One of the most challenging, yet crucial parts of the MBA application process is the essay. A way to express your accomplishments and goals, along with personal and professional attributes, the MBA essay can give you an edge over other candidates with similar scores and work experience.
With questions such as “What strengths and weaknesses have shaped your character?” ‘What will you contribute to…” or “How will your unique history and values enhance the programme?” business schools aim to ascertain your personality as it relates to your experiences, adversities or setbacks. How you have dealt with these and most importantly, what have you learned? While some of these are posed as long essay questions, a lot of business schools will have short-answer or one-liner questions embedded in the application form. These are only visible after you log in to your account. We recommend that you register and go through the application a few weeks before the deadlines to ensure that there are no surprises.
Learn more about each business school’s MBA essay prompts and requirements below:
|Business School||Number of Essays/Video Essays||Word Limit||Additional Questions|
|Columbia Business School||Three||Essay 1: 500 words
Essay 2: 300 words
Essay 3: 250 words
|A compulsory short answer and an optional non-formal essay
Two short essay questions instead of the essays for Deferred Enrollment applicants
|Harvard Business School||One||Essay 1: 900 words||A compulsory question for joint programme applicants|
|Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University||Two & three video essays||Essay 1 & 2: 450 words
Video essays 1, 2 & 3: 60 seconds
|A compulsory question for One-Year MBA, JD-MBA, MBAi and MMM programme applicants, an optional additional information section and a compulsory reapplicant essay|
|MIT Sloan School of Management||One cover letter and one video statement||Cover letter: 300 words
Video essay: 60 seconds
|A compulsory resume and organisational chart, an optional short answer question and two compulsory short answer questions (if invited)
A compulsory reapplicant short-answer question
|Stanford Graduate School of Business||Two||1050 words total
Recommendation: Essay 1: 650 words
Essay 2: 400 words
|An optional short answer question|
|The University of Chicago Booth School of Business||Two||Essay 1 & 2: 250-word minimum, no maximum||An optional essay and a compulsory reapplicant essay|
|Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania||Two||Essay 1: 500 words
Essay 2: 400 words
|An optional essay and a compulsory reapplicant essay|
1) Columbia Business School:
The MBA essay prompts for Columbia Business School are holistic and span career goals, fit and personality. Before you sit down to attempt these questions, it is imperative that you think about your future and how you can take advantage of the opportunities that New York City has to offer.
Essay 1: “Through your resume and recommendation, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next three to five years and what is your long-term dream job?”
Essay 2: “We believe Columbia Business School is a special place. CBS proudly fosters a collaborative learning environment through curricular experiences like our clusters and learning teams, co-curricular initiatives like the Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership, which aims to equip students with the skills and strategies necessary to lead in an inclusive and ethical manner, and career mentorship opportunities like our Executives-in-Residence program. Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you academically, culturally, and professionally?”
Essay 3: “Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you.”
Columbia Business School’s first essay prompt has a 500-word limit and is fairly straightforward as it asks you for your future goals. So you need to think about your true passion and how Columbia Business School will help you achieve it. Essay 2 has a limit of 300 words and here you need to display why your dreams can only be achieved at Columbia Business School. Essay 3 allows you to display a side that can’t be reflected in any other part of your application in 250 words, so make sure to express why something resonated with you and your learnings.
1. Columbia Business School also has a compulsory short answer question of 50 characters: “What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?” Your answer could be simply, “Launch a [xxx] start-up” or “Work in [xxx] at a consultancy firm.”
2. There is also a 500-word optional non-formal essay that can be submitted in bullet points: “If you wish to provide further information or additional context around your application to the Admissions Committee, please upload a brief explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or personal history.”
3. If you are applying for a Deferred Enrollment, you will need to answer two 300-word short essay questions instead of the essays; “Why are you interested in obtaining a Columbia MBA in the future?” and “Who is a leader you admire and why?” For all these questions, the how and why is more important than the what and who.
2) Harvard Business School:
The open-ended Harvard Business School question is the same as it was last year, however, this year the business school has decided to impose a word limit. According to the Admissions Director via the business school’s website, they “have heard from some applicants that, without a word limit, sometimes questions (and stress) arise about the “right” word length. We hope that including a limit provides applicants with a little more direction and eliminates the stress about how much is too much to write. Do you need to submit 900 words? No, certainly not. Successful applicants may share what they wish to in 500 or 700 words, for example, or go up to 900.”
Essay 1: “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”
The new 900-word limit gives you enough space to provide the required details, without going overboard. Don’t overthink it your answer and make sure that you don’t repeat what is already in your application. Instead, build on it.
1. Joint-programme applicants for the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Law School or Harvard Kennedy School have an additional 400-word question: “How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level?”
3) Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University:
For the class of 2025, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University’s essays and video essays serve as a way to get to know you better. Be authentic and to the point so that the admissions committee can get a glimpse into how you will contribute to the business school community.
Essay 1: “Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip and inspire leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face and what did you learn?”
Essay 2: “Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you and how have they influenced you?”
Both essays have a word limit of 450 words. As the essays let you explain why you think this business school is the right place for you, you need to take some time to reflect and think about your experiences and how they have influenced you.
Video Essay Prompts:
Video essay 1: “Please introduce yourself to the admissions committee.”
Video essay 2: “What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?”
Video essay 3: “The third question will ask about a challenge you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from it.”
Video Essay Requirements:
You will have access to video essays after submitting your application. Each prompt should be answered in 60 seconds and you only get one try. You will also have 20 seconds to think about your response. Before you attempt the video essays, utilise the practice questions provided to familiarise yourself with the process. The video essays, although optional, give you the opportunity to showcase your personality to the committee. The first video essay allows you to tell the admissions committee something unique about you, while the second allows you to explain in detail your reasons for pursuing an MBA and why Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is the right fit for you. The third will be structured to you and your experiences, allowing you to share what makes you with the admissions committee.
1. Applicants to the fast-paced One-Year MBA will have an additional 250-word question: “Please discuss your post-MBA career goal, the current experience you will leverage to support the transition, and the Kellogg One-Year MBA opportunities that will help you reach this goal.”
2. If you are applying to the JD-MBA programme, you are required to answer the following prompt in 250 words: “Please discuss your post-JD-MBA career goals and why the JD-MBA Program is the right program to help you reach those goals.”
3. The MBAi programme asks you to answer an additional question in 450 words: “The Kellogg McCormick MBAi Program is designed to train the next generation of leaders who can help businesses deliver successful outcomes through AI-driven technology. Tell us about your firsthand experience with this disconnect between business and technology and how MBAi will prepare you to successfully lead businesses at the intersection. ”
4. The unique MMM programme requires applicants to answer the following 250-word prompt: “The five core values of the MMM Program are curiosity, creativity, empathy, open-mindedness and a learning mindset. Describe a situation in which you demonstrated one of these values. Why is this value an important part of the MMM experience for you?”
5. If you are a reapplicant, you would have had time to build your profile since the last time you applied. In 250-words, Kellogg allows you to expand on what you have done with the prompt: “Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy?”
6. Along with this, if you would like to further clarify any particular part of your application, there is an Additional Information section where you can explain and expand on particular instances.
4) MIT Sloan School of Management:
Rather than an essay question, the MIT Sloan School of Management requires all applicants to submit a cover letter, video statement, resume and an organisational chart. This straightforward approach is similar to applying for a competitive job where you should highlight key instances that are mentioned in the prompt.
“MIT Sloan seeks 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.”
Cover Letter Requirements:
You need to address your cover letter to the Admissions Committee and should not exceed 300 words (excluding the address and salutation). Make sure to include one or more professional examples of how you are the ideal candidate for the business school.
Video Statement Prompt:
“Introduce yourself to your future classmates. Here’s your chance to put a face with a name, let your personality shine through, be conversational, be yourself. We can’t wait to meet you!”
Video Statement Requirements:
The video should be no longer than one minute and should be taken in a single take and should not be edited. You should speak directly into the camera and not have any background music or use captions.
In addition to the cover letter, all applicants are required to submit a resume that includes:
“Education – Please feel free to include relevant awards, scholarships, and professional societies
Work Experience – Please include company name, title, results-oriented bullets that demonstrate your skill set, and dates
Additional information – Please include extracurricular activities/community service, technical skills/certifications, and special skills/interests, and languages spoken (if applicable)”
Your resume should be a single page in Times New Roman font, size 10. Only Word or PDF formats will be accepted. Do not include your name, address, and contact information. For formatting, stick to the sections and order above and include details in reverse chronological order. Focus on your work results rather than just the title and job description.
In addition to the cover letter, video statement and resume, you will have to submit an organisational chart.
“To help us better understand your current role and the impact that you have on your team and department, please submit an organizational chart. We should be able to clearly understand the internal structure of your organization, where you sit in your organization, and your line of reporting.”
Organisational Chart Requirements:
Your organisational chart should not be more than two pages (the second page should be reserved if you have changed companies or roles recently) and should clearly identify where you are, whom you report to and if anyone reports to you. It should have as much detail as possible. You can include names, titles etc, however, if the names need to be redacted, then you can do that too. If your recommender is included, you should highlight them.
Interview Short-Answer Questions:
If you are invited for an interview, you will have to answer two short-answer questions and upload them no later than 24 hours prior to your interview. Details will be sent in the interview invitation.
1. Applicants have the option of expanding on their background with this 250-word question: ”
How has the world you come from shaped who you are today? For example, your family, culture, community, all help to shape aspects of your identity. Please use this opportunity if you would like to share more about your background.”
2. Reapplicants will have the opportunity to highlight any changes since your previous application in a short-answer question.
5) Stanford Graduate School of Business:
The Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA essays want to know more about your values, passions, aims and dreams. Ensure that you are genuine and display who you are as a person.
Essay 1: “What matters most to you, and why?”
Essay 2: “Why Stanford?”
There is a combined 1,050-word limit for both essays, with a suggested breakup of up to 650 words for Essay 1 and 400 words for Essay 2. For the first prompt, you need to showcase what matters the most to you and help the admissions officers gain an insight into how it has shaped you. For the second essay, you need to identify how Stanford Graduate School of Business will help you achieve your goals. Applicants to the MBA and MSx programmes will have to talk about both programmes in the second prompt. Both essays are to be uploaded in a single double-spaced document, with each page numbered.
1. Using three examples of 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words each, you can describe in detail some contributions through the optional question prompt: “Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others?”
6) The University of Chicago Booth School of Business:
The University of Chicago Booth School of Business MBA essays focus on both career goals and your personality. As there is no word limit for the essays, the school gives you all the space you need to answer the prompt effectively.
Essay 1: “How will a Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals?”
Essay 2: “An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are…”
The essays have a minimum requirement of 250 words and no maximum limit. It is important however to remain focused in your essay and not deviate too much due to the lack of word count limitation. Use your judgement to ascertain how long the essays should be and how to best utilise the space you have. You will have to answer these questions in the text box provided in the application.
1. There is also an optional question with a 300-word limit: “Is there any unclear information in your application that needs further explanation?”
2. If you are a reapplicant, you can highlight the progress you have made in the time between your applications and how your perspective might have changed over time in a 300-word prompt: “Upon reflection, how has your perspective regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application?”
7) Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania:
Through the essay prompts, the admissions committee at the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania aims to get to know your professional side as well as understand your personality beyond the data points and credentials.
Essay 1: “How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton.”
Essay 2: “Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community?”
Essay 1 has a 500-word limit, while Essay 2 has a 400-word limit. Both essays require you to be introspective, candid and succinct. For Essay 1, you need to focus on the how and make a case that Wharton is the right programme to help you achieve your goals. For Essay 2, you need to show how you will contribute to Wharton’s strong community.
1. There is also an optional essay, with a 500-word limit: “Please use this space to share any additional information about yourself that cannot be found elsewhere in your application and that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee. This space can also be used to address any extenuating circumstances (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, areas of weakness, etc.) that you would like the Admissions Committee to consider.”
2. All reapplicants must write an additional 250-word essay that should focus on your progress and why you are a better candidate this time around: “Please use this space to share with the Admissions Committee how you have reflected and grown since your previous application and discuss any relevant updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, and extracurricular/volunteer engagements).”
When writing your essays, you might be tempted to recycle the same content, especially when referring to the same experiences. However, as each business school is looking for different traits in their students, it is always better to start fresh.