Writing Essays for Your Business School Application

The essay portion of your business school application could look pretty familiar if you've endured any sort of job interview. The purpose of both exercises is to root out information on your background, goals, and personal attributes. Interviews require a "live" exchange; essays call for organizing and writing out your thoughts. The following essay topics — from the Harvard Business School MBA application — are just a few examples of what you might be asked to cover:

  • Describe a significant change that you brought about in an organization and its impact on your development as a leader.

  • What are your three most substantial accomplishments, and why do you view them as such?

  • Provide a candid assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.

  • How do you define success?

The person reading your essay probably has a stack of hundreds more to pore over in the next few days. So how can you make your responses rise above the rest? Here are a few points to consider:

  • Convey your best self without sounding arrogant or conceited. Even as you try to impress your reader with your accomplishments and abilities, you must remain likable. As a rule, if anything you write sounds like something that Napoleon would have said, then it should be edited.

  • Make sure that your essay is well within the word limit. You don't want to annoy the essay evaluator with an overly long response. Know what's expected in terms of word count — and don't creep over the max.

  • Ask someone to proofread your essay. Typos, spelling errors, and/or grammatical mistakes will make you look careless and unprofessional. Hand your writing over to a trusted friend or family member for a review that might reveal any problems you didn't notice. Make sure to repair the oversights before you submit your essay.

Use the proper tone. Avoid major turn-offs: overblown business-speak and overly casual language. Take special care to omit clichés and other overused phrases, such as "think outside the box," "achieve synergy," "leverage," and "at the end of the day."