Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
For this essay, we would like you to:
- Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are.
- Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
- Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.
- Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
This may be the hardest of all B-school essays to write, and to write well. Why? Because it’s so open-ended. They haven’t just given you a hunk of clay and asked you to mold it. They’ve given you canvas, paint, wood, sheet metal, circuit boards, copper wire, and a hundred other elements and have asked you to “generate something awe-inspiring.” While you’re painting a blue sky on your canvas paper, the guy in the station next to you is creating a computer that can communicate with aliens. Intimidating. What are others writing about!? What are the guys who are GETTING IN writing about?
Well, let’s start there—if that’s plaguing you, you’re asking the wrong question. It has absolutely nothing to with WHAT others are writing about, but HOW they’re writing. Don’t misunderstand us here; this isn’t about writing skill. B-school essays are never about mastery of prose. The “how” here refers to the manner in which the successful candidates are able to introspect, and walk around an experience, and assess and interpret different points of view, and offer new and intriguing points of view, and reveal deeply personal tales that offer key insights into what they’re MADE of—it’s any number of those things. It’s not the story itself.
Gonna lift some words from Stanford’s bullet points. Values, experiences, lessons. Written from the heart. Influence.
We’ve talked about this Stanford essay a bunch before, so this time around, we wanna focus on these concepts above.
Especially that word influence. What has shaped you? Who are you today, and what process has brought that forward? If you’re the grand canyon, don’t tell us the specs of how big you are, and how deep your canyons are. Instead, focus on the way WATER and WIND eroded and molded you. It’s the shaping, the influencing, the MOLDING we wanna know about. This is more revealing than “the result.” “The thing.” It’s all in the shaping.
Consider the following statement. “I just landed a commercial jet containing 300 passengers.” Impressive? Maybe.
Let’s consider two authors of that statement. Author 1—a 58-year-old veteran pilot with military experience, and 20 years of experience as a professional pilot. Author 1 has flown hundreds of flights every year for the past 20 years. Let’s consider the same statement, but introduce a new author, Author 2. Author 2 is 13 years old, scared of heights, and has a crippling fear of flying. He needs to be sedated every time he flies, in fact. One day, he wakes up mid-flight, due to his sedation unintentionally wearing off. He notices all of the passengers beside him unconscious, the captains of the plane incapacitated, and he turns out to be the only person on board who can communicate with air traffic control. The kid puts on the headset, now fueled by a will to survive that trumps all of his phobias, is guided by folks on the ground, and successfully lands the plane, saving the lives of hundreds on board.
Now ask yourself, which “landing of the commercial jet” feels cooler, more revealing about THE PERSON WHO PERFORMED THE FEAT? The answer is obvious, and the example was purposely absurd to demonstrate a point. The stuff Stanford wants to know about isn’t the “landing of the aircraft.” They wanna know about the phobia. The decision to walk into the cockpit in spite of the phobia. They wanna know how someone with these fears, with zero experience, etc. etc., could pull this thing off. They wanna know about the WATER and WIND folks… that shaped the grand canyon. Not the canyon itself.
So, let’s bring this back down to Earth. When you’re figuring out what matters most to you, think about polarities in your development. The strongest stories are the ones that have the most intense and compelling “arcs” where your starting point is here at point A and then somehow, things, people, circumstances, experiences, etc. SHAPED you… MOLDED YOU (like water and air) to travel to point B where you ended up—essentially—a different person. We need to understand all that CONTEXT. If you’re talking about an experience that “changed” you, or that “made you who you are,” it’s only as effective as our understanding of who you were BEFORE that experience so we can contextualize the change. If a person affected you significantly, same deal—we need to know who you were BEFORE that person affected you.
“Before & After” is an incredibly powerful tool for MOST B-school essays, and never more powerful than here for Stanford’s famous essay.
Grand Canyon, ladies and gentlemen. But not the canyon itself—water and air. Water. And air.
Admissionado here, back once again with hot off the presses essay analyses for Sloan's 2017 application! We wanted to jump in and give you a head-start on those essay questions, jog that imagination, and give you a few tips and tricks to get started on your Sloan essays. Soooooo, without further ado:
MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Cover Letter
MIT Sloan seek students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas. We demand integrity and respect passion.
Taking the above into consideration, please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence, include one or more examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria above, and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions (300 words or fewer, excluding address and salutation).
Let’s start by interpreting/translating that opening blurb:
“MIT Sloan seek students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic.”
Basically, they’re saying: “Since résumés flatten a person from 3D to 2D, we’re hoping the essay portion will give us a hint in that direction of what your particular “personal characteristics” are. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students, because the net effect of a single person bettering others will be nonstop betterment in every imaginable direction, the net effect of which is maximal success for the class and, most practically, of the individuals who comprise that class.”
So, MIT is going to look for evidence of two things:
That you have something in your experiences, achievements, personality, leadership style, whathaveyou, that would be beneficial to others.
That you seem like the kind of person who will “lean forward” to have that impact on others, and that you’re not just a taker.
Now, onto the next part of that blurb:
“We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world.”
MIT chose the phrase “exceptional intellectual abilities” on purpose because it goes beyond classic indicators of “intelligence” on a résumé, or through GMAT/GRE scores. “Exceptional” intellectual abilities includes dimensions like “thinking of stuff most other people wouldn’t have” or “questioning long-held truths because something about those truths bothers you” or “succeeding at an attempted solution where countless others have failed.” If you have evidence of THAT kind of intellectual capability, take them on the SCENIC route. They’re saying that the Sloan School of Management welcomes people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. In other words, they want to get the sense that where there’s a status quo, you’re the person who has an itch to disrupt it, and has a track record of doing so.
They want to get the sense that in a situation where others might have played it safe and tried to hit an iron shot into the center of the fairway, you put yourself on the line, took a risk, and reached for your driver, knowing that you might fail, but having the belief in yourself and the courage to follow through on your will. They want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas, because when someone is uncomfortable with “the way things are,” good things tend to happen from a business perspective. Basically they’re saying “Show us that discomfort with the status quo. We demand integrity and respect passion,” but then again, who doesn’t.
Putting it all Together – Part 1
There are two themes that jump out in that intro:
Intellectual Might – No real surprise here, but it’s a specific brand of intellect. The one that’s coupled with that second component:
Restlessness – Sitting around, doing what you’re told to do, choosing NOT to “re-open the case because someone else said that it was unsolvable,” having a great idea, but not having the time to pursue it – these are all the OPPOSITE of the person who’s restless. The restless person is always lusting for some opportunity to improve something, change the game, break the mold.
The smart person alone who lacks restlessness isn’t all that interesting. Similarly, a restless person who isn’t a next-level problem solver is still attractive (and maybe worth taking a risk on), but MIT is lucky enough to have the kind of demand where they can screen for the guys and gals who have BOTH.
Putting it all Together – Part 2
Great, so, now we have a couple themes to make sure we’re going to PROVE in our cover letters: (1) I’m as intellectually next-level as it gets, but also (2) my arch nemesis is the Status Quo. Cool so… how does one… execute… that… in a cover letter?
Awesome question. Let’s step back for a second. What’s an actual cover letter like in real life? In first-date terms, it’s the VERY first impression. The first time you LAY EYES on your date. It’s the way that person LOOKS to you. It’s the body language that sends either attractive or unattractive signals. In other words, it’s mostly animal instinct. In fact, let’s run with that. In animal interaction terms, it’s “is this other animal a harmless friend? Or a predator? What cues do I have from the LOOK of this animal, and the WAY IT MOVES to provide an answer to that?”
It’s important to consider this deeply. Because the “impression” we’re talking about happens very quickly and does not tap into the more evolved (and relaxed) part of our brains that care about nuance. Why is this significant? Because it’s different from an essay where the reader is generally poised to spot you that first impression, and “hear what you have to say.”
The cover letter is the moment before all that where you have to EARN that next part. This has implications for STYLE and HOW you write your cover letter. It’s one of the few instances on an MBA application where HOW you attack this is almost as important as WHAT you’re attacking with. You can’t just write your way into seeming like a forward-leaning, restless person. You have to COME ACROSS that way in your actual writing. You can’t take your time proving that you’re intellectually next-level over the course of four or five sentences. It has to be evident right at the beginning in “the way you look” and “in your body language.”
Writing cover letters is a true art form, and in our experience the meek and conventional are almost NEVER rewarded. Boldness, assertiveness, risk-taking, authority, confidence, borderline brazen-ness… these are all desirable qualities in a kickass cover letter. Just shy of being smug (no one likes smugness). This is the part where you smirk to yourself, and find your swagger before you put pen to paper.
Now for the actual 300 words themselves, you need to convey a bunch of things:
I understand what your program is, and what you’re looking for.
I LIKE your program and I want to be in it BECAUSE (this is the part that most people miss) your program helps me get to where *I* need to go better than any other place.
Now I’m going to give you just a taste that will make YOU ultimately want to chase ME, and not the other way around. Let me walk you through an example or two of what it is that I’m all about. You’ll see within these glimpses (1) that I’m a restless m*********er, (2) My intellect has a headache because it keeps hitting the ceiling, and (3) that I understand what an MBA can do for me, and that my energy right now to TAKE FROM and CONTRIBUTE TO an MBA program is a net win for everyone: me, my classmates, MIT, and eventually… the world, once I’m out of here.
That may sound like a lot for 300 words, and in some ways it is. But, if you stay intensely focused on those three bullets, no matter how long your first draft ends up being, you’re going to have EXCELLENT clay to mold. If you have a natural tendency to write in a tone that isn’t too stiff and has some personality, then great. Your work will be easier. If you DON’T have that natural flair for letting personality invigorate your prose, fret not. Stay focused on those three bullets. Try not to deviate. And you’ll end up with something that’s (at its worst) extremely targeted. Targeted = confident. There’s always room to infuse drafts with some personality, but the hard part is getting the core content NAILED.
MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Résumé
Please submit a résumé that includes your employment history and academic record in reverse chronological order. Other information appropriate to a business resume is welcomed and encouraged (no more than 1 page in length).
We have lots to say about résumés… including all the juicy nuggets contained in this entire guide we created specifically to help you write a killer one-pager. But let’s key in on a few CHOICE words from MIT here.
Reverse chronological order is fairly standard, but the fact that they’re throwing a spotlight on it is a hint that either or both (1) some folks do it the opposite way and LEAD with earlier stuff, like college, and then whatever comes next, but maybe more interestingly (2) that the truly important stuff is the most recent few years of your life.
The dialogue in the reader’s head probably goes something like “Let me get a quick gauge about where this person is at RIGHT now, what s/he’s up to, and what s/he’s achieving TODAY. Got it, now, let me get a sense of the career ARC. Where did this person start out, what was s/he achieving at any given moment, but also, does his trajectory from one node to the next feel sluggish? Or does this person feel like a juggernaut? Is s/he just blowing out the competition left and right, or is s/he doing serviceable-level work? Where does it seem like it’s all headed?
Anyway, use reverse chronological order to offer up that initial high-level glimpse, then they can dip as far back as they need to get as much as of the story as they care to.
The other neat thing worth mentioning is this: “Other information appropriate to a business résumé is welcomed and encouraged.” On the one hand they’re talking about stuff like community service and volunteer activity, but also, they’re asking you to “unflatten” the 2D portrait of yourself with dimension in the form of skills, hobbies, interests, quirks; in other words “stuff that may be unique to you and/or interesting as hell to read about. Some folks go to this section FIRST before scanning the rest, to hunt for signs of life. Have fun here folks. Include FUN stuff. Include weird stuff. Cool talents, weird talents, weird anything. You’ll want someone to reel you in because you CAN go overboard. But take a swing. Straightforward and lifeless just puts that much more pressure on the REST of your writing to provide all the personality and color. This is an easy way to INSTANTLY stand out against a person with a similar “résumé.”
MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Video Prompt
Please introduce yourself to your future classmates via a brief video statement. You will need to use an internet-connected computer, with a webcam and microphone. As part of the application review, the Admission Committee will evaluate your response to see how you express yourself and to assess fit with the MIT Sloan culture. The simple, open-ended question is designed to help us get to know you better.
Please make sure you are using a working Internet connection not wireless or shared wireless connection. If your Internet is not a strong signal you will not be able to upload. Please also make sure you have the most up to date browser.
You will need to use an internet-connected computer with a webcam and microphone.
We suggest using Google Chrome* or Firefox as your browser.
If using Google Chrome – please click the camera icon in your browser to allow the site to access your microphone. If you are having issues with your microphone please re-start your computer for Google Chrome to access your microphone.
Once the video statement question is viewed you will have 60 seconds to prepare, and then 60 seconds to record your answer.
You will only have one attempt to record your response.
How on Earth can you prepare for something when you don’t know what they’re gonna ask!? Well, lots of ways:
Step 1: Know Your Greatest Hits. What are the absolute best stories you have, lifetime, ever? Get acquainted with them according to category. Stuff like, what are my one or two best:
Funny Moments at Work Stories?
Funny Moments Outside of Work Stories?
Stories That Capture the ESSENCE of who I am?
Business Ideas that would change the world?
People I admire?
Favorite Movies (or books or songs or bands)?
Step 2: Get a feel for what 1 minutes is. In fact, get a feel for what 50-55 seconds is. Answer some of these questions within that timeframe. Write out a response, look at it on the page. How many sentences is it? Get comfortable with 1 minute.
Step 3: Record yourself ten times, answering ten different questions. How do you look? Are you looking at the camera? Or are you looking AT YOURSELF ON SCREEN WHILE RECORDING? Are you fidgeting? Are you moving your hands too much? Are you stumbling over words? Are you reading from a script?
Step 4: Get comfortable to the point where you no longer need to feel rehearsed, or nervous. Copy a list of “interview” questions, keep them hidden, and then test yourself by revealing a question, give yourself 60 seconds to come up with a response, and then record a response in 60 seconds. Do this enough times, and you’ll start to develop “IQ” for “this kind of question.”
The worst thing you can do? Seem overly rehearsed. Meaning, don’t rehearse and deliver exact sentences. It will defeat the purpose of the ENTIRE experiment. The point is to relax the bad kind of nerves to allow your free-est self to SHINE. For some folks, this comes utterly naturally, and honestly, they can skip maybe all those steps. Others might benefit from some dry runs just so that there’s a better chance at real assertiveness and confidence on “the big day.”
This is not the time for you to convince someone how smart you are, how good a leader you are, how much of a restless intellectual you are——this is the part where you get the other to LIKE you and WANNA GET TO KNOW YOU MORE because you come across irresistible in some way shape or form. This is 100% about personality, and 0% about résumé. If we watch this video and say “wow, what an impressive person!” you shanked it. If, however, we say “holy crap I would KILL to meet that person” or “Man, I’d like to invite THAT person to a dinner party,” then congrats, because that’s the correct reaction.
If you’re not naturally gifted in extemporaneous speaking, then there are things you can do to develop some of that swagger. Those steps above may be worth considering as a starting point.
MIT Sloan School of Management MBA Interview Invitation Essay
Those invited to interview will be asked to answer the following question: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer).
Details for submitting your essay will be included in the interview invitation.
They could just have asked…
“Please share a leadership story,” or “Please provide evidence that you can lead large teams,” or “Please prove that you have the ability to grow a business.” But they’re clearly looking for something else. Let’s find it.
Let’s isolate a few phrases: “principled, innovative leaders,” “improve the world,” and “advance management practice.” If you’re able to draw a line between something in your (recent) past and at least one of those phrases, you’re in good shape. Don’t strain too hard to nab all of em. They’re connected.
Here’s a trick for teasing out the correct story to tell, and then telling it in the right way.
Step 1 – Generate a short list of some of your stronger “leader” or “business” or “decision-making” moments.
Step 2 – Isolate the gear-churning moment for each one that shows why you acted “better” than a competitor might have. “I chose X over Y action, whereas most others would have chosen Y.” Or “I was able to do A because of B skill/talent that others don’t have.”
Step 3 – Now see if you can say, “But it wasn’t just about succeeding in this moment to … improve the bottom line, hit our deadline, get through this impossible challenge, etc.” Because… it was about more than that.
A principle that I believe in that transcended this isolated business moment. A thirst for innovation that had larger implications than success in this moment. A desire to improve the world, through my example. A desire to improve management practice itself.
The worst thing you can do is take a strong “resume” moment, and shoehorn those principles in, “oh and in doing so I was clearly trying to advance management practice and mission accomplished, you’re all welcome!”
One of the best ways to show how genuine you are may, in fact, require a story where you didn’t succeed in the conventional sense, BECAUSE of your commitment to succeed along one of these other, loftier principles. Again, resist the temptation to take a failure story and tack on the idea that “but I failed because of my commitment to advance the world, when you really look at it, I’m a hero!”
It’s subtler than that.
The best version will be some moment where you could have chosen REASONABLE PATH X, but instead chose OTHER PATH Y that may or may not have succeeded in conventional measures, because of your commitment to these deeper principles and aspirations. Take us through THAT decision node: explain Reasonable Path X, but show us why you took on some risk and went with Other Path Y (over Path X), highlighting the importance of what that choice signifies to you specifically.
And that's that. Helpful, eh? If you have any questions on it or MIT Sloan or anything, just reply here or shoot us a PM. And if you want more Essay Analysis Goodness, check out more schools here. We're updating 'em daily as new prompts are released, so keep checking back.
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