Essays vs. Resume

By Ryan Hickey + updated on March 9th, 2011

Many MBA essay prompts ask about experiences from your professional career to date, which can make it tempting to think of those essays as just another place for you to list your accomplishments – basically, a resume in essay form. Because MBA applicants tend to worry about cramming all of what they consider relevant experience and accomplishments into applications, some use the essays to do little more than talk about what they’ve done. This is an ineffective writing strategy, though, and one that will hurt your chance of admission.

While your resume is an important part of your application, it serves a very different purpose than your essays. Don’t make the mistake of treating both as nothing more than an opportunity to tell admissions committees what you’ve done (or how great you are). The nuts and bolts of your academic and professional past should be adequately covered in biographical information, transcripts, a polished resume (check out our partner site, ResumeEdge, for professional guidance with yours), and even recommendations. Don’t waste valuable space in essays by trying to write a step-by-step outline of your most recent large-scale project.

Part of what contributes to this mentality regarding MBA essays is the essay prompts themselves. They consistently ask applicants to talk about specific events from their careers: successes, failures, challenges, demonstrated teamwork, learning experiences, and many others. When facing a prompt like this, some applicants assume that providing details about the situation is the most important thing they can do to write an effective essay. That’s simply not the case.

You should always be descriptive in your writing, but not to the point at which your essay becomes nothing more than a narrative about an event from your past. Doing so leaves you with an essay that has little point, at least to the admissions officer reading it. Essays of this type are not designed to see if you can summarize the what, where, and when of a situation. Instead, they want you to talk about why certain things occurred, how you responded, and how the experience affected you overall.

Admissions committees do not use MBA essays to learn details about your latest M&A project or dollar figures for last year’s budget. Instead, they read them to see what you’ve learned from your experience to date, how you think and react to diverse situations, and how all of that influences your unique perspective. Writing an essay that’s too focused on small details of a situation or that turns into a laundry list of “I did this” and “I accomplished that” statements will not impress your reader.

So remember: your essays are not extensions of your resume; they provide different information and deeper insights. Keep that in mind as you write yours.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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