Besides outstanding achievements and impressive working experience, the key to a successful application lies in exceptional personal essays that describe you as a unique human being. Since it plays such a significant role in a candidate’s application, this article will provide you a complete guide on how to rock your MBA personal statement.
An MBA personal statement is an essay in which a candidate reflects on himself/ herself as a personal introduction to the admission committee. Compared to other factors like GPA, standardized test scores, and working experience, a personal statement is much more valuable since it is the one and only personal application piece that specifically speaks about who you are. In one form or another, the main request writers have to tackle comes down to “Tell us about yourself”.
Personal Statement VS Statement of Purpose
These are two common types of essays you might encounter during the MBA application process. Although many people mistake them, they are two separate essays that require different approaches.
Personal Statement: highlights Who you are. You may include your personality traits, personal motivation to apply for MBA, how your past experiences, challenges, achievements and personal visions of the future affect your interests and path of growth. It comes in a personal, unique and less formal tone and presents a portrait of yourself as a unique individual that adcomms are looking for.
Statement of Purpose: focuses on What you want to do. Some potential aspects might be your working experience and background skills, your career goals, reasons to choose this program and how it will help you achieve your goals. This essay is, on the other hand, written in a more formal, compelling tone to show your determination of what to learn and to contribute. More insights into the Statement of Purpose can be found here.
In general, most MBA programs require candidates to submit one of these two above essays. To know which type of essay you have to write, you can check your school’s application package and look into the prompts provided. Next, read our following section to find out which type of essay the prompts you have found belong to.
Common themes for an MBA personal statement
Normally, schools do not directly state that you have to write “a personal statement”. They ask you in a number of different ways that revolve around your personality and experiences, rather than your decision to apply for their MBA program.
Some sample writing themes you may see include:
- “Write about a time you overcame a challenge.”
- “Describe a time when you failed and what you learned.”
- “Describe a situation in which you demonstrated leadership.”
- “Describe a career accomplishment you are most proud of.”
- “Describe an ethical dilemma and how you handled it.”
How is an MBA personal statement used in the admission process?
When applying for an MBA program, especially ones from top business schools, the applicant pool is highly competitive. There are 3 main types of applicants that admission committee can easily sort out when first looking into their applications based on their GPA and GMAT scores:
- Outstanding candidates with excellent grades and test scores -> very likely to be admitted
- Competitive candidates with high grades and test scores but not outstanding enough -> on the borderline between acceptance and rejection
- Underperformed candidates with low grades and test scores -> very likely to be rejected
If you belong to group 1 or 3, a personal statement seemingly does nothing that affect the school’s decision. Yet, it will be a much more different story if you are, and mostly are, one of the group 2 of applicants. The personal statement now comes into effect as a chance for competitive but not outstanding candidates to distinguish themselves and prove their values among their opponents. It proves the final piece of the puzzle that the admission committee needs to become excited about the applicant.
What do AdComs look for in an MBA personal statement?
After all, a business school operates as a business itself. Choosing who to admit is similar to choosing a candidate to invest their resources into. Knowing what they want to see and emphasizing it in your essay is the optimal strategy to call for investment in you from the schools.
Overall, the admission committee wants candidates to:
- Explain their motivation and goals.
- Document their character, integrity and work ethic.
A personal statement they look for should be comprehensive enough to highlight and emphasize the intrinsic traits of yours that the committee seeks in the admission process. As an MBA program is all about leadership and management in global business, AdComs are most interested in these following strengths: ambition, maturity, honesty, diplomacy, independence, communication skills, creativity, passion, strong personal ethics, confidence, humor, perseverance. If possible, you may want to do a bit more research on the school you are applying for, especially their MBA student community and which traits one individual of this community is highlighted for. Successfully displaying some of these traits through your personal statement is a great move for your whole application itself.
2. How to write a personal statement for an MBA?
An MBA personal statement often takes the form of a story of about 500-700 words. A candidate usually has a lot of small anecdotes about past experiences that demonstrate their unique values. To tell the most compelling story, you should build your essay by connecting these pieces of stories in a clear structure of opening, main body and ending of your story.
How to find unique ideas
A successful MBA candidate is the one who can demonstrate his unique personality and values via personal statement. Thus, how to find those unique ideas to write about is the typical problem many people face when starting to write their personal essays.
Although this might sound a bit cliche, you have to first believe that you are a special individual on Earth. It is common to see applicants stressing themselves out for ‘being ordinary’ or ‘not having enough special traits’ to stand out among the applicant pool. This frustration usually prevents them from doing in-depth reflection on themselves and kills their creativity. Believing in your speciality, on the other hand, motivates you to dig deeper into your experiences and find many more hidden stories that can light up your personal statement.
Next, after reading the prompts from your dream school, START WRITING. Give yourself about 10-15 minutes to write down everything that comes to your mind when you first see the prompts. Don’t worry about whether what you write is relevant enough, or whether it comes out in a coherent structure and grammatically right sentences. JUST WRITE. This will help you gather a lot of possible ideas for your essay without losing any potential story.
After this ‘messy’ writing, reread what you have just written, and rearrange your thoughts. Gradually, you will find out somewhere in the chaotic texts you have created lies an interesting idea or experience that gets you excited. That is the one you are looking for.
How to start
When you finish brainstorming your ideas, congratulations! You have overcome the most challenging part of an MBA personal statement. It is time to get started with writing it down.
An opening always seems a bit scary when starting to write an MBA personal statement. If you are able to come up with an interesting opening paragraph and feel confident about it, go ahead with it and move on to the main body part.
However, you might not know where to start and how to write a rocking opening to impress readers. In fact, worrying too much about a catchy opening is a waste of time. Many essays focus so much on the opening, which makes them unnatural and unnecessarily long. Remember, there are thousands of essays like yours AdComs have to read every year. A lengthy and wordy opening does nothing but turns them off right at the beginning.
A good statement begins with a succinct opening that comes to the main point quickly. It is advisable to go straight in and write what comes naturally. Immediately beginning your story or starting with an assertion statement as a direct answer to the question are 2 good ways to open your MBA personal statement.
Get to the point quickly.
Do not rely on someone else’s quotes to open your personal statement like you may have done during your presentations. Quotations are what AdComs hate the most, since they are not your personal insights. Besides, avoid cliche opening sentences such as: “From a young age…”, “I have always been interested in…”, “Throughout my life, I…”, etc. It raises boredom and shows no careful consideration during the writing process.
How to write main body
Although it is undeniable that the main body of every personal statement differs according to the story each candidate is going to tell, there are a number of main things to note down in the writing process.
- SHOW not tell
The main purpose of a personal statement is to show AdComs your personality traits and values. Yet, it is a common mistake of many people to simply tell readers what kind of person they are in their essay. No one is going to believe what you say without any proof given. Instead, you should show them your character and insights through your past experiences. This takes time to reflect on your working and studying journey and describe those experiences with as many details as possible. The more specific you write, the more persuasive your essay will become.
- Connect all experiences
Some essays may involve recalling not one but several past experiences. Thus, arranging and connecting them in a logical way are must-do in order to walk readers through your story. Do not describe all the events that happened. You may select one specific trait you want to highlight through those experiences and focus on some particular details that support you.
- Think about readers’ interpretation
After writing each paragraph of the main body, you should take some time to reread all of them and think about what readers can interpret from your writing. Remember, every word tells. Even though there may be a lot of points you wrote automatically without much thinking, the AdComs may recognize their meanings in a different way. Read your paragraph and ask yourself “What can this sentence show about me?”, “If this is an essay of somebody I have never met, what can I know more about him after reading it?”. A better way to do this is having someone to revise your essay and ask for their opinions to further improve it.
- Be honest
Don’t stress yourself on the uniqueness you have to show off to the admission committee. Be honest and sincere with what you experienced and what you learned from the past. There is no need in exaggerating or lying since half-truths are very easily detected in MBA personal statements. Also, do not try to appear as a person who you are not just because you want the AdComs to notice you. They only choose the most suitable candidates to join their student body. Even when you are lucky to be chosen into their school’s MBA program based on your personal statement, fitting in is a totally different story. You may find yourself lost and out of place when living with their community, which will put much more pressure on your study journey
How to end
Similar to the opening, the ending is just as important but should not be the one part that stresses you out. One popular way to finish your personal statement for MBA is to conclude what you have learned from the story you just told. Try to conclude those learning points in a concise way and polish your wording to leave readers with the most memorable impression.
Another approach is to talk about your future plans and visions after experiencing those events, and how an MBA program will help you. This is a good opportunity to show your passion for pursuing the MBA and further indicate why you are a good fit for this program at the school.
What to do after finishing
Finishing your essay is not the end of the story. Proofreading is a must-do task after completing your personal statement. Take some time to reread and fix every error you can find. A tip to do this effectively is: READ OUT LOUD. Reading your essay in silence might make you miss several mistakes and ignore some unnatural parts of it. By reading out loud, similar to telling your story to another person, you will have to rethink before saying, and will be able to detect some paragraphs that sound forced and irrelevant.
In addition, you can reach out to other people to read your essay and give their feedback. Put together all the advice you receive and amend your essay according to useful ones. After that, revise and polish repeatedly until your personal statement is perfect to you.
“Following my graduation from college, I accepted a position teaching high school history at a small Catholic girls school in northern Tennessee. The job was an excellent fit for my degree in humanities and provided an opportunity to live near my mother, who struggled with the debilitating effects of lupus. Although the small town was a startling contrast to my life in New York City, I was eager to become part of such a close-knit rural community.
Unfortunately, my liberal religious beliefs were a poor fit for the conservative local diocese. On a regular basis, I received negative feedback for my decision to discuss major events in United States history through a secular perspective. From the administration’s view, my job was to present each event through a religious filter, labeling all non-Christian influences as negative. If a student questioned that perspective or asked for my opinion, I was advised to refer them to the Bible. No other discussion would be permitted.
By the end of my first semester, I knew I was in an untenable position. The restrictions that were placed on my classroom discussions not only stifled my enjoyment of the job, but my students’ ability to learn. With the onset of the first winter snow, I felt trapped in my increasingly narrow, inhospitable environment. I gave my notice a few weeks later and stayed long enough to train my replacement.
Looking back, I accepted the job for all the wrong reasons, without considering the poor interpersonal “fit.” As a liberal, open-minded woman, I was appalled by the school’s inflexible positions on topics of moral and social relevance. In my mind, my job was to encourage discussion and nurture independent thinking, not to simply parrot the school’s “party line.” Fortunately, I quickly received another job offer teaching history at a public school outside Nashville. My employers not only tolerated, but supported, my commitment to lively classroom discussions. In fact, I was named “Teacher of the Year” in the Nashville school district for five consecutive years.
In hindsight, I regret accepting the first position at the Catholic girls school, which was a profound professional disappointment. Yet the experience forced me to re-evaluate my commitment to teaching, which requires presenting views that are not necessarily my own. I also confirmed my passion for free speech, which is an essential component of any meaningful exchange. I want my students to think, grow and confidently express their feelings, even if they differ from my own. Without that terrible year of restrictions, I might not have brought the same level of passion to my classroom in Nashville.”
What can we see from this essay?
This prompt seems a bit tricky as it requires you to write about a wrong decision. Yet, it doesn’t mean that you should sound regretful and pathetize yourself. Instead, the essay should bring a positive vibe and show what you learned from your mistake, which is exactly what the writer successfully did. No need to have a catchy opening, she introduced her story of teaching in a Catholic girls school in the first place. She presented a clear picture of what happened at the school and what did not suit her personality. A shining point is that she realized and admitted her mistake for not “considering the poor interpersonal “fit”” before working there, and accepted this disappointing event as part of her working journey that shaped her today. It can be seen from the essay that she is a mature person with a positive viewpoint, self-confidence, open-mindedness and learning attitude that will flourish in the challenging environment of an MBA program.
Essay 2: We all experience “defining moments”, significant events that can have a major impact on our lives. Briefly describe such an event and how it affected you.
“Two sets of clothes, a dictionary and an envelope with $2500 in cash. These were the items I crammed into my two suitcases when I entered the United States in 1996. Through movies, books and magazines, I always knew that the United States was a country of freedom and democracy. My entire life, I dreamed of enjoying these benefits. My successful relocation to the US, despite numerous financial, cultural and language challenges, remains my greatest personal achievement. It also helped me to develop and exemplify the personal values I hold dear.
My initial challenges involved language skills and money. I knew studying in the United States would remain a dream unless I perfected my English and secured the financial resources for tuition and fees. In addition to my regular classes at the American International University, I took an evening class in English to perfect my skills. My persistence paid off. After months of intensive study, I earned one of the highest TOEFL scores ever achieved by a Japanese student. Money was a more formidable challenge. Although my acceptance to Northwestern University included a partial scholarship, I still needed money to cover my expenses. I borrowed from every friend, relative and acquaintance I knew, including many who earned less than $100 USD per month. By lending me money, they placed incredible faith in my ability to succeed. I was determined not to let them down.
In my first class, Expository Writing, we had a short writing assignment for every class and six longer assignments throughout the semester. Although I had studied English intensively in Japan, it was very different from the challenge of competing with American students in a writing class. My first graded paper came back covered with red ink and a C grade. I knew that I had a lot to learn. I reviewed each change the teacher made and solicited feedback from my classmates. I also used the wonderful tutoring service offered by the English department, having upperclassmen review and critique my writing. I was delighted to learn the subtle and different ways they would express an idea. I completed a few rounds of re-writing for each assignment, incorporating the tutor’s suggestions to express my thoughts more clearly and succinctly. My grades and confidence increased with every writing assignment. When I realized that I could compete at the same level with American students in an English writing class, I knew I could surmount other challenges as well.
My successful relocation to the United States helped me to develop and exemplify the personal values I hold dear. I learned how to meet commitments with hard work and determination. I developed the ability to focus on an objective, analyze my options and develop a plan of action. By achieving a meaningful goal under difficult circumstances, I gained confidence and maturity.
There is an old Japanese saying that when God wants to assign you an important task, He will first test you. He will make you hungry and tired, and will let you feel desperate and deserted. If you can thrive under these difficult circumstances, you are ready to assume the important task. I know in my heart that my relocation to America repeatedly tested my determination and commitment. My success will always stay with me, and I try to imbue my resulting pride, devotion, and sense of responsibility in all of my professional and personal endeavors.”
What can we see from this essay?
This essay, on the other hand, has an excellent opening that captures readers’ curiosity immediately: “Two sets of clothes, a dictionary and an envelope with $2500 in cash.” He gradually led us to his story of overcoming challenges to enter the US – a completely different environment from his hometown in Japan. He did not state what kind of person he was, but showed them clearly through what he did when facing hardship in the land of strangers with specific examples of learning English and writing. Whenever a problem comes up, his response is thinking of what he needs to do instead of panicking over the challenge. The essay displayed an admirable surpassing-oneself attitude and a can-do mindset. Finally, it also has a rocking conclusion. Referencing a famous saying and relating it to his own story, he restated his personal insights and values that were gained through his experiences, and concluded the whole essay with a sentence asserting the vision of his future self with utmost passion and determination.