I hope they will give a spark of inspiration even before you start your application.
Essays are your best opportunity to convey your personality and uniqueness to admissions committees. They help you differentiate yourself from your competitors. Admissions teams are very much focused on the essays in the process of reviewing your application.
Do you plan to apply for admission to full-time MBA programmes in some of the leading business schools in Europe with the intention to begin your studies in the autumn of 2016 or early in 2017? If so, here are some of the MBA essay questions through which you can attract the attention of the Admissions Committees (AdComs) and stand out among other applicants.
2016 essays in figures
MBA essay questions are quite diverse. The number of required essays per school varies, as well as their maximum length. On average, b-schools require two or three essays of about 500 words each. However, the reality is much more colourful. Those who apply to the EDHEC Global MBA (France) will have to answer just two questions, each of 300 words maximum. However, if you apply to ESMT (Germany) you will be required to express yourself in eight essays with a maximum volume ranging between 150 and 800 words.
Well, the number of questions certainly counts, but you should also consider the overall volume of text which you will have to produce, so that you can allow enough time and energy for writing the essays. The total number of words in all of the essays can range between 600 (EDHEC) and 2450 (ESMT), the shortest being about 150 words and the longest reaching 900 words, according to the requirements of different b-schools.
The “typical” essay questions
- Career goals and programme fit
These questions are very straightforward and are the essence of the application. They aim to reveal your motivation for MBA studies and for choosing a particular programme.
For example LBS (UK) require MBA applicants to answer this question in a maximum of 500 words:
What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute?
Here is how HEC Paris asks a similar question:
Why are you applying to the HEC MBA Programme now? What is the professional objective that will guide your career choice after your MBA, and how will the HEC MBA contribute to the achievement of this objective? 500 maximum words
ESMT (Germany) also requires details of your short and long-term career objectives as a part of your personal statement. This type of question also helps the b-school assess whether the programme and the b-school resources can really be instrumental in helping you achieve your goals. B-schools have good reasons to support their students so that they can succeed as soon as possible upon graduation.
Please explain why you are applying for an MBA at ESMT? What are your career plans upon completion of your MBA? Please provide some insights on your short term (immediately after your MBA) and long term objectives. (5000 characters maximum - approx. 800 words)
These essays are close to a ‘motivation letter’ or a ‘statement of purpose’. The challenge is that you have to be really specific and personal in your reply and aim to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Give specific examples of your career goals, the courses in your selected programme that will help you achieve them, your professional strengths and areas of improvement, and show how the curriculum and other services at the school will help you grow.
- Your contribution
Each business school evaluates how you can contribute to their programme and some schools, such as LBS, ask the question openly:
What specific areas of London Business School life are you most excited about getting involved in and where will you add value? (300 words)
Such questions do not limit your response to extracurricular activities, as it may seem from the quote above. The core of the MBA learning process lies in the classroom interaction, the sharing experiences and perspectives. So, convey in your essay what you are good at, what your values are, what you are passionate about, what is unique in your profile and experience and how it can benefit your peers, professors and the learning environment.
- Leadership aspirations
You can often come across essay questions about a notable person or a leader whom you would like to meet or whom you admire. Here are examples from the HEC Paris full-time MBA application:
What figure do you most admire and why? You may choose from any field (arts, literature, politics, business, etc.).
What monument or site would you advise a first-time visitor to your country or city to discover, and why?
Questions of this type give you the opportunity to elaborate on the difference you would like to make in the world, the leadership style you aspire to, the values you share.
- Failure, achievement, values
Achievement seems easy to talk about, but not so failure, which usually brings embarrassment and is considered something not to be proud of. However, you can take the opportunity to speak about whatever you learned from challenges and failures and how you acted in similar situations at a later stage. Analysing mistakes and learning from failure can be a really valuable experience.
Consider these sample essay questions.
IMD (Switzerland) requests that you:
Describe a time in your life where you faced a significant failure. How did it affect you and what were your greatest learnings? (Maximum 300 words)
Describe a situation when your personal values where challenged. (Maximum 500 words)
And here is how HEC Paris formulates the topics:
What do you consider your most significant life achievement? (Maximum 250 words)
Leadership and ethics are inevitably intertwined in the business world. Describe a situation in which you have dealt with these issues and how they have influenced you. (Maximum 250 words)
ESMT (Germany) broadens the topic:
Many leadership specialists speak of how failure is just as important to professional development as success is. Tell us about a setback in your life (personal, academic, or professional), your reaction to the setback, and any learning or growth you gained from the experience. (Maximum 1800 characters – approx. 300 words)
- Present yourself
Business schools often require you to give a presentation of yourself. This is certainly not an easy task. It helps to think about what makes you unique in comparison to others of your academic and professional background, gender, nationality, etc. A good tool to use in drafting this type of essay is to ask close friends and peers how they would describe you and how you are different. These techniques will give you a good starting point.
Let’s now look at some essay questions on this topic:
IMD simply asks:
Describe yourself in two hundred words or less.
However, the question may be phrased to evaluate what you would like to achieve in the long term both personally and professionally. So, another essay question on the IMD full-time MBA application is:
“On your 75th birthday someone close to you presents your laudatio (tribute). It can be a friend, colleague, family member etc. Please describe in detail what this person would say about you and your life. (Maximum 300 words)”
Imagine a life entirely different from the one you now lead. What would it be? (Maximum 250 words)
- Additional information
More often than not, you will find on the application form a section for additional information.
Here are the instructions given on the LBS full-time MBA application:
Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (This question is optional) (300 words)
What is impressive about the value that IMD gives to this question is the maximum volume. You will have a whole 900 words to provide further details or speak on topics which are not included in the application:
Is there any additional information you would like to share with us? (maximum 900 words)
What puzzles applicants faced with this type of question is that it is usually optional. So you may wonder whether an answer will bring value to your application or whether it would be negative to repeat things mentioned elsewhere in the application. The other big question is the kind of information to provide in this section.
Well, I believe there is always something to add, highlight or explain in this section. Here is an approach which can help you come up with meaningful input. Before you start completing your application package (essays, application form, etc.) make a list of five to seven key ideas which you would like to convey to the admissions committee of each b-school. The list can vary per school. After you complete your application package, flip through it (or ask a friend to read it through) and check whether your application conveys all these essential ideas in a strong, clear and unambiguous way. If not, then use the “additional information” section to speak about them.
Another type of information that fits perfectly into this section is an explanation of any circumstances which may seem unusual or unclear. For example, a gap in your career progression, a low GPA, some job hopping. Really, anything that may seem unclear or illogical can be explained in this section.
“Innovative” essay questions
Finally, let’s have a look at some ‘non-traditional’ essay questions. Actually it is the question itself that can be ‘non-traditional’ or the format of its presentation. Some b-schools will accept videos, PowerPoint presentations and infographics instead of the classical plain text for your essays. However, there are always clear instructions about this.
As an illustration, here are two essay questions from the ESMT full-time MBA application:
Which technology do you believe has the potential to impact most positively on the well-being of your country's citizens? (Maximum 1800 characters – approx. 300 words)
Intercultural awareness is always important for MBA studies. So, it can often come as a separate essay question (such as the one below), but even if not – it should always be transparent in your application.
“What was the most challenging intercultural experience you have had, either in your home country or abroad? What made this experience memorable? (Maximum 1800 characters – approx. 300 words)”
Essay writing advice
Finally, here is a piece of advice on how to approach MBA admissions essay writing.
Whatever the essay question, and no matter what the combination of questions, you should look for a way to convey a personal and convincing answer to “Why I chose this b-school”, “How the programme will help me achieve my goals”, “How I am unique and what value I will bring to my class and the programme”. Even if the essay topic doesn’t directly ask you to address these questions, include an answer. These are the essential questions for which b-schools look for arguments in your application. Always keep them in mind and double check that you have conveyed the message.