Which MBA Programs Should You Apply to Next Season?

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“Which MBA Programs Should You Apply to Next Season?” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One.  To download the entire free special report, click here.

It’s late winter or early spring, already in the ebb of the current MBA admissions season. That means it’s the perfect time for people planning to apply next season to break out of hibernation and start tackling a part of the application process that is often shortchanged: school selection.  Doing this part right sets the course for an efficient, productive application process with greater likelihood of satisfying results.

In 15 years of MBA admissions consulting I have found that otherwise highly capable and focused people often basically wing it when it comes to creating their school list. “I’m just applying to all the top ten.” Top ten according to what source? “I realize now [after R2 deadlines have passed] I was overreaching. Are there any good schools I can still apply to?” Probably. “I’m applying to H/S/W, with Duke as my safety.” Duke as your safety?

By starting to develop your list of prospective schools now, you can avoid these and similar problems (yes, these responses are all problems – real ones I’ve heard, more than once).

By approaching school selection thoughtfully and systematically, you will save time, money, and effort in the long run (even if you expend more of all initially). You will conserve precious energy for the nitty-gritty work of the applications. You will be able to start planning school visits and recommendations, two things that often get tangled up when first addressed in the heat of the application season.

In this series I provide various tips and approaches to developing a solid list of schools. Each person’s needs are unique, and there is no one formula that works for everyone, so I will guide you in asking the right questions, answering (or finding answers to) those questions, and deciding accordingly.

This series will cover, among other topics:

•  assessing your profile

•  the role of rankings

•  how many schools you should apply to

• identifying and prioritizing your b-school needs and wants.

Ready? Here are a couple of things you can and should do right now to get started on the school selection process for next season:

•  Capture on paper or your preferred electronic medium those random thoughts that have been floating around in your head, for example, “top 10,” “friendly to older applicants,” “strong quant focus,” “need to be within an hour by plane from my ailing mother.”

•  Read blogs of MBA students not just at schools you’re already interested in but from a wider array of schools – both the substance and the tone of those blog posts will give you a subjective feel for different programs and your own responses to them.

•  If possible talk to MBA students and ask them about their school selection process; what went well and what proved difficult or problematic; ask what they would do differently.

•  Visit schools now! Visit schools you know you are interested in (you can always re-visit later), schools you might be interested in, and even schools on the margins. It’s the perfect time: schools are in session, you’re not pressed by the application process yet, and it’s close enough to application time for your insights from the visits to be relevant if you discuss them in essays. Take advantage of travel you may do for business or pleasure to schedule a visit, rather than trying to cram everything in the fall—when you’ll be even busier than usual with applications plus work. Moreover, visiting now gives you time to digest and reflect on your campus experiences.

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Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.

How MBA Adcoms Evaluate Your GPA

Check out our MBA Application Weaknesses 101 Page

Behind every GPA is a story.

But my undergrad school was highly competitive!”

“But I worked 20 hours a week during college!”

“But I was a varsity athlete at a Division I school.”

“But even though it took me a couple of years, once I got it together I made dean’s list every semester!”

“But my PhD GPA was 3.9…”

So wail MBA applicants who fear their applications will be doomed by a poor undergraduate GPA.  Behind every GPA is a story.  Often it’s a story that arouses frustration, confusion, uncertainty, and even anguish on the part of applicants.

Undergrad GPA is important, to understate things.  BUT adcoms view your GPA (like the rest of the application) holistically.  Not just low GPAs, but all GPAs.  What does that mean exactly?

First, no matter how well or how poorly your GPA represents your actual ability, the adcom will consider it and take note of it in reviewing your application.  You cannot, by convincing explanations or subsequent courses, erase a low undergrad GPA from adcom consideration.  You can at most mitigate it, sometimes substantially.

Second, the adcom will examine the context of the GPA.  They can see some aspects of that context automatically (like rigor of courses and school) but not others unless you tell them (like pneumonia in sophomore year), usually in an optional essay.  They will see whether the GPA trends up (good) or down (a problem that might need explaining), they will see from elsewhere in your application whether you were working during school and/or participated in a lot of activities, etc.

They will draw some conclusions from this contextual review.  For example, if you worked, they’ll probably assume you had to, and so will be less likely to hold against you time management challenges that weren’t necessarily your choice.  If, like some of my amazing clients, you started college in the US barely knowing English and struggled for a year or two until your passion and ambition propelled you to the dean’s list, that’s a story to tell in the optional essay – you can’t assume the adcom will know you overcame rudimentary language skills.  If they see lots of activities, they’ll note the positive aspects (sociable, contributor) and the possible negative aspects if your GPA was low (less than great time management and prioritizing).  Trending up – probably a kid still growing up; most likely the last two years are more representative.   They’ll also note things like change of academic focus (he really improved once he switched his major from physics to East Asian Studies).

Part of your job in writing your application is to anticipate and envision the context the adcom sees for your GPA and fill in gaps.  For example, if an overabundance of activities undermined your grades, you can show in your essays how you subsequently learned to better manage your time while maintaining your vibrant community involvement.

Moreover, good GPAs are not just given “check OK” from the adcom.  They actually review your transcript. An otherwise strong GPA that has one C in your only quant course could raise an eyebrow.  So could a GPA that starts very strong and trends down – even if it’s solid in aggregate.

Post-undergrad efforts also shape the context of your undergrad GPA.  A strong GMAT, demanding professional certifications, an “alternate transcript” of courses to demonstrate academic capability and counter a low undergrad GPA, and/or a strong grad school GPA all will help to mitigate a low GMAT – but, again, they will not  erase it from your profile.  They will have other positive impacts though, such as showing commitment and maturity.

The adcoms’ use of context in evaluating GPA means ultimately there is no one formula applied.  It’s nuanced, unique to the candidate, and qualitative.  Try to see your GPA in their eyes to determine (a) do you need to provide context for your performance, (b) should you take steps to mitigate the GPA like additional courses, and (c) does your GPA in its holistic context enhance your candidacy at a given school.

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Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

INSEAD 2014- 2015 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines – Take Two

Check out out INSEAD B-School Zone!Not long ago, in the tips post for INSEAD, I wrote that INSEAD was “bucking the trend” of fewer and shorter essays.  Well, scratch that.  Mid-application-cycle, INSEAD has decided to hew to the trend and changed its essays starting now.  The result is a shorter, more condensed set of essays.  

In the new set, the essays are divided into two categories: Job Description Essays (the same as before), and Motivation Essays.  The use of the word “motivation” should be forefront in your mind as you draft those essays; the concept should appear directly or indirectly in each.  It means that the adcom wants to know what drives you, what propels your choices, decisions, and actions.

Job Description Essays:

Essay 1. Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/products and results achieved.

The key to strong job descriptions is “results achieved.” Definitely provide the other requested elements, but the distinguishing factor will be those results. Quantifying impact usually shines a spotlight on your impact and contribution. The second most important element is “major responsibilities.” Don’t list the mundane or the aspects of your job that everyone with your title will share. Where did you shoulder “major responsibility”? Be specific in these descriptions to differentiate yourself, especially if you are from a common professional group in the applicant pool.   

Essay 2. Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position?

Don’t confuse “full description” with “complete history.” How would you characterize your career since college? You also have to answer the second pat of the question and you only have 250 words. Choose the most important elements — those elements that show contribution, leadership, and since this is INSEAD, a multi-cultural and global perspective. 

Essay 3. If you are currently not working, what are you doing and what do you plan to do until you start the MBA programme if applicable? (250 words maximum)

State the facts straightforwardly.  Note not just what you’re doing but why you’re doing it.  If you have room and if it’s relevant, consider addressing why you are unemployed at the moment.

Motivation Essays:

Essay 1. Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (600 words max.)

For a question like this I recommend two strengths and one weakness. If you can choose one anecdote that reveals both the strengths and the weakness, it’s efficient with space and can strengthen the essay. Don’t forget to discuss how these qualities influenced your personal development. For more on INSEAD 1 and writing about weaknesses, please see this video:

A word on weaknesses. Be honest without going overboard. Don’t make up a phony weakness. I attended an HBS info session a few years ago. One of the alumni said that he discussed a “phony weakness” in his essays (required for HBS that year), and his interviewer focused right on it, and basically said, “Come on. What’s a real weakness?” The applicant had to get real in a hurry. Take advantage of the essay: Give it some thought and respond with the benefit of that reflection. For more information, please see “Flaws Make You Real.”

At a recent AIGAC conference one of the adcom members remembered that an applicant in response to a similar question had listed his weakness as “pitching new ideas in a meeting.” The adcom member felt that the applicant was specific, real, and showed self-awareness by revealing this flaw. In fact, by demonstrating these qualities in addition to the requested weakness that he was working on, the applicant actually enhanced his chances of acceptance with his response.

Don’t write about “weakness in pitching new ideas in meetings” as your flaw just because you saw it here. It will become the lame, stale example everyone uses. However, you all have weakness. Just be thoughtful enough and honest enough to reveal yours.

(NOTE: There is potential for some overlap in this essay with Essay 2, so look at both questions together and organize content before writing them.)

Essay 2. Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (400 words max.)

With only 400 words to describe 2 significant experiences, and the specified discussion points, you need to use stories that can be told without a lot of background information.  And keep in mind Essay 1 – don’t use stories that reflect exactly the same messages.  “Achievement of which you are most proud” is a high bar, and it can be from either work or outside of work. It also should be something that reveals qualities or attributes about you that are positive and relevant. I suggest using something from the last two to three years.  Luckily you don’t have to write about the failure about which you are most ashamed… ;-)   Discuss a failure that is specific, fairly recent, and meaty enough to have rattled you a bit.  Again, work or non-work topic is fine. 

In discussing what you learned from the experiences and how they impacted your relationships, identify one specific thing for each point for each story – there isn’t room for more.  And there isn’t need for more, because one can be very powerful if it’s insightful.

Essay 3. Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way.  (300 words max.)

In choosing your topic story, think about “impact” – often people describe being surprised or emotionally challenged by encountering new or different cultures, but that’s not enough to make this a good essay.  Impact is what happens after the initial response: how did the experience change your behavior, or change your perception, or inspire you to learn something, or cause you to reconsider beliefs/ideas – these are impacts. 

Narrate the story succinctly, vividly portraying the impact on you.  The adcom wants to see that you are thoughtful, resourceful, and responsive in encountering cultural diversity, because it is a key attribute of their program.

Essay 4. Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc). How are you enriched by these activities? (300 words max.)

Simply discuss the range of activities you participate (or have participated) in – those that are major passions, and those that are “just fun” – clarifying their relative role and importance in your life.  Be straightforward in how they enriched you – no need to strive for something “different” that no one has ever felt or experienced before….  Imagine you are meeting with clients or superiors – between the business dealings (and perhaps over a drink); you and they might chat about non-work interests – approach this essay like such a conversation.  Not quite as casual as with a peer, but still conversational, straightforward, and intended to connect on a person-to-person level.

Optional Essay: Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the admissions committee?  (300 words max.)

Use the optional essay to explain anything that needs explaining and/or to give them one more reason to accept you. DON’T use it for a superficial summary, a restatement of your other essays, or anything similarly boring and trite. If you choose to write it, produce a tight, focused essay revealing something you haven’t yet discussed.

INSEAD Application Deadlines:

September 2014 intake:

March 5, 2014

January 2015 intake:

Round 1 March 21, 2014; Round 2 May 28, 2014; Round 3 July 25, 2014

Help! The MBA application is shrinking!

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

NYU Stern Executive MBA 2014 Essay Tips

NYU_SternReflecting the character of the university at large, NYU Stern has always sought applicants who bring not just requisite accomplishment, but also intellectual energy and engagement with the world – people who have a point of view and are willing to express it. Stern’s EMBA essay questions are consistent with these values. While they cover the standard concerns, they also draw out your ability to self-reflect and to understand yourself in relation to others. The key to acing these essays is not just to write competent and logical essays, but also to present a point of view, a message, a distinctive perspective that will enrich the EMBA community at NYU Stern. 


Applicants are required to respond to essay prompts 1, 2 and 3. The following essay questions give you the opportunity to more fully present yourself to the Admissions Committee and to provide insight into your experiences, goals, and thought processes. Your essays should be written entirely by you. Please note the following:

Please adhere to the essay word limits provided for each question. Word limits apply to the total essay question. For example, your response to Essay 2 should answer both part (a) and part (b) with a maximum of 750 words.

1. Describe your short- and long-term career goals and how the NYU Stern Executive MBA program will help you accomplish them. (500-750 words, double-spaced) 

One simple, straightforward, and effective way to structure this essay is to start with where you are in your career now. This opening  sets the context and conveys a little about your current situation, emphasizing what is impressive and/or distinctive about it. Then discuss how the EMBA education will enable you to achieve your immediate goals in your current role and  later your intermediate and longer-term goals, which should logically flow out of this present role.

In describing your goals, clarify why you would take that step or pursue that role. In discussing how the program will benefit you, be specific: describe the skills and knowledge you need to acquire and how the program provides them. Also refer to the structure, curriculum, and/or special features of the program, noting how you will benefit from them. Finally, resist the temptation to detail your career progress — limit yourself to points relevant to your goals.

2. High functioning study groups help to navigate the academics of the NYU Stern Executive MBA program. Students are placed in groups of four to six students, each with a diverse mix of professional backgrounds and skill sets. (500-750 words, double-spaced)

a) What role(s) do you see yourself playing within your study group?

b) What can your group learn from you?

Think about your strengths as a team member – and identify a few actual, illustrative examples from your work (at least one fairly recent).  Use these examples as the basis for answering (a). 

Part (b) allows you to be more wide-ranging in your chosen points; i.e., you might discuss not just your team performance but other aspects of your work.  Perhaps the group can benefit from some specific aspects of your industry practices, or from your experience in a geographic region, as well as from things like your teamwork and leadership.  However, don’t just assert that they can learn from this or that experience; discuss the potential lessons.

3. The NYU Stern Executive MBA program’s curriculum is designed with a strong global focus. Stern is committed to helping students develop a deeper set of professional skills, and a broader perspective of the role of business in the world. (500-750 words, double-spaced)

a) What is a significant contemporary issue on which you, as a business leader, would like to have an impact?

b) Why is it important to you?

c) How could you leverage your skills and resources to address the issue?

The most important advice here: select an issue that you truly care and are knowledgeable about. You may research some fine points, but responses to this question that are entirely constructed of research on a topic don’t work.

A simple and effective structure for this essay is to follow the a-b-c points. First talk about the issue in personal as well as objective terms, i.e., how you came to learn and/or care about it, perhaps what experience you’ve had with it if relevant. Take a stand; avoid being bland or abstract. Then describe how as a business leader you can address this issue in concrete terms. This last part will vary greatly from person to person – for some your work will directly address this issue; for others work will be divorced from it, and you will indirectly use your business leadership role as a bully pulpit, as a prominent and influential community leader/volunteer, etc.

Optional Additional Essays:

Optional Additional Essay:

Please provide any additional information of which you would like the Admissions Committee to be aware. This may include additional details on your academic/quantitative preparedness through educational or professional experience, further explanation of academic history, current or past gaps in employment, or any other information relevant to your application. (500 word limit, double-spaced)

This question’s wording indicates that you can use it not just to explain a problem (low GMAT, employment gap) but also to present new material that you think will enhance your application. However, if you are making the adcom read more than is required, there should be a darn good reason; not just a nice-to-know.

First, succinctly explain any points that need explaining. Then, if there is something you feel is important that you haven’t had a chance to discuss elsewhere, write about it, noting why it’s essential to a full understanding of your candidacy.

Optional Scholarship Essay:

The NYU Stern Executive MBA program offers a limited number of scholarships each year to applicants receiving minimal or no financial sponsorship. There are many more qualified candidates than there are scholarships available. Scholarships are determined at the time of admission and communicated in the letter of admission if awarded. If you wish to be considered for a scholarship, please respond to the following:

Why should the Admissions Committee invest in you as a business leader?

This essay is essentially your portrait – your candidacy at a glance. Do not just list accomplishments that repeat your resume, repeat qualities described in essay 2, or repeat the goals in the goals essay. Also, don’t present every possible reason you think the adcom should invest in you.  Focus on points that (a) are really distinctive and relevant to the MBA and/or (b) support your goals directly or indirectly and also (c) enhance rather than repeat the application. Developing an overarching message or theme for this essay before you write it will help you shape and select the content.

If you would like help with these NYU EMBA essays, please consider Accepted’s EMBA admissions consulting and EMBA essay editing services.

DeadlinesApplications to Stern’s Executive MBA Program are considered on a rolling basis.

For the class beginning in August: early deadline is March 1, final deadline is May 1.

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

2014 Kellogg Executive MBA Admissions Tips

Check out our MBA Admissions 101 page!The Kellogg Executive MBA questions are among the most comprehensive, thorough, and numerous of any EMBA application. It takes significant effort to put together a strong set of Kellogg EMBA essays, and that fact weeds out potential students who are not seriously interested in this competitive program. Moreover, the questions encompass almost every basic type: goals, behavioral (the experience and your reflection on it), evaluative (greatest skills and talents). It offers more than one optional essay. This set of essays requires the writer to wear different hats and excel at different types of self-analysis. Not least, the messages and contents of the essays should be coordinated to strategically and holistically create a picture of you that is vivid, distinguishing, and multifaceted without being contradictory or jumbled. Note that there are no word limits, therefore use your judgment; don’t write all 1,000 word essays. Depending on the question and what you have to say, 400-750 is a good range to target.


JOB DESCRIPTION: Describe the unit for which you are responsible and relate it to the total organization in terms of size, scope, and autonomy of responsibility. What human resources, budget, and capital investment are you responsible for? Please describe your position.

A straightforward question – it contains several components, so be sure to answer all of them. Try to work in an anecdote or two somewhere, for example, if part of your role is to troubleshoot issues with global clients, give a brief example.

1. Why have you elected to apply to the Kellogg School Executive MBA Program?

This essay should discuss your interest in the Kellogg program as a means to acquire the learning you seek in light of your goals. Clarify why you are pursuing the executive program specifically. You can also discuss other benefits that relate to personal preferences such as environment and the program’s schedule, structure, and location. Be specific and add thoughtful discussion, don’t just reiterate points from the website. If possible, cite conversations with students or alumni, including relevant insights you’ve gained from them.

2. What are your goals and objectives and how will a Kellogg Executive MBA help you achieve these? Please feel free to discuss both personal and professional goals.

Discuss your goals in specific terms: industry, likely positions, which company or companies, possibly where, what you expect to do, possibly challenges you anticipate. Also discuss what you want to accomplish short- and long-term. To make the essay truly compelling, also show how your goals are rooted in your experience, what motivates your goals, and your vision for your goals. Finally, discuss the learning needs these goals engender and summarize how the Kellogg MBA meets them, saving the greater detail for essay 1.

3. Discuss a professional situation that did not end successfully. Why did you or your peers consider the situation to have negative results? How did you resolve the situation? Did it change your management style? If so, how?

In selecting the story to discuss, use something relatively recent (even though unsuccessful, it can still show you at work in an engaging context and at a decision making level with high accountability), and something substantive. Be frank about your role as it may have contributed to the lack of success. For structure, keep it simple: first tell the story, and then address the remaining questions. The last part, about how it may have changed your management style, is a good opportunity to show you’ve not only learned from the experience but applied the learning, by briefly citing a specific example of your improved management style.

4. What do you consider to be your greatest skills and talents? How will you use these to contribute to an Executive MBA class as well as to a study group?

First, what not to do: strain to find some unique skill or talent that no one else possesses in an effort to differentiate yourself. It doesn’t exist. Rather, look inward – whether it’s creativity, initiative, leadership, strategic thinking, interpersonal astuteness, analytic capability, mentoring/coaching – it’s the details and stories of how you manifest this quality that will make this essay exciting while strategically supporting and enhancing the other essays. Select 2-3 skills/talents that differ from each other (i.e., don’t do quant skills and analytic skills, or communication skills and interpersonal skills) and tell a quick story or anecdote illustrating each. Finally, for each, comment on how it will help you contribute by giving an example – these comments can be short, as they story itself will really convey how the skill or talent will let you contribute.

5. Describe how your relevant global experiences have influenced you professionally. (Optional)

This is a great essay for most people to answer – if you’ve had any global experience, it can only have influenced you professionally. If you’ve had a lot of global experiences, don’t just do a survey of them and don’t feel you must write about all of them. Select the most meaningful experiences and tell the stories, and then explaining the influence on you.

6. Is there anything else that you would like to add to help us in evaluating your candidacy? (Optional)

This question invites you to present new material that you think will enhance your application, as well as to explain anything that needs explaining (e.g., gap in employment). As far as non-necessary points, keep in mind that if you are making the adcom read more, there should be a clear value to the information. Finally, considering the many essays, keep it short.

7. Describe any major reports, instructional materials, or manuals that you have prepared or any research, inventions, or other creative work. (Optional)

Note, “major.” Do not wrack your brain for every report or training material you’ve contributed to. If you have numerous patents, ditto. Focus on the most important ones of whatever type of material you are describing. A nice format is an annotated bullet list.

8. Please list the business/professional/community organizations in which you are active. (Optional)

Note “are active.” Not “were active.”

Rolling admissions.

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Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

2014 HEC Paris MBA Application Essay Tips

Get more info about HEC Paris.

Avoid platitudes, be specific and present focused, fresh insights.

These essays give the adcom a well-rounded view of you – not just what you’ve done but how you think and respond. Moreover, they require you to communicate some complex thoughts and experiences in few words. For the four short essays especially, don’t waste words on conventional introductory and concluding paragraphs. Jump right into your point or story, and use straightforward sentences that avoid wordy constructions (“had the opportunity to,” “was able to”); don’t feel shy using straightforward declarative sentences. Added benefit: you come across as more confident. Once you’ve sketched your ideas for all the essays, step back and look at how all these facets add up as a whole, to see if you should adjust any content to avoid redundancy.


1. Why are you applying to the HEC MBA Program now? What is the professional objective that will guide your career choice after your MBA, and how will the HEC MBA contribute to the achievement of this objective? (500 Words Maximum)

This is a traditional goals question with a couple of twists.  First, the “why now” part should be explicitly addressed, even if it seems obvious.  Second, the “professional objective” is essentially your long-term career vision, and the question assumes that this vision or goal will drive your preceding steps, so present your short-term goal in that context, i.e., how it will be a prelude to your ultimate professional objective.  Otherwise, as always with this type of goals question, connect the dots. Let the reader see that your goals grow organically from your experience and are achievable given your past experience and an MBA from HEC.

2. What do you consider your most significant life achievement? (250 Words Maximum)

Most significant life achievement – few work accomplishments rise to this level.  Not that you can’t use a work story, but if, for example, you state that boosting your organization’s bottom-line is your greatest life achievement, the adcom might wonder about your values.  If you can say that the accomplishment, while boosting the bottom line, also saved jobs or lessened negative environmental impacts, however, that’s different.  For some people, this story will be personal – I think of clients who have persevered through challenging medical diagnoses for example; for others, it will involve impact at work or outside of work.

Structure: simply narrate the story, and at the end, clarify why you deem it most significant.

3. Leadership and ethics are inevitably intertwined in the business world. Describe a situation in which you have dealt with these issues and how they have influenced you (250 Words max)

Again, keep the structure simple: tell the story, and end with a brief discussion of how the experience has influenced you.  It may seem like a challenge to identify an experience that encompasses both leadership and ethics.  However, addressing an ethics challenge will almost inherently require leadership (often informal), whether on your part or someone else’s.  When you explain how it influenced you, don’t just state generalities; give a specific example.

4. Imagine a life entirely different from the one you now lead, what would it be? (250 Words Maximum)

This essay is an opportunity to show a different side of yourself.  Describe an imagined life that reflects something meaningful to you.  Make it vivid, show your passion.  Note that the question does NOT ask what you would do if not your current life/role; it just asks you to “imagine a life.”  Use that openness to express your imagination, passion, and interest vividly.  In doing so, however, do not make it abstract.  Weave in and employ your knowledge and experience, e.g., if you love ballet and are an avid ballet-goer; you could build your imagined life in a way that uses your knowledge of and passion for dance.  The reader would learn something interesting about you – and your prospective contribution to the social context of the program.

5. Please choose from one of the following essays: (250 Words max)

a) What monument or site would you advise a first-time visitor to your country or city to discover, and why?

b)  Certain books, movies or plays have had an international success that you believe to be undeserved. Choose an example and analyse it.

c) What figure do you most admire and why? You may choose from any field (arts, literature, politics, business, etc).

All of these options are equally good – choose the one that resonates the most with you; the one that you want to answer.  It’s another opportunity to showcase your interests and passions.  The “why” part is key: avoid platitudes, be specific and present focused, fresh insights.

6. Is there any additional information you would like to share with us? (900 words max)

This question invites you to explain anything that needs explaining (e.g., gap in employment, choice of recommender if not direct supervisor, a bad grade, etc.) as well as to present new material that will enhance your application.  If you choose to do the latter, make sure it’s a point that is essential for a clear and full picture of your candidacy.  They give you a lot of words to work with; don’t think that you have to use all 900!

Application Deadlines:

The 1st of each month, January through July 2014


Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

USC Marshall 2014 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

For more info about USC Marshall, check out our Marshall Zone page. What will you gain from your two years at USC Marshall, and what will the school gain from you during that time? These are the questions you’ll need to keep in the back of your mind as you prepare your USC Marshall application essays. The adcom wants to hear about how you will give and receive when you obtain your MBA from this top B-school.


1. Introduce yourself. How are you a good fit for the Marshall MBA community? The Trojan Network is highly regarded worldwide, how do your professional and person goals add value to this expansive and collaborative brand? (500-750 words)

This question is multifaceted, and, frankly, a bit convoluted. It asks several things, but the key themes are fit with and contribution to Marshall. To answer it well, first discern what you consider to be Marshall’s character and culture, its “collaborative brand.” With those qualities in mind, “introduce yourself” by highlighting a couple of key relevant points about your life and career, and discuss your goals, in both cases underscoring congruence with the program. Don’t overlook the “worldwide” regard; if global experience is part of what you bring and/or is part of your goals, try to weave it in.

Optional essay: Here you may choose to provide additional information with regard to personal characteristics and/or challenges you have had which might enhance the diversity of your Class. (250 words)

Please see “The Optional Essay: To Be or Not to Be.”

Re-application Essay: Please describe any significant professional, personal, or academic growth since your last application to the USC Marshall School of Business. Discuss your specific professional goals and how the USC Marshall Full-Time Program will help you achieve these goals. (500 words)

The key to a successful reapplication is to show growth and that’s the job of this essay. At least one of the specific growth points you present should be professional – there are the obvious things like a promotion or a new project to lead, and less obvious things like new industry or functional exposure, informal leadership, a challenge or problem that “stretched” your skills and perspective. In describing goals, if they’ve changed from the previous application, note why.

If you would like professional guidance with your USC Marshall application, please consider Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the USC Marshall application.

Learn how to determine your MBA goals and then weave them into a compelling MBA goals essay.

USC Marshall 2014 MBA Application Deadlines:

Application Deadline Decision Notification Begins
Round 1 October 15, 2013 December 15, 2013
Round 2 January 10, 2014 March 15, 2014
Round 3 April 15, 2014 June 1, 2014


Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

MBA Interview Tips Post 5: Video Essays

[NOTE: This post is the fifth in a series; if interested please see the introduction and tip 1, tip 2, tip 3, and tip 4.]

Click here for 6 more tips for answering video MBA essay questions.

Video Essay: Natural Experience or Performance?

Wait, why is a video essay featured in a series on MBA interviews?

Because it works like an interview in its visual presentation of you and it functions like a conversation.

Kellogg, Yale, and Rotman have included required video essays (or “screen tests” as Poets & Quants dubs this element) in their applications.  It’s been an option, rather infrequently used, at NYU Stern for years.

Why adcoms use this method:   

• It allows the adcom to see the applicants respond in almost-real-time to questions.

• It allows the adcom to test applicants’ ability to organize their thoughts and present a response both meaningful and succinct.

• Applicants “shine” in different ways, and an applicant who shines in interpersonal communication and charisma may not make it through to a competitive interview with written essays; now the adcom can spot these applicants.

• Similarly, someone may shine in the conventional written essays, but be inappropriate or unprofessional in presentation, and the adcom can now spot and weed out these applicants early, without expending additional resources on interviews.

Process:  Basically, you click on a link in the application, and you are given a question to answer.  You are being timed, so you can’t halt the process, go away for an hour and plan a careful response. Rather, the application gives you a minute or so to compose your thoughts.  Then you have a short window, usually one to two minutes, to video-record your answer.  You can view your response, but you can’t change it.  Sometimes the application give you a few “tries,” but you can’t re-record an answer if you don’t like what you did the first time.  You can only move on to the next question.  The reason is that the adcoms are trying to avoid a rehearsed, nonspontaneous reply.  The last question is literally your last chance in the video essay – you can’t go back and redo earlier attempts.

Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: if you present yourself comfortably and are photogenic, the medium plays to these strengths.

• Benefit: the process may take less time than a written essay.

• Benefit: for non-native English speakers, you can demonstrate solid English speaking skills—especially beneficial if you have a low verbal GMAT score and/or borderline TOEFL.

• Benefit: The skills and attributes it highlights differ from and complement those highlighted by written essays, improving the chances for different kinds of applicants to shine in the initial application.

• Pitfall: you have a limited time and can’t second guess your answer; once it’s done it’s done (whereas with a written essay you can revise it up until submission if you have further thoughts for improving it).

• Pitfall: although the adcoms call it a conversation, it actually isn’t very natural or comfortable to talk into a camera with no human response; some people need a lot of practice to overcome a strange sensation with this medium.

• Pitfall: for people who are methodical, the short prep and answer time works against your natural inclination and doesn’t play to your strength.

• Pitfall: you’re at the mercy of well-functioning technology and Internet connections.

While not exactly a pitfall, there’s also the reality that even though adcoms strive for objectivity in evaluating applicants, the video essay creates the potential for them to be subjectively influenced (pro or con) by an applicant’s physical appearance early in the “weeding” process.

How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):

• Review Accepted.com’s tips for this interview format.

• Practice with a video camera, YouTube, or other formats, speaking to a camera without a person involved.

• Practice coming up with short answers to a range of questions – limit your prep time so it’s similar to the video essay’s, and find a technique that works for you for gathering your thoughts quickly and identifying a key point or message.

• Consider the whole visual picture: not just having hair combed and appropriate attire, but also the background and lighting – all should enhance the presentation.

• The adcoms say they want a spontaneous, natural experience of the applicant, but it may not be natural for you to look at and speak to a non-responsive camera.  It’s the illusion of naturalism; it’s acting, it’s performance, essentially.  To create your best impression, understand and analyze your gestures, cadence, tone – what makes your presentation reflect “you” effectively?  A good actor is deliberately and thoughtfully natural, not mindlessly natural.  You’re actually performing your best self.

MBA Video Essays: A Conversation with Rotman’s Niki da Silva

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

University of Virginia Darden Executive MBA 2014 Admissions Tips

UVA DardenGiven that the Darden EMBA application presents only one essay question to answer, the balance of your application – the online form, the resume, the recommendations, the interview – all carry even more weight than they do in most EMBA applications that contain several questions (usually including one pertaining to your goals).  The application as a whole must show that you are at the appropriate level in terms of organizational position and experience to both benefit from the Darden EMBA and contribute substantially to its program.  Moreover, to be competitive you should also show that you are a high performer relative to peers.  


Share your thought process as you encountered a challenging work situation or complex problem. What did you learn about yourself? (500 words maximum)  

The question may sound a bit daunting, but it is essentially asking for a story.  “Your thought process” is simply your narrating an experience – the story – through the lens of your perspective as it happened.  The “pivot points” – your decision points – are the most important points in this story, so when you get to these parts of the story, briefly include why you decided to do B.  After you complete the story narrative, culminating the outcome, add a short paragraph briefly explaining how this experience gave you insight about yourself – note what this new insight/learning is, and relate it back to the story. With only 500 words to work with, I suggest keeping the structure simple. Devote about the first two-thirds to telling the story, and conclude with the reflection.  This learning should be meaningful and significant – they are asking this question because they value your ability to grow and respond and adapt, and also your ability to self-critique and self-reflect. 

With only one essay, selecting the topic – the work situation or complex problem – should be done strategically.  The topic can show you advantageously – perhaps working in an underrepresented industry or function, or shouldering a difficult decision, or influencing executive decision makers, or grappling with issues of high importance.  It should be fairly recent.

UVA Darden EMBA Application Deadlines:

Application Deadline Decisions Released
Dec 15, 2013, Jan 30, 2014
Jan 15, 2014 Feb 28 2014
Feb 15, 2014 March 28 2014
March 15, 2014 April 30,2014
April 15, 2014 May 13, 2014
May 15, 2014 June 18, 2014
June 15, 2014 July 2, 2014

If you would like help with Darden’s executive MBA essay, please consider Accepted.com’s MBA admissions consulting and MBA essay editing services

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

Oxford Said 2014 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

For more 2014 MBA application essay tips, check out our free special report!

Sport is pure competition. What does it teach us about companies, individuals, and markets? (500 words)

This program packs a lot into its one year, including a lot of team and group work.  Therefore, it needs students who can quickly connect and form working relationships (and hopefully personal relationships).  Also, its short duration means there is not time for creative soul searching and for exploring this and that industry or function – to get the most out of it and to gain desirable employment upon completion, you need to have self-awareness and focused goals.  These essays will elicit those qualities.


1. What should Oxford expect from you? (500 words)

Interesting question. Can they expect you to get involved in specific activities? Which ones? How would you like to contribute to the school? Any activities you would like to initiate?

Do you have a business idea you want to develop as part of Oxford’s entrepreneurship project? Are you also thinking of participating in the strategic consulting project? Any places you would like to go on an optional student trek? Oxford is giving you 500 words here.

You have the room to show how you have contributed in the past and how you intend to contribute at Oxford. If you are getting the idea that you need to know something about the program before you respond to the question, you’re getting the right idea.

If you have specific ideas (along with relevant past experience), you can also mention how you will represent the school after you graduate.

2. How do you hope to see your career developing over the next five years? How will the MBA and Oxford assist you in the development of these ambitions?  (500 words)

This essay focuses on shorter-term goals – the one MBA year and the four years following.  Describe your target post-MBA position, give an example or two of preferred organizations, and describe what you expect to do in that role.  Also, explain briefly why you are choosing this path, what motivates you.  Then sketch how you will likely advance over the four years – this time frame may include one company move or new position, but probably not more than that.  Finally, identify aspects of the program most important to you – those that will yield skills and knowledge relevant to your goals, and/or are meaningful to you for personal reasons.  

3. Please chose and answer one of the two essays below:

Sport is pure competition. What does it teach us about companies, individuals, and markets? (500 words)


The business of business is business. Is this true? (500 words)

Both of these options challenge you to express your thoughts about concepts related to business.  Therefore, they both present the danger of luring you to expound for 500 words in abstract terms about competition, the nature of business, etc.  Please do the opposite.  Whichever question you choose to answer, and whatever point you posit, ground your essay and your argument in specific examples, details, and/or experience.  That will make it both interesting and credible.  As for which to answer, which one elicits your interest and ideas?  Don’t hold back and be bland and mild in your opinions.  The adcom is looking for people who have something to say and can make a case for their ideas. 

Reapplicant Essay What improvements have you made in your candidacy since you last applied to the Oxford MBA programme? (Maximum 250 words)

This is they key question for all MBA reapplicants. What has changed that will make you a more compelling applicant this year than you were last time you applied?

If you would like professional guidance with your Oxford Said MBA application, please consider Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our  MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the Oxford application.

Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.

Oxford Said 2014 MBA Application Deadlines:

Application Deadline Decision Notification
Round 1 September 13, 2013 October 18, 2013
Round 2 October 25, 2013 November 29, 2013
Round 3 January 10, 2014 February 28, 2014
Round 4 March 14, 2014 April 11, 2014
Round 5 April 25, 2014 May 23, 2014
Round 6 May 30, 2014 June 27, 2014

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.