I received little help and encouragement but prevailed, I
cherish this experience which was actually a tremendous confidence


The writer demonstrates a
nice balance between her professional and her personal achievements. Her
first accomplishment shows the essayist to be a savvy business
professional and highlights her good political sense, dedication, and
technical skill. The second accomplishment rounds out the image by
painting a picture of a young, healthy, active woman willing to take
risks and learn new skills at the expense of laughter and embarrassment.
The latter may have been a personal achievement, but these translate
into very lucrative professional skills as

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color=#990000>Leadership Ability Questions name=leadership>

Describe a situation that
tested your leadership skills. How did you manage the situation?

Discuss two situations in
the past four years where you have taken an active leadership role. How
do these events demonstrate your managerial potential?

This question is similar to
the accomplishment question. You can employ similar tactics to answer it.
Choose situations that are real and meaningful to you, not what you think
will impress the committee the most. Do not limit yourself to using
situations from only your career, especially if the question asks you to
give more than one example.

This question shares common
ground, surprisingly, with the ethical dilemma question because ethical
dilemmas often call on leadership abilities for resolution. Keep this in
the back of your mind so you can strategize if one of your applications
asks both questions. On the other hand, be careful not to bring
unnecessary attention to questionable situations when not absolutely
necessary. Ethical dilemma questions are notoriously difficult, this
question does not have to be.


Discuss two situations in
the past four years where you have taken an active leadership role. How
do these events demonstrate your managerial potential?

Wellwork Action

After working nearly a year
as a production engineer, one morning I experienced a kind of epiphany.
I realized that our profit center had effectively gained manpower and
resources in the form of increased attention from vendors with whom we
had recently formed strategic alliances. By improving communication
between these vendors as well as between our profit center and these
companies, I envisioned a unified approach that could improve and
expedite our production operations. With the encouragement of the
operations superintendent, I arranged a brainstorming session for
supervisory level personnel from our operations staff and our new
alliance partner's companies. From that session, a "Wellwork Action
Team" was created with the specific purpose of improving and
streamlining our operations procedures in order to reduce the cost of
increase the quality of our projects in the field.

After being chosen
facilitator for our Wellwork Action Team, I set for myself two personal
goals: first, to maintain enthusiasm among team members and second, to
implement the ideas and concepts brought forth by our team into our
everyday procedures. To ensure continued involvement, I first convinced
myself that the potential benefits that might be gained from having this
team merited the time and energy of its participants. Next, I personally
committed myself to the project and firmly discussed my commitment with
each of team members. Third, I led the team in drafting a mission
statement and clearly defining our goals. We identified measurements by
which we could evaluate our progress. Finally, I promised the team
members that we would keep meetings to a minimum and re-evaluate the
usefulness of our team in eight weeks.

From June 1995 to the
present, our Wellwork Action Team has successfully increased efficiency
in our oil pumps, reduced electrical costs by 6 percent, and nearly
doubled the production of three oil wells. As our team continues to
evolve, we envision reducing our wellwork budget from $5.0 million/year
in 1995 to $4.6 million/year in 1996 while maintaining oil production
and reducing operating expenses. Our current challenges include
overcoming conflicts in the schedules of our team members and providing
for long-term oil recovery as well as short-term cost

Applying New

When most people envision
an oil well, they picture ten-foot-high rod pumping units, the kind
common to Los Angeles and West Texas because of their durability,
availability, and efficiency. With 300 wells on a mere 10 acre island,
however, these units are impractical for our use; a less efficient,
higher cost and lower-profile type of centrifugal pump is employed by
our company. Recently, a small L.A. firm invented a new method of using
common rod-type pumps without the bulky surface equipment. This marriage
of new technology with old rod-style pumping appeared to have
significant potential for reducing costs on our island. Although I do
not normally design our pumping equipment, I assumed active project
leadership when deciding to install the first unit and apply the new

Because our operations
personnel and vendor partners were unaccustomed to handling hundreds of
30-foot long rods and putting them into use, I met with the inventor of
the new subsurface equipment and two related vendors who would supply
the rods. Rather than provide specifications to each vendor for a bid as
is customary, I chose one vendor from the onset and entrusted him with
the project. I assigned him to work with the inventor of the new
equipment and asked them to together devise a low cost, high quality
engineering design for us. In doing so, the possibility existed for them
to overdesign and overprice the equipment, reducing efficiency and thus
defeating our purpose. Nevertheless, a tremendous upside potential
existed in allowing the vendors to harmonize their efforts and
experience. I hoped to receive a superior product born from the sweat
equity of their two companies.

My strategy was tested in
November 1994 when two units were installed. They have operated without
failure since installation and have reduced operating costs by 38
percent on those wells. In this instance, my management challenge was to
delegate non-traditional responsibilities to our vendors. I feel that
this experience has improved our business process and taken us further
down the path towards mutually beneficial business relationships with
our vendors. I will continue to work in this manner, keeping a careful
eye out for the abuse potential created when allowing a vendor to design
and price their own equipment for our


These two examples have
several positive qualities. First, they are concise and well structured.
Second, although both situations come from the professional sphere, they
balance well with each other. One focuses more on office policy and
stresses the applicant's ability to see the big picture in management.
The other deals with an in-the-field hands-on engineering solution and
stresses his inventiveness, attention to detail, and technological
skills. Third, these examples stress unique background-not many business
school applicants would understand how to design oil-pumping equipment.
They show that he is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Finally, the
essayist gives very detailed proof of tangible

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color=#990000>Hobby and Extracurricular Questions face="Arial, Helvetica, Sans-Serif" size=3>

What one nonprofessional
activity do you find most inspirational and why? (Wharton)

For fun I . . .

Outside of work, I most
enjoy . . .

What interests do you have
outside your job and school? (Tuck)

This question offers a prime
opportunity to differentiate yourself by presenting a vivid description of
your life outside of work. Business schools are interested in balanced,
likable applicants. Your professional life is only part of an interrelated
whole. Business schools expect you to demonstrate the same level of
dedication and passion in outside activities as you do in business. They
are also well aware that many of the best business-related ideas occur
when people are not at work, so what you do out of the office has a
measurable impact on what you can do on the job. Besides, funny, offbeat,
interesting people make work, school, and essays more exciting.
Communicate feelings of passion, commitment, and devotion. Wherever
possible, demonstrate the leadership abilities you have developed in these


What one nonprofessional
activity do you find most inspirational and why?

A little over two years ago
I began tutoring high school students in several types of mathematics,
including preparation for the S.A.T. Test. While I did this initially to
earn money, I have continued to tutor (often pro bono) because I enjoy
the material and the contact with the students.

I have always enjoyed math
tremendously. I can remember riding in a car for long distances as a
child and continuously calculating average speeds and percentages of
distances covered as we traveled. In college I took upper division math
classes such as Real Analysis and Game Theory (and placed near the top
of the curve) though they were not required for my major. All this time
spent playing with math has left me with a deep understanding of the way
numbers work and the many ways in which problems can be

When I first began tutoring
I was stunned to find that most of the kids I worked with, although very
bright, not only lacked the ability to solve complex problems, they were
very uncomfortable with some of the basic principles of math. This
discomfort led to fear and avoidance, and the avoidance led to more
discomfort. A vicious cycle began. Instead of seeing math as a beautiful
system in which arithmetic, algebra and geometry all worked together to
allow one to solve problems, they saw it as a bunch of jumbled rules
which made little sense that they were forced to memorize.

As a tutor, I found that it
was important when starting with a new student to find out where his/her
discomfort with math began. Often, this meant going back several years
in their education to explain important basic concepts. For some
students, fractions and decimals were the point at which math
stopped making sense. For many others, it was the introduction of
letters to represent numbers in algebra. Some students found that
identifying their weaknesses was an embarrassing process. I explained to
them that it was not their fault. Everyone comes to understand new
concepts in math in a slightly different way, and the problem was that
no teacher had taken the time to explain their "problem area" in a way
which would make sense to them. Since math was a system, once they
missed out on that one building block, it was not surprising that the
rest of it did not make sense. Our mission together would be to find the
way in which the system worked for them.

Once we had identified the
initial "problem area," I would spend a lot of time getting the student
to play with questions in that area from a lot of different
perspectives. For example, if fractions were the problem, then I would
create games to get the student to think of fractions in terms of
division, ratios, decimals or other equivalent systems. This would often
be a fairly unstructured process, as I wanted to see how the student's
mind worked and keep them from feeling any anxiety. Usually it did not
take long for the concepts to start becoming clear to the student, as
he/she played with the numbers in the absence of the pressure of school.
My goal was to not just white wash over a students weaknesses with a few
rules which would be quickly forgotten, but to help them develop an
understanding and an appreciation for the underlying

I found this process to be
very satisfying for both myself and the young men and women that I
taught. It was a wonderful feeling to have a student laugh out loud with
relief as a principle which had been unclear and causing anxiety for
years suddenly made sense. Once these old "problem areas" were cleared
up it was usually quite simple to make clear the subjects that they were
working on at the time, especially since I already had an understanding
of how they were best able to understand new concepts. Again, I found it
important to get the student to play with the new material and look at
it in several ways so as to develop a true understanding of the

I was quite successful as a
tutor. One young man increased his Math S.A.T. by 150 points. Another
student improved so dramatically in geometry, her test scores jumped
from about 55 percent to over 90 percent, that her teacher kept her
after class and asked if she was cheating. Although most of my students
did not improve this dramatically, I walked away from every lesson that
I gave feeling that I had helped someone understand and enjoy math. I
hope to be able to continue teaching, if only for a few hours a week,
for the rest of my life.


This essay shows that this
applicant is dedicated not just to helping people, but to academics,
learning, and math. His tutoring does not make us believe his sincerity;
the thoughtfulness and detail with which he describes it do. He has put
obvious time into developing an effective method of teaching. The writer
shows that he is result-oriented by measuring his success in terms of
real numbers and percentage increases. Someone who applies such
standards of accountability to his extracurricular life is sure to bring
the same standards to school and business.

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color=#990000>Role Model Questions name=rolemodel>

Describe the individuals
that you look up to as role models in your professional work.

Describe the
characteristics of an exceptional manager by examining someone whom you
have observed or with whom you have worked. Illustrate how his or her
management style has influenced you. (Tuck)

If you could walk in
someone else's shoes for a day, whose would you choose and why?

Business schools learn a lot
about your professional development through your description of your
mentors. They can determine not only what you have learned but the types
of people from whom you have learned. However, like the accomplishments
question, this question shows a lot about your values and standards. It is
a little like getting to know a person by the people with whom he or she
chooses to spend time. If you are skeptical, consider the different
impression you would have of the candidate who admires a dynamic,
colorful, public leader compared with someone who looks up to an
accomplished but soft-spoken academic.

Who you chose is more
important than how you portray that person. In other words, do not choose
a person because you think it will impress the committee. Name dropping is
not only obvious, it is ineffective. If your mentor is a public figure, be
sure to demonstrate that you have a real, direct relationship with and
that you learned tangible lessons from the person. Keep your essay short
and simple. Never elevate your mentor at the expense of yourself. Show
admiration, not awe. In other words, choose a mentor, not a hero. A mentor
is someone whom you realistically aspire to emulate, whereas a hero's
qualities are beyond our reach.

If the question calls for
more than one mentor, try comparing two very different people or people
from two unrelated areas of your life. Show how you incorporated the best
pieces of wisdom from both. As always, use concrete examples both when
describing these people and when demonstrating the effect they have had on
you. Do more than list their qualities-tell a story that shows how they
have put these qualities to use.

You can follow these steps to
structure this essay:

1. Introduce the person
and the context in which you know him or her.

2. Describe a few of the
mentor's key qualities that you most admire.

3. Relate one or two
particular scenarios that demonstrate these qualities.

4. Describe what you have
learned from the person. What do you now do differently as a result of
having known your mentor? How have you or your actions

5. Be concrete. Cite
specific examples of things that you have learned. Describe the
situations in which you learned these things. Show how you have used
this knowledge to your professional

A variation on the question
is, "If you could walk in someone else's shoes for a day . . . ." This is
a cross between an ideal career question and a role model question.
Whereas the other role model questions ask for mentors, this question asks
for heroes. You do not need to make your response as realistic-feel free
to loosen up and have fun. However, always consider what committee members
will infer from your choice. Answer this question more concisely than you
would the role model one. Simply state who you would choose and answer
why. Did you choose this person because he or she is similar or dissimilar
to you? Did you do choose your mentor for what you can learn from that
person or to effect a change? Would you ever seriously consider this
person's life as a career, or are you just having fun?


Describe the
characteristics of an exceptional manager by examining someone whom you
have observed or with whom you have worked. Illustrate how his or her
management style has influenced you. (Tuck)

In management consulting,
strong analytical skills are valued as much as, if not more than,
effective managerial and leadership skills. Unfortunately, for some
consultants, these characteristics, at times, are mutually exclusive. I
was fortunate, however, to work with [name] on my first major project at
[consulting firm]. As my project manager, he demonstrated a superior
combination of leadership, managerial, and communication skills. As a
result of our interaction, I learned several important lessons and tools
that I used on subsequent projects to improve my effectiveness as a team

To begin, [name] is a true
leader who exhibits courage and dedication. A powerful trait rarely
found in the realm of business, courage is unique in its ability to
unify and motivate people. Moreover, his courage is balanced
appropriately with professionalism, strong values, and humility. He is
sensitive to others' feelings and recognizes that different people
require different types of direction and treatment. Although he often
works with diverse and difficult groups, he always seems able to reach
consensus and create a shared vision and purpose. Furthermore, he excels
at establishing priorities and proactively setting direction.

As an effective manager,
[name] also is able to translate his broad direction into discrete,
tangible tasks. Since consultants often use difficult or creative
analytical approaches, clearly articulating tasks and defining outputs
is very important. In addition, he exercises the appropriate level of
supervision. Rather than micro-managing his team members, [name]
establishes clear accountabilities and expectations and pushes work down
to the correct level. As a result, he creates a strong sense of
ownership and leverages the skills of his team members. Furthermore, he
excels at creating a supportive environment and, when necessary,
coaching team members to help them develop new skills.

Finally, [name] is a
masterful communicator. He is the only project manager I have had who
gave me consistent and constructive feedback, importantly, both positive
and negative. Such feedback not only provides clear developmental
objectives, but also signals to others that he values their
contributions. This type of balanced and open communication quickly
forms the foundation of mutual trust and respect. Furthermore, [name]
excels in the art of negotiation and debate. He states his points with
remarkable precision and is expert at remaining objective and
recognizing all sides of an argument. And, regardless of the volatility
of a situation or the strength of his feelings, he always listens to all
positions patiently and effectively controls his demonstration of
emotion, thereby gaining the respect of others and lending a

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