Business School application series: How to write an outstanding essay

Your essay is your opportunity to show the Admissions Committee your passions, your most interesting experiences and the things/people that have inspired you on your journey through life. Whether you are answering a specific question or an open-ended prompt, you want to let your personality shine through. Admittedly, it can be a major stressor in the application process. Hopefully these tips help make it easier to tackle:

1.         Start early

I cannot stress this enough. I would say you should give yourself at least 2 – 3 months so you can properly introspect, iterate and come up with a winning essay.

2.         Your essay should give new information about you

Do not regurgitate your resume, or anything you have already stated on other parts of your application, unless you are showing new context. You only have so many words to convince a total stranger that you are amazing; you do not want to waste a single one.

3.         Stop overthinking and just start

When you are dealing with those open-ended prompts especially, it can be easy to get stuck trying to decide on a theme or angle. Do not. Once you have come up with a few interesting experiences, just start crafting a story around them. You will quickly discover what works and what does not. I used to set weekly goals to write a set number of words (at least) for my essays. It did not matter how good it was at the time, it just mattered that I was writing. This eventually paid off as it helped ideas flow more freely and gave me more opportunities to iterate.

4.         Be authentic

Do not write what you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear. Everyone is different and there is no one story that is more important than the other. Instead, tell a story that is unique to you and gives them an opportunity to get to know you in a personal way. Your values, passions and influences should be clear. It should also resonate with what you have shown about yourself in other aspects of your application. Remember, they are reading thousands of essays from similarly qualified applicants. You do not want to get lost in the crowd.

5.         Be specific

Regardless of what your underlying theme is, you should be able to point to specific experiences in your life that support your story. Do not be afraid to get personal or emotional. If you are talking about a cause that you are passionate about, do not just describe it in general terms. Home in on a specific experience that led to or reinforced the importance of that cause in your life. Describe what happened, how it made you feel and how it shaped your choices going forward. Paint as vivid a picture as you can to draw the reviewer in.

6.         Follow the instructions

Make sure you answer the question asked and stick to the prescribed word limit. If there is no word limit, keep it to a reasonable length. You can do research to find out what may be reasonable in this context.

7.         Get your essay reviewed

Get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your essay once you have a reasonable draft ready. Give it to people who would give you honest and useful feedback. Make sure to allow enough time to take in comments and update the essay before your application deadline.

The MBA essay ties together every piece of your application and shows the Admissions Committee who you are – your experiences, your motivations and your aspirations. Whether you are sharing a personal or professional story, focus on authenticity, specific experiences and showcase your uniqueness.

If you have questions, drop a comment below or shoot me an email at and I will try my best to provide guidance or point you to appropriate resources.

2 thoughts on “Business School application series: How to write an outstanding essay”

  1. Hello Chiamaka,

    I hope you are having a great time learning at HBS. Thanks for the tips, they were helpful in coming up with my essay.
    Please do you think you could assist with reviewing my essay? I am currently applying to HBS also

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.