An interview with Ruben Salinas, President of Top10MBA.com.
What is the purpose of the essays?
The essay is one of the crucial phases in the MBA application process. For the people in the selection committee who read it, it is a way of getting to know the candidates and their potential. Writing reveals a lot about you that remains otherwise hidden in the other, more mechanical stages of the examinations. It is important to remain clear and effective yet deep and competent in the essay. Writing always involves a personal element, and you can view it as a controlled way of showing yourself to the committee. Display your strengths and emphasise your achievements, but remain humble.
What is the purpose of the essays?
I will answer this question from the business school's point of view. Essentially, the MBA application essays are the Admissions Committee's attempt to understand WHO an applicant is, as well as why they are interested in pursuing an MBA. Admissions Committees seek to understand who an applicant is as a person; more than any specific background, characteristic, or skill that an applicant might have. Business schools look for evidence of integrity, maturity, interpersonal skills, and the ability to communicate in a prospective student. Throughout my research of the top MBA admissions processes, it became clear to me that the selection criteria used to evaulate candidates encompassed three basic domains: the academic, the personal, and the professional domains.
Academic Domain: On the academic side, they are looking for a record that demonstrates outstanding intelligence, analytical ability, a hard-working personality and that shows interest in previous studies.
Personal Domain: On the personal side, they look for a superior individual that possesses certain attributes including a high level of self-confidence, innate leadership characteristics, superior motivation, and exceptional intelligence.
Professional Domain: On the professional domain, Admissions is looking for a set of experiences that show a well-developed set of technical and interpersonal skills, strong managerial potential, and a unique or unusual perspective that will contribute to other student's learning.
Business schools also want to enroll students that will be a good fit with their programme. Every programme has a different definition of what that “good fit” will be based on a mix of personal, professional, and academic characteristics. It is interesting to note, however, that the characteristics different schools use to screen their candidates are very consistent, and are usually a good indication of successful business leaders.
In conclusion, I believe essays provide a great opportunity for MBA applicants to express their uniqueness and differentiating characteristics. They are an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to a career in business by discussing those experiences, people, and events that influenced their decision to enter the field. And, finally they are the best component of the application to demonstrate that a candidate has a noble goal to pursue an MBA, that their background and experiences are essentially the building blocks that together with an MBA will help them achieve their future career goals.
What is a good essay?
Good essays are effective essays. They have the ability to reflect who the applicant is as a person and as a professional by citing specific examples that support each argument or claim being made. They provide specific instances and examples that make a story unique and captivating. In contrast, a bad essay is generally easy to identify since it usually has one of the following characteristics: spelling/grammatical errors, a passive voice or structure which makes them boring, a lack of detail and concrete examples demonstrating the argument, repetitive and “wordy”, colloquial, or uses unusually complex grammatical structures.
I believe a good essay to be simply one that achieves the ultimate goal of convincing Admissions Committees that a candidate belongs in their business school. To do this, an essay must first accomplish some very basic things: answers the question asked, makes a clear and precise point, and is well-written. Furthermore, an outstanding essay accomplishes these things while also demonstrating why obtaining an MBA makes sense for the writer, targets the school effectively, and expresses how an applicant will be a valuable asset to the programme due to his unique qualities, experiences, attributes, or background.
Finally, I believe a good essay has a clear and concise structure. It is easy to read and understand. It contains a clear, attention grabbing introduction, and is usually closed with an effective conclusion that summarises and highlights the essay’s main topics and arguments.
Are the essays different from one school to another?
Yes and no. Business school essays are considerably varied. Main variations between schools are on the number of required essays, their length requirements and limits, and the type of essay questions asked. However, there exist standard essay types for which a particular answer strategy can be devised.
The most common essay types are:
“Who you are?” essay
“Career Goal” essay
“Why an MBA?” essay
“Why XYZ school?” essay
“Background and diversity” essay
“Strengths and Weaknesses” essay
“Overcoming Difficult Situation” essay
Hence, I believe that even though specific school questions are different, the way to most effectively approach them is fundamentally the same.
Do you suggest to tell the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth or to have a more strategic attitude?
My suggestion to applicants is to be honest, as well as cautious with their application essays. Good Admissions Officers will always verify what is said in essays or interviews. One way they do this is by confirming assertions made by what recommendation writers say about an applicant.
Admissions officers will not tolerate dishonesty. Creating an unrealistic picture of oneself is useless and ultimately leads an applicant to fail in the admissions process. Candidates should instead focus on letting their stories and examples relate their qualities and potential value to the programme. If done well, honesty will also help an applicant’s true identity to come through in their essays.
I do believe, however, that drawing unnecessary attention to weaknesses or potential “red flags” of an applicant’s background is unnecessary. One can be honest and positive about oneself concurrently.
How important are the essays compared to the rest of the application?
Essays are arguably the most critical element of the MBA application. It is their subjective nature that potentially gives an otherwise “weaker” applicant an edge in the admissions process. With essays, an applicant can take as much time as needed to develop and perfect them. And, unlike test scores, grades, or recommendations, essays are 100% under a prospective student’s control.
In addition, there appears to be empirical evidence to support the idea that application essays carry more weight than the GMAT score and other components in the admissions process. This is so because they are the only real differentiating factor among applicants with similar work experiences, GPAs, and test scores. They present information that addresses WHO an applicant is far more descriptively than academic statistics, work experience descriptions or letters of recommendation.
Finally, in today’s age of corporate misconduct, an applicant’s value-system, moral behaviour, and commitment to something (business, family or community) are especially looked into by Admissions Committees evaluating a candidate. The essays, the recommendations, and the interview are all components of the application through which this information can be extrapolated. However, the essays are the easiest to carry out this type of an evaluation through.