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4 Things Admissions Teams Look For In An MBA Application Essay


4 Things Admissions Teams Look For In An MBA Application Essay

If the thought of writing your MBA application essay has you on edge, you’re not alone. Many prospective MBA students worry that, despite their stellar qualifications, the written essay accompanying their application holds so much weight that anything less than perfection will hurt their chances of getting accepted.

The essay is important, but there isn’t any “right” way to craft an essay that achieves its purpose—which is to give admissions officers insight into who you are and why you want to get your MBA. These foundational MBA application essay tips are an absolute must when it comes to your application essay format and the basics of essay writing, but beyond those, it’s entirely up to you to decide how to best tell your story. What works for one person might not work for another—there’s no single road map that applies to everyone.

As you begin to think about your essay, however, it’s helpful to see things from a reviewer’s perspective. Gordon Berridge, who has worked in admissions since 2004 and is now the associate director of graduate admission at Bentley, offers insight into what most admissions teams look for and what drives their decisions to accept one candidate over another.


4 Things A Graduate Admissions Officer Looks For In An MBA Application Essay


1. How Your MBA Application Essay Fits Into The Bigger Picture


You may think it’s all about you, but that’s not the whole story.

According to Berridge, every applicant is considered part of a larger whole. Within every class cohort, he strives to replicate the diversity of the working world, which brings together people with a variety of life experiences and viewpoints. A single business, for instance, might employ doctors, lawyers, and scientists, all of whom must work together and communicate effectively so that the business itself thrives. To help students understand what that’s like, he tries to create an environment within the program that reflects this reality.

To do this effectively, Berridge uses essays to learn about applicants’ unique backgrounds and get insight into what makes them tick. He recalls two recent essays—one filled with data, like facts, figures and dates, and the other about a mentor who had superior analytical skills. Both essays worked. Aside from the fact that they were well-written, it was clear that these applicants were passionate about data. Berridge used that information to purposefully bring data-driven personalities into the class cohort, knowing that they would be working alongside others who were emotionally driven.  

It’s not about choosing people who have performed amazing feats or have unusual jobs; he simply wants to form a group that can learn from one another. In some ways, it’s a bit like piecing together a puzzle: Do the candidates have viewpoints that might challenge one another? Complement one another? Ultimately he believes that such diversity adds value to the overall student experience, making it more impactful than it would be otherwise.


2. A Concise, Clearly Conveyed Message


If, after reading your essay, an admissions officer can’t envision how you might fit into the bigger picture, it could be because you haven’t conveyed your message clearly enough.

Some universities ask specific questions candidates must answer in their MBA application essay (or essays); others offer the opportunity for applicants to submit a more general statement of purpose. Either way, the reviewer wants to understand what makes you you—and why.

Admissions officers want to know why an MBA is important to you and what you hope to get from the experience. Think about where you’ve been and about what you want in the future. What do you want the reviewer to know about you? Selectively tailor your life experiences around that insight to tell the story of who you are.

Feeling anxious about the graduate school application process? This free, step-by-step guide will walk you through it—and includes links to some of the best test-prep resources on the web.

When you’re done writing, put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes—if you were reading this essay for the first time, what message would you be getting about yourself? (Better yet, ask someone else to read it and see if they can articulate the message.) If you or your reader are having trouble answering that question, your message may not be as clear as you think.


3. Evidence Of Traits Common To Business Leaders

Successful businesspeople tend to share some important traits, like a can-do attitude, passion, and a natural ability to lead. As a result, many admissions officers hope to see evidence of one or more of these traits in your essay.

Berridge recalls one essay in particular where it was clear that the applicant had an outstanding work ethic and a genuine motivation to succeed. She told the story of her family in Brazil before she moved to the U.S. In Brazil, her family didn’t have much money, so her grandfather became a door-to-door salesman, selling anything he could get his hands on. When she was a young girl, she sometimes traveled with him when she wasn’t in school. That experience taught her a lot about sales but also about what it means to work hard and take care of your family. She went on to explain that she wanted an MBA not just to give herself a better life but also to help her family as her grandfather did. “I’ve read hundreds of essays,” Berridge says, “and this one sticks with me to this day. Not only was it a great story, but I learned a lot about what drives her as a person.” Your essay should speak to what’s important to you. After you’ve written it, take a step back and read it objectively. Will the reader understand what’s important to you, too?

Another applicant demonstrated his determination—also an important business trait—with a story about his failed attempt at entrepreneurism. He grew up in India and started a company there with his friends, which grew so quickly that it spun out of control. The demise of the business was heart-wrenching at the time, but he was determined to be better prepared for business growth in future endeavors. His essay clearly acknowledged how much he didn’t know about business and showed his determination to reach the same point again and succeed.


4. Proof You Would Be A Good Fit With The School & The Program


Admissions officers want as many students as possible to achieve their goals, which can only be done if they’re in the right program, at the right school.

Your MBA application essay should show you’ve done your research about the school you’re applying to and you know it’s a good fit for you. Berridge says he’s turned applicants down in the past because he knew that the program they were applying for simply wouldn’t help them reach their stated goals, even though they had great credentials otherwise.

To remove any doubt on the part of the admission officer as to whether or not you’re a good match, address the program’s strengths in your essay and tell why it’s the best place to reach your aspirations. Your reviewer can then be confident that you’ll get the most from the opportunity.


Applying For A Bentley MBA Program

Bentley University is an internationally recognized business school that offers an advanced curriculum and diverse, real-world experience for students. We have three innovative MBA programs tailored to match varying levels of professional experiences and academic backgrounds, all designed with the flexibility you need.

To find out more about how to apply to any one of Bentley’s three MBA programs, including the application process, deadlines, and requirements, visit our website.



by Meredith Mason  September 12, 2017

U.S. News & World Report ranked Bentley No. 2 among regional universities in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, up from No. 3 last year, highlighting Bentley’s high-quality faculty and academic programs along with the strong value that students receive from a Bentley education.



The New York Post | October 17, 2017
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