The most commonly asked MBA admission essay question: A Sample Response

17 Aug, 2009 | by

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(Photo:  Adam Lyon)

About a year ago, I was strongly considering the pursuit of an executive MBA to compliment my existing advanced degree in technology management.  I had been on the fence about the decision for quite some time.  Part me of felt as though my education would be that much more enhanced with the addition of those three little letters to bolster my resume.  Another part of me just felt as though I had unfinished business from several years prior.  You see, my graduate degree was comprised of about 1/3 of the standard MBA curriculum so I theoretically could have declared a dual degree approach.  But I didn’t.  At the time it just didn’t make much sense.  I had just landed a new job as a consultant and I knew my time would be very limited moving forward.   

As I revisited the possibility of heading back to school, an executive MBA was the only thing that might be able to comport with my hectic work schedule.  I decided to attempt to obtain firm sponsorship so my tuition fees would covered.  Unfortunately I didn’t make the cut as only 1 out of a little over 2o applicants received sponsorship.  This was at the height of our economic downward spiral so the outcome really didn’t surprise me at the time.  Trying to obtain firm sponsorship was even more challenging then the actual executive MBA application itself.  Not only did I need to provide a completed application that I’d be providing to the university I was applying to, but there were also series of other internal applications and recommendations I needed to provide.  It was an extremely painful process.

As you could imagine, the process left me with a number of completed applications; including my precious essays which would sadly never see the light of day.  Rather then cast them into the abyss of my My Documents folder, I felt that it might be helpful to some if I shared a sample essay response to one of the most commonly asked MBA admission essay questions.  The hope is that my personal style to the essay may help spark new ideas to help enhance your own response, and ultimately increase your chances of getting into the school of your dreams.  To be clear, this is not an approval to plagiarize the essay.  Writing an MBA essay for admissions is a profoundly personal activity.  It should reflect who you are, and not what you think the admission’s committee would like to hear.   

The following is one of the most commonly asked MBA admission essay questions:  Why are you an ideal candidate for the Executive MBA Program and how will your professional and personal accomplishments benefit your EMBA colleagues? 

Sample Essay Response (Written on December 2008): 

I feel I would be an ideal candidate for the executive MBA program for three reasons, which can be summed up with three words: Leadership, Ambition and Integrity. 

Leadership:
One of my earliest life lessons was never to pass judgment on someone’s motives or actions without a firm grasp on the relevant facts.   It’s a lesson that has aided me well in the business world.  I have received many such pearls of wisdom over my career.  They have come from all walks of life, such as family, friends, colleagues and mentors.  Early in my career, I received an important piece of advice from a colleague who remains to this day one of my closest mentors:  “You’ll work with many types of people over your career.  People you’ll like.  People you’ll dislike.  People who are talented or even brilliant.  People with hidden agendas.  People who genuinely want to help you.  People who are just incompetent.  People who love life.  People who hate life.  The important thing to understand is that you must adapt your leadership style in order to work effectively with all of them.  Observe their behaviors and take mental notes on their strengths.  Cast aside their obvious weaknesses.  Learn from those strengths and make yourself a better leader.” 

This advice continues to resonate with me and no doubt explains my tendency to observe very carefully the professional behaviors of those whom I encounter.  I feel this very inclination has driven me to become the leader that I am today in both my professional and personal lives.  Ernst & Young is a firm which prides itself in providing a platform through which its leaders can be cultivated to succeed in anything they choose to do.  I can attest to this strategic vision as I am a product of that very system.  Exposure to world-class clients, top-tier talent and limitless resources are everyday occurrences for me.  It’s a rollercoaster ride of unparalleled excitement one minute, which can be punctured by more sobering realities the next, all of which are experienced at break-neck speeds with little to no time to recoup.  I firmly believe it takes a special type of leader to thrive mentally in such an environment.

Ambition:
Ambition is a trait that someone is either born with or not.  I’ve heard this argument made many times in my life.  I firmly believe that this is a true statement, but I also feel that it is woefully incomplete.  All my life I have had the desire to be better or to win at everything I do.  Whether it was in sports or in the classroom, I always felt a profound internal disappointment if I did not come out on top.  The outcome always motivated me to work harder.  Was this a good thing?  For the most part, I feel it was, though my views on ambition have changed in recent years.  Ambition is a trait that someone is born with, but it must be fueled in order to remain sustainable.  Furthermore, ambition must never run wildly at the expense of others.  It must be controlled; if it’s not, it can quickly become a detriment to one’s career. 

I have made no secret of the fact that I have ambitions to reach a partner or c-level position in the future.  While I am confident that I will someday reach that level, I also know that career development is a critical process that takes place over time.  It’s a never-ending foundation of education and experiences that will prepare me for the right future leadership role.  The key is to funnel one’s ambition into concise actions in order to achieve one’s goals sooner than later.  This is a point that I emphasize when teaching or mentoring younger professionals.  In fact, I’ve followed my own advice by proactively pursuing superb professional experiences, building up my professional network, obtaining an advanced education and professional certification, joining multiple professional membership groups, researching and writing on business topics and, most importantly, absorbing insight from clients, mentors and colleagues alike.  I will continue to fuel my ambitions with deliberate actions.  To be clear, these ambitions have not been followed blindly.  I have not and will not jeopardize what I value most in my professional life, which is the final element I’d like to discuss – Integrity.    

Integrity:
It didn’t take a struggling economy created by corporate greed or malfeasance to tell me just how crucial the concept of integrity is.  Through the values that they raised me with, my parents taught me that lesson at a very early age.  My parents, who are immigrants, left a deep imprint on my character through their example, by the fact that they both worked hard throughout my childhood, taught me the value of a dollar and of making an honest living, by the fact that they not only managed to carve out a good life for themselves by making responsible fiscal and moral decisions, owning property and having savings, but also by sacrificing and providing an education to both their children.  These are things that every immigrant works hard to achieve but few ever really do.  It is an achievement that I marvel at to this day, and one which will continue to inspire my professional motives to take advantage and build upon the solid foundation they have laid before me.  Integrity is a mindset which I feel is woven deeply into the fibers of my very character.  History has shown us time and again just how critical this value is.  At the heart of the many tragedies typified by the Enron debacle lay leaders who possessed questionable moral fiber.  In the final analysis, these were leaders whose brilliant minds were surpassed by their arrogance, which in turn was only eclipsed by their ravenous greed to get what they wanted, no matter what the cost.

Integrity is a value I carry with me to every professional experience I encounter.  I try to make it a part of my character and not just a platitude I invoke whenever it’s convenient.  It is easy to pay lip service to the concept of integrity when one is not in any type of challenging situation that impacts him or her directly.  At times people will shift their behaviors and adapt to their environment in a negative sense, by losing or sacrificing core values in order to get ahead or reflect a certain cultural mindset.  In such instances, I often think of a quote from Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he said, “The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”  I have been tested with numerous professional situations in my career where I chose to be fair and honest, though this choice did not always make me the most popular person in the room.  An example comes to mind where I was strongly encouraged, by a senior ranking executive, to provide official credit to a colleague for a business success with which that that person were not affiliated.  The encouragement was politically motivated to accelerate the advancement of that particular individual’s career.  I could easily have conformed to avoid conflict as the action would have been innocuous enough.  But instead I chose the path of ethical righteousness by choosing not to participate in the granting of an artificial accolade.  My decision was openly supported and respected.  Ernst & Young is a firm which genuinely preaches the philosophy to all of its employees that profits never supplant values.  It is for this main reason that I’m most proud of being part of such an organization.  It’s an environment in which I find great comfort.  It exemplifies the very same values my parents wanted me to practice in the life that I lead today.   

Conclusion:
As a prerequisite, I feel an ideal candidate must possess these three elements in order to succeed in your program.  The EMBA program, just like Ernst & Young, aims to cultivate seasoned leaders with high potential and to propel them to even brighter horizons.  I possess that seasoned leadership prowess.  Your program will undoubtedly require tremendous sacrifice, intellect and hard work in order to succeed.  I possess the focused ambition to do so.  Your program will demand a keen awareness of “gray area” business issues, issues that will need innovative solutions to avoid the moral dilemmas of tomorrow.  I possess the integrity needed to have this difficult discussion. 

My background touts a wide range of professional experiences such as small business owner, corporate professional, entrepreneur and global consultant.  Those broad experiences coupled with the elements mentioned above would foster a candid environment of knowledge exchange and innovative thinking which I feel would be extremely beneficial to any EMBA colleague.  I also feel my strong interpersonal skills would make it easy for students to approach me to begin discussion on any business subject.  My hope and expectation is that is that the EMBA program will enable its students to conduct these types of free-form discussions, as those perspectives are what I’m personally seeking to explore.

23 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Ryan
    March 11th, 2010 at 4:10 am #

    Wow, thanks publishing these responses. I truly believe the key to an admissions essay is writing from the heart. The admissions team will recognize that more so than scripted responses. I can see in many of your responses that you are passionate about what you’re saying.

    I manage a blog specific to MBA admissions that I’d love to share with your readers of this post, this link brings the reader to the tips for admissions section: http://www.afewgoodminds.com/category/mba-applications/

    Thanks

  2. Richard Vinhais
    March 28th, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Ryan,

    Thanks for the comment and I love your blog. Great insight there! You guys interested in writing a guest piece for mybusinessmusings.com?

    - Rich

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  4. moorthy
    October 18th, 2011 at 3:33 am #

    wow ..very nice ,I truly believe the key to an admissions essay is writing from the heart. The admissions team will recognize that more so than scripted responses. I can see in many of your responses that you are passionate about what you’re saying.

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