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  • Writer's pictureSam

Visiting ESADE: Where Social Impact meets Innovation

Updated: Feb 1

One reason I decided to do an MBA was to escape the London grind after almost 10 years of sweating into my suit on the underground. If you’re like me and considering an MBA to change up your life as well as your professional prospects, you’ve got to consider the Spanish business schools. ESADE in Barcelona, with its great facilities and small class sizes, should be on your list.

Currently (2021-22) ESADE’s MBA campus is located a half hour taxi ride North of Barcelona, in Sant Cugat. That follows a trend: INSEAD is based in Fontainebleau, which is not really Paris. HEC Paris is also a 45 minute drive from central Paris and should probably be called HEC Versailles.

Once at ESADE, I met my host for the day: Jeroen Verhoeven, Associate Director of ESADE’s Admissions Committee. Naturally, we started off by talking about my ride to campus. Immediately, he explained that next year’s ESADE MBA cohort will be based in downtown Barcelona. This should appeal to applicants in my opinion, who will certainly enjoy the buzz of living and studying right in the heart of such a wonderful city.

We began with a tour of the school, and I was struck by the modern campus. The MBA building itself is barely 10 years old. I’ve visited all of the top European business schools, and few have such contemporary facilities on offer:

  • The green room, where students can record media for projects. Check out your boy playing his part below.

  • The gym, which is in the same building as classes. It’s technically not part of ESADE, but students get a hefty discount.

  • The Entrepreneurship center/startup hub, which felt like a WeWork (but not bankrupt).

After checking out some of the classrooms, we sat down with a cold glass of water (it’s well over 30⁰C out) and I got my chance to grill Jeroen about ESADE’s ambitions.

There’s two key points I want to ask about:

First, how the school intends to position itself for the next few years, given the intense competition between European business schools.

To differentiate itself, there are three main areas that my host is keen to emphasize:

  • Social Impact: The school’s purpose is “Do good. Do better.” It’s a common theme in business school manifestos nowadays, but ESADE really is right up there with the M7s when it comes to social impact research and responsibility initiatives.

  • Small class size: With ~180 students, ESADE’s MBA class is on the smaller side. The AdCom describes it as “Big enough for companies to visit, but small enough to feel personal.” Plus, you have the undergraduate cohort as an alumni network to lean on. Speaking with clients who have graduated from small cohorts, the real benefit is the tightness of the student network – graduates from small classes help eachother out.

→ If you think a bigger school might be a better fit for you, listen to this Wharton admit.

  • Entrepreneurship: Here, ESADE really does stand out. Barcelona is a fast-growing tech hub and ESADE has connections with heaps of these startups - not just through the business school, but with undergrads too. To give you an idea of how entrepreneur-friendly the campus is, there’s a 3D Printing Lab nestled between the Entrepreneurship Center and canteen. Heaven knows how much that cost, but it’s pretty cool.

Second, I wanted to get some insight into how ESADE MBA applicants can differentiate themselves to secure themselves an admit.

Jeroen assures me that there’s no secret recipe, but there are a few important boxes to tick when you apply to ESADE:

  • The GMAT: ESADE’s GMAT class average is 660. But candidates in competitive pools (Indian male engineers, for example) will want a GMAT score above 700 to stand out.

  • Impact: Remember “Do Good. Do Better”? Focus on your positive social impact in academic, professional, or other spaces. Even better if your goals align with ESADE’s institutional objectives.

  • Entrepreneurship/Innovation: ESADE’s redoubled efforts to create an innovation-friendly environment puts its MBA program at number 4 on P&Q’s list of The World’s Best MBA Programs For Entrepreneurship In 2022. No wonder why so many entrepreneurs gravitate towards applying to ESADE for their MBAs. Write about an initiative you started yourself.

Thinking about applying to ESADE? Now let’s talk about how aspiring applicants can translate these stand-out factors to their essays and secure that admit.

Essay 1

Which aspects have you improved on during your academic and professional career so far? Which tools or values have helped you achieve this?

At first glance, ESADE’s MBA Essay 1 may look like an opportunity to explain the gaps in your academic and professional career. But wait, you can explain your low GPA or gap year in the Additional Essay later on.

This essay is about growth and reflection. About demonstrating self-awareness, willingness to improve, and taking initiative.

These are best shown through an impactful story. For example, highlight how you became a better leader over the years, or learned to communicate more effectively. Begin your story by identifying an issue or gap you had, then explain the steps you took and tools you used to fill it. Finally, validate your improvement by giving tangible examples, using numbers if possible.

Essay 2

How will your background, values and non-work-related activities enhance the experience of other ESADE MBA students and add to the diverse culture we strive for at ESADE? (Note: The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have accomplished)

The ESADE MBA Essay 2 is all about your fit with the school’s culture. Remember that small class size? This close-knit student community means that the school is naturally quite selective about candidates who can enrich the program with diverse, unique experiences.

So, focus on what you bring to the table. This could be a passion, skill, or experience that you turned into action. It might be part of a larger theme (zero-waste living, activism, financial literacy) or unrelated, but all should be backed by evidence that you’ve pursued it seriously.

Then, highlight how this passion, skill or experience has shaped you. How has it positioned you to contribute something unique to ESADE’s community? Do your research to find suitable clubs, groups, on-campus projects, and courses where you can make a positive impact. Remember, even challenging or ‘bad’ experiences can shape your perspective for the better.

Essay 3

What are your motivations in pursuing a full-time MBA at this point in your life? Describe your mid-term and long-term visions for your post-MBA career path. What is it about Esade you think will help you reach your goals?

ESADE’s MBA Essay 3 is the classic MBA career goals essay. And we’ve got just the perfect guide for how to answer every part of it here.

Briefly, your ideal structure would follow the Story-Goals-School format. Your Story should follow your career progression and demonstrate your motivations for pursuing an MBA. This will lead naturally into your Goals. Include your goal immediately post-MBA as well as what you want to be doing in the long run. Ensure that you are clear on why you need an MBA to achieve your goals.

Next, tackle the School portion of this essay. Why have you chosen ESADE over other business schools? Go into details about ESADE’s curriculum, pedagogy, culture, clubs, community or any other opportunity that will help you achieve your Goals.

Tip: Another option is to turn this structure upside down and announce your Goals first. Then write your story about how an MBA from ESADE fits into this career goal.

Essay 4

Complete two of the following four questions or statements (3,000 characters total, maximum)

a) I am most proud of…

What has been your most meaningful achievement? Notice how we didn’t say “biggest.” That’s because this essay is more show than tell. To stand out from other applicants, consider a story outside of work. Career wins are certainly reasons to celebrate, but a deeply personal story that shows growth, resilience, or a unique understanding of self and others is more likely to be an engaging read.

It could be something as simple as when you taught your grandfather to use a smartphone. You’re proud of it because of the personal characteristics you demonstrated – patience and leadership. Now he uses it to reach out to old friends and organizes get-togethers for lonely senior citizens.

b) People may be surprised to learn that I…

This is your opportunity to show the admissions committee a different side to you, one they may not expect from your career path or goals. For example, I once worked with an MBB consultant who got up at 4am to row through his city every day before work. He used the story to demonstrate determination, discipline and teamwork.

Your “surprise” doesn’t have to be something large-scale, but it should show depth of character. A foreign language, special skill or a pet project that has been in the works for years - all of these count. This “surprising side” should also be mentioned in your resume, even if it’s just one line.

c) What has your biggest challenge been and what did it help you learn about yourself?

This option might be less “fun” than the other options, but Challenge stories are often straightforward to write using the SCAR format (Situation, Challenge, Action, Result).

The key for this essay is to be candid about the challenge and your fears, and how you overcame them (or how you didn’t!). Ensure that you don’t skip or sugarcoat what you learned from this experience. If you learned some hard truths about yourself, include them in your story – adcoms love these.

d) Which historical figure do you most identify with and why?

First, start by crossing-out cliché names like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King from your list. Put some real thought into it.

Choose a historical figure whose qualities are consistent with how you have positioned yourself in your application. How does this historical figure match how you’ve described yourself, your experiences, or your background?

Understand that the historical figure you choose to write about is not actually the most important part of this essay. It’s YOU that’s applying to business school and it’s YOU they care about. So you should spend at least half this essay discussing the values this figure demonstrates, how these values resonate with you, and how they have impacted your life.

Essay 5

Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee. This may include gaps in employment, your undergraduate record, plans to retake the GMAT or any other relevant information. (max 3,000 characters)

ESADE’s MBA Essay 5 is optional. ESADE is a long application with 4 essays. So this optional essay really is optional. Don’t fill it for the sake of it.

There are only a few topics worth writing about here:

  • Low GPA or GMAT/GRE

  • Career gaps longer than ~3 months

  • Information that could be a red flag

Whatever the issue, be direct and honest about it, what steps you have taken/are taking to address it and highlight any other aspects of your candidacy that may make up for it.

While I was in Barcelona, I also visited IESE. If you're applying to IESE, you can read about that visit below.


Looking for some inspiration before you get cracking on your MBA application to ESADE Business School? Check out Temi’s story about how he received an admit to ESADE's MBA program with a $15,000 scholarship.

Want to take some help while you make your way to the ESADE MBA? Book a free 20-minute consultation with us right away to learn how you can leverage our expertise and position your profile for a successful admit.


About Us

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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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