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  • Malvika Patil

Rotman's MBA Spike Factor essay

The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management stands for “diversity, excellence, integrity, and respect”. These values frame the school’s purpose of adding value to business and society. They are also what the AdCom looks for in prospective students. 

One of the ways in which the AdCom tries to understand how you embody these values is through Rotman’s famous “Spike Factor” essay.

The Question

Our admitted students stand out by doing interesting things with their personal and professional lives — something we describe as the ‘spike factor’; what are the things that you have done in your life that demonstrate Passion / Grit / Resilience / Innovation / Drive / Ambition and more? This can cross all or any aspects of life outside of work – hobbies, volunteerism, awards, entrepreneurial ventures, sports and the arts. We believe that exposure to a rich diversity of viewpoints makes for a superior learning experience, and pride ourselves on building a diverse class of exceptional individuals who will go on to make the School proud as professionals and alumni.

Explain your spike factor (something unique about yourself) that you believe will contribute to the Rotman community and is aligned with Rotman values. (up to 500 words)*  

Optional – Please upload 1-3 of your ‘spikiest’ pictures to the supplemental items section of your application here. Note: Your photos must be uploaded as a single PDF.

The prompt starts by stating that every admitted Rotman student has done interesting things with their career or personal life. Note the term ‘interesting’: the story you share in this essay doesn’t necessarily have to be your biggest achievement. Your “spike factor" is simply something that’s unique about yourself. 

Given that diversity of viewpoints is the cornerstone of the Rotman MBA program, this essay is all about presenting how your unique background, motivations, and goals will improve the Rotman community. 

How to Identify your Spike Factor

It’s not easy to think of a ‘spike’. Here are a few places you can start:

  • What makes you tick: This could be your biggest passion, personal or professional. How did it start, and how have you pursued it since?

  • Rising to a challenge: Was there a time when you had to overcome a challenge by demonstrating resilience? What does that say about you?

  • Rebounding: When did you rebound from challenging circumstances to demonstrate your resilience and determination?

  • Ambition to achieve: You could discuss your drive to achieve a certain milestone, professional successes, or how you built something of your own. 

  • Making a difference: This could be at your workplace, in your personal life, or in the community. How have you driven positive change around you?

  • Values: Did you stand up for yourself or others in a difficult situation? Was there an incident that challenged your values? How do your values impact your life at work and beyond? 

  • Innovation: Have you thought out of the box to create something innovative? How have you disrupted the status quo?

The qualities of “Passion / Grit / Resilience / Innovation / Drive / Ambition” mentioned in the prompt are good markers to start with, but don’t limit yourself only to these. Think of qualities that align with the Rotman mission and values, and how they will help you fit into the school’s community. 

Don’t worry if your essay is work-centric. We’ve worked with many applicants who have written stories about what they want to accomplish professionally and what inspired them. But remember, not every story can be your ‘spike’ factor. For example, completing a difficult project at work is not a unique experience. Instead, think of stories where you differentiated yourself from others by demonstrating one of the qualities above.

How to Write About your Spike Factor

A good way to write about your spike factor is by connecting it to your purpose or mission that you want to achieve at Rotman and beyond. For example, “My mission is to develop sustainable strategies for the clothing industry to minimize its impact on the environment and combat fast fashion.”

Now, that’s something you want to accomplish, but it doesn’t necessarily speak about your spike factor. So, use 1-2 anecdotes to best depict the values, motivations, and passions that make up your ‘spike’. Connect these to your mission. For example, “My spike factor is communicating change effectively. In my previous role, I was the lead drafter in the Workplace Safety Accord for better labor regulations in the countries my company sourced garments from. That’s where I realized I wanted to scale my impact.”

Don’t go overboard with the number of stories or ‘spikes’ you want to write about. You should aim to go deep, not wide. Your stories should follow a sensible, easy-to-follow structure and be related to your core narrative. 

Use the SCAR structure to frame your story clearly:

Situation: Describe what the circumstances were. 

Challenge: What was the problem or task you faced?

Action: Describe your actions in response to this task.

Result: What was the outcome of your actions? What did you learn from this experience?

Don’t forget the second part of the prompt! Weave Rotman into the essay by discussing how you will bring your spike factor to Rotman and your post-MBA career. Not only should your spike factor enrich the Rotman community, but it should also demonstrate your leadership potential in the long term.

Handy Tips:

  1. The school has recently changed the Spike Factor essay’s word limit from 1000 to 500, so be mindful of space. Choose quality over quantity and write a story that clearly outlines your spike factor and the skills you developed from it. 

  2. You don’t have to start your essay with “My spike factor is …..”! Build out your story and see where it fits most clearly. 

  3. Show, don’t tell. Instead of simply describing your spike factor, demonstrate it through your previous experiences and actions. 

  4. Review the school’s mission and values. It’s good practice to speak with alumni and current students to get an insider’s perspective on the Rotman culture. Use these insights in your essay.

What about the pictures? 

Pictures are optional, but we recommend that you use them, given the shorter word limit. You may add 1-3 pictures.

Adding visuals to your essay helps support your stories by giving the AdCom something more to remember them by. Reflect on which pictures will clearly validate your story and spike factor. Rotman understands that you’re not always ready with a camera in your peak moments, so don’t worry if they're not the most artsy or unconventional. What’s important is that they are authentic to your core message. 

Need help finding your spike factor? Let’s chat


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