The purpose of this section is to familiarize you with the most common questions on business school applications and to explain some possible strategies for handling them. However, there is no single way to approach any of these questions, as they are often open-ended and leave a great deal of room for creativity. On the other hand, browsing a section for a question you don’t have can still be useful, because you might discover a strategy that you can apply to an entirely different question.
Our goal in this section is to focus on actual essays rather than make abstract suggestions, because you can learn more from illustrative examples than from principles that may not apply to your case. The insights we gain from analyzing these sample essays should inform rather than dictate the approach you choose to take.
EssayEdge Extra: Getting a Lot from a Little
In past sections we have emphasized the importance of reflection and analysis. Although all the schools are looking for this component, the majority of applicants do not go beyond a very superficial level of insight. Thus the analytical process—rather than the experiences being analyzed—could be the factor that distinguishes you in the applicant pool.
“I think sometimes there’s an apprehension on the part of our applicants [because] they’ve never overcome some life-threatening disease or some other huge obstacle in their life, personal or otherwise. These people shouldn’t be apprehensive; an applicant’s response to ordinary life events, like adjusting to college or a new work environment, dealing with being terminated at work, or shifting to a new department as a result of downsizing, can be very compelling to the admissions committee. An applicant doesn’t need to have overcome monumental obstacles in order for me to be very excited about a person’s candidacy and what he’s communicating to me. I want perspective on successes and failures and how you have handled both throughout your life.” — The Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania)
Perhaps if everyone could do the self-assessment job well, admissions officers wouldn’t be so excited about a good analytical essay every time. But the reality is that many successful business professionals are not naturally suited to this task and don’t take enough time to learn it. With this knowledge in mind, applicants have no excuse not to take full advantage of the essay-writing process to distinguish themselves in the only area they can still control.