How to apply for an MBA - Episode 03 - Writing
Updated: Feb 17
In previous episodes we decided what to write in your MBA application essays. In this episode let’s look at how to write it within the constraints of the word limit. I'll point you towards a simple structure and give you some tips for cutting out words.
In Episode 01 - Brainstorming we recalled times you demonstrated the 12 traits. We analysed these stories to understand your behaviour. In Episode 02 - Mapping we decided which stories gave the most powerful answer to each essay question.
Therefore we know the content and where to write it. Now let’s consider how to actually write the essay, given the constraints of the word count.
Two part structure Consider this simple two-part structure ‘Story+Analysis’. Plenty of other structures exist but if you struggle with writing this is a good starting point.
The two parts should be approximately the same length, forcing you to keep the story brief and the analysis deep. This is very deliberate; the admissions committee are looking for self-evaluation.
Multiple traits: In the above examples we’ve analysed a single story to demonstrate several traits (leadership, weaknesses). Therefore a more accurate diagram of your essay structure might be as follows.
Essay length: MBA application essays always have a word limit - typically 500 words. You haven’t concerned yourself with the word limit yet, focusing instead on mapping stories to specific essay questions to decide what to include. Cutting words out of an essay is one of the most stressful and unproductive parts of the application process, so we aim to minimise this.
First draft: As you begin transforming your stories and analysis into an essay, you should aim for your first draft to be approximately 50% over the word limit. Your first draft for a 400 word essay should be around 600 words. This way you should have enough space to make your point, but a manageable number of words to cut out.
Here is a list of tips to reduce the words in your essay. For a thorough guide to neat sentence construction I recommend The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.
Signposting: As you would in any form of writing, break your work into paragraphs. Begin each paragraph with a signpost to keep your prose snappy while telling the reader you’ve moved on.
Other transition words:
Redundant words: Don't write as you would speak, particularly in introductions and summaries. Be brutal at removing redundant words.
Avoid industry jargon: Don’t confuse an MBA application with a job application, even though you’re writing mostly about your professional experience. Imagine you’re writing for HR. Drop the tech speak and convey credibility by citing specific examples.
'In my opinion': Don't tell the reader it’s your opinion. Since you’re the person writing, they know it’s your opinion.
Active voice: Wherever possible use the active voice.
Positive form: Never use the word 'not' to invert. The positive is shorter and conveys points more powerfully.
Bad words: Words we use in our speech often find their way into essays. Examples include cases, factor, certainly, definitely, one of the most. Hit CTRL-F and remove these from your essay.