The year after I completed my MBA in Finance, I was asked to speak about my graduate school experience to a prospective student Open House at my university. I was the only woman on the five-person panel but I knew everyone at the table because I had worked for an investment firm in the city for a few years before deciding to pursue my MBA and these were my competitors. We each offered brief autobiographical remarks and identified our firms and positions. Then, we fielded a lot of questions in a spirited competition to give the best answer to the crowd. At first, I tried to inject a little humor into my responses but quickly realized this was a deadly serious group with some important questions and they wanted the unvarnished truth.
The fast and furious questions from the crowd touched on a wide variety of topics, with many seeking suggestions about writing their personal statements. Later, I thought about the panel’s diverse responses to these questions, based on their own experiences. The best of their advice was: Resist the urge to write about old accomplishments, especially those from high school. Focus on current reasons to accept you into a competitive MBA program, such as internship experiences or your professional responsibilities now. Tell the reader what you have learned from working in the ‘real world’ and why this is the right time for you to pursue the MBA. Share your career goals and build the essay in a compelling way that will highlight the strength of your candidacy.
I organized these ideas into the basic outline below to help you write your own strong, successful MBA personal statement.
MBA Personal Statement Outline
1. Begin with a story that tells the reader something about you that they haven’t learned from the rest of your application.
You could write about your decision to pursue a different career path, based on your work experience. Do the words ‘big data’ or ‘supply chain’ make your heart beat faster? Exposure to different fields is a good way to find a new passion. For example, you could write about an assignment to a team working on a data analytics project that piqued your interest in learning more about the field.
As for me, early in my career, I was tasked to run point on the acquisition of my firm’s two boutique mutual funds by a large mutual fund group. My responsibilities included coordinating all the merger details, spending hours checking SEC compliance documents, and traveling to meet with my counterpart at the fund group. It was a challenging experience but a great once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment that steered me to study Finance.
2. The reader knows what your current job is.
Use this space to describe why you want the MBA. Be specific about what you want to study. You could say something like: “For five years now, I have worked for a Fortune 500 company using my marketing degree. With this practical experience, I have learned that I want to know more about financial management to enhance my promotion potential. I want every work day to be challenging and different.”
3. Your personal statement always should have a short paragraph about each business school’s program that you are applying to.
But remember not to make the fatal mistake of sending the wrong paragraph to a b-school. Emphasize why you chose to apply to their school: include details about the program’s reputation for a strong alumni network; describe an outstanding faculty member in the department you are interested in and perhaps a course they teach; highlight internship opportunities and academic resources; and emphasize the geographic appeal of an Executive MBA, if that is your focus. Be succinct, be specific, and show your familiarity with the program.
4. Always be confident in defining your goals and telling the reader how the MBA will help you achieve your objectives.
Write with personality so the reader will have the sense of having met you. Remember to touch on the qualities that will make you a valuable addition to the cohort, such as diversity, special skills, and a reminder of other professional certifications. Be passionate about the MBA program, your goals, and the appeal of the university’s varied resources, especially the alumni network and career planning services.
5. Write your essay and then review it. Twice.
Have someone else read it for you, whether a mentor, a trusted friend, or a professional editor. Make sure that it is grammatically correct, that your ideas flow clearly, and that it will be remembered for the quality of your writing, not the typos. Questions, let me know.
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