This set of essay questions shows that MIT seeks applicants who have a vision for the career they are building, who understand the impacts of their actions, and who have the judgment and practical skills to effectively handle the challenges that will come at them like fastballs in a World Series. The essays are your main means to show that you possess, as MIT’s website states, “strong leadership performance, global perspective, functional expertise, and innovation.” While the statement of purpose challenges you to succinctly create your portrait as an applicant, the three essay questions, each in its own way, probe how you create value while responding to various types of challenges.
In an overall plan for the essays, the statement of purpose works as a context, a positioner, an opening pitch, a frame. You will describe specific experiences in each of the three essays, so strategically try to select experiences that are different, to give a comprehensive view. Also, usually it’s advisable to discuss recent experiences, to allow the adcom to see you working at a high level and showing what you’ll bring to the table.
Statement of purpose:
Please provide a statement indicating your qualifications, why you are pursuing the MIT Executive MBA Program, and what you will contribute to the program. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
This is your portrait – your candidacy at a glance. It should convey a vivid, immediate sense of you as a person and as a candidate. It should go beyond just facts to present a point of view and a message. Decide your message first, before drafting the essay, and let it guide you in selecting and elaborating the content details.
Beware of a potential pitfall: in discussing qualifications, do not repeat your resume in prose format. Also, don’t present all your qualifications. Select carefully, focusing on those that (a) are really distinctive and relevant to the MBA and/or (b) support your goals directly or indirectly and also (c) reflect your message. Make a short, meaningful point about each qualification, such as the insight it lends or its influence on you, supported by a fact or example.
For why you are pursuing the MBA, of course you’ll discuss your professional goals and objectives. Focus not only on what you want to do, but also on what you want to accomplish for the organization and/or its customers/market.
The contributions you mention should reference your own experience from work or outside work; think of what about you would be most meaningful and interesting to prospective classmates. This element of your response is an opportunity to show that you understand the program.
1. The educational mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to “develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world.” Please discuss how you will contribute toward advancing this mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
In answering this question, clarify what “principled, innovative leader” and “improving the world” mean to you. These points represent your point of view, your “vision” – they should be short, but without them this essay lacks focus. The bulk of the essay will focus on action – your examples of past work and activities that make the case for how you have been and will continue to be a principled, innovative leader who improves the world. They key to making this a gripping, memorable essay is strong experiences and examples combined with your reflection on them pertaining to the essay’s theme. End by briefly discussing how you will build on these experiences to be such a leader in the future.
2. During your career, what is the hardest challenge that you have had to solve? Consider examples when more than one viable solution was present. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
There are really two points this question asks about: how you define and respond to a major challenge, and your decision-making process in selecting the solution. Choose your topic accordingly. With just 500 words, structure the essay simply: narrate the challenge as a brief story, portraying your thought process as you encounter it. As you approach the solution part of the story, describe the solution options and your determination of which to take. In writing the essay, clarify why you consider it the “hardest challenge” – is it one that was extraordinarily complex, one that had no desirable solution, one that had huge stakes, etc.?
3. Tell us about a time within the past three years when you had to give difficult feedback to a peer. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
This question is a straightforward inquiry into your interpersonal skills, judgment, leadership, and (again) decision making. It’s one thing to give difficult feedback to a subordinate – something you probably do as part of your supervisory role. It’s another thing altogether to give such feedback to a peer – someone you don’t manage and whose performance you aren’t accountable for. If possible, make the essay do “double duty” by selecting a story that also portrays you performing at a high level in a significant role. Think about the topic and how your actions align with and complement the other essays.
As part of the MIT Executive MBA curriculum, you will participate in Organizations Lab (O-Lab). This Action Learning course focuses on making a substantive improvement in the performance of your organization, usually by fixing one of its processes.
Identify something, within your organization, upon which to improve. (This does not have to be a large change initiative, small improvements to a process can have a big impact). Please describe the change and why you might choose it? This can be something you have tried to improve in the past and has yet to be realized (whether based on lack of expertise or tools).
Should you do this optional essay? I believe yes. It’s an opportunity to further demonstrate your organizational awareness, possibly highlight important elements of your role, and show your perceptiveness. A key element here will be your perspective on change and its potential impact(s). Select an issue that has an interesting, challenging dimension. Consider the experiences you describe in the other essays and make sure this one isn’t redundant – it should reflect a new facet of your experience. Keep it short – certainly under 500 words. And keep it simple: describe the issue you’d like to improve (and why), and then very briefly reflect on why it’s challenging. You may suggest a possible solution or approaches to solutions, but you don’t have to “solve” it. MIT is interested in your thought process here.
Application Opens: November 14, 2014
Round 1 Deadline: February 17, 2015 (11:59pm EST)
Round 2 Deadline: June 1, 2015 (11:59pm EDT)
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The EMBA Edge, and author of the free special report, Ace the EMBA. Cindy has helped MBA applicants get accepted to top EMBA programs around the world. She is delighted to help you too!