Writing About Your Experiences Abroad

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Ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role other than window-dressing.

You’ve done it – you studied, worked, or volunteered abroad and now you want to include part of this in your personal statement. Maybe you want to show that you’ve experienced a different culture or that you’ve managed to go outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve had interesting experiences – met people, climbed mountains, or lived without air-conditioning. Or maybe you had the opportunity to help people who genuinely needed it.

But, at this point, you’ve also realized that many other applicants have similar experiences, and you are right. While the experience may have been transformative for you, requiring you to learn how to operate without your usual safety net in a foreign environment, you need to ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role in your essay as something other than window-dressing.

There’s an Onion article which jokes that someone’s short work experience in Africa allowed her to post a better Facebook photo, and, without the proper analysis, descriptions of abroad experiences can feel the same way in an admissions essay. Often, I read essays with lush descriptions of exotic scenery and people who speak different languages, yet you the writer – the most important person – stays the same. Without showing admissions committees why a study abroad experience was transformative, these types of stories simply blend together and give the impression that you were there simply to add another notch to your resume.

So, what should you do? Studying abroad can be a pivotal moment in your personal journey, but a personal statement needs to explain exactly why. If, indeed, gaining experience with other cultures was important to you at that stage, what exactly did you learn? It can’t be enough to just give a story about someone you met while traveling, you have to explain why that person changed you. An admissions committee member once told me that it mattered less what an applicant’s experience was, what mattered was how she talked about it. Even the most seemingly dull experience can be transformative to someone who is really paying attention.

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Jessica PishkoCheck out Jessica Pishko's bio! graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels.


Related Resources:

• Two Ways to Reveal Leadership in Your Applications
What is Passion in Admissions?
7 Signs an Experience Belongs in Your Application Essay

Georgetown McDonough 2015 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

Check out the rest of our 2015 MBA application essay tips!Georgetown McDonough, the top MBA program at the intersection of business and government, takes advantage of its Washington D.C. location, its connections to the greater Georgetown University community, and its Jesuit roots while at the same time time focusing on the global nature of twenty-first century business.  Your application should show that you need the education provided by McDonough to achieve your goals and that you wholeheartedly embrace its values.


Essays should all be double-spaced using 12pt. font. Prepare your attachments offline in separate document files and upload them individually. Please follow the instructions regarding length of each attachment, and label each page with your name.

1. Why You? (Hint: We are looking for an answer that cannot be found from research on our website.) (750 words or fewer)

This question is all about fit. It is an attempt by Georgetown to learn about you and why you think you are a good fit for Georgetown and Georgetown is a good fit for you.  Georgetown wants to see how you think and come to a major decision.

There are lots of different ways to approach this essay. Clearly you shouldn’t spit back the McDonough web site. If you can, talk to current students about the culture and distinctive elements of the program to gain a deeper understanding of it. You also need to reflect on the reasons you personally would choose McDonough. Why is it the best program for you?

You could start with a highly influential experience that influence your decision to pursue an MBA, go into more depth about what you hope to achieve and why you believe Georgetown is the best place for you to achieve it.

Alternatively, you could start with a day in the future where you attain your goal and then circle back to discuss the development of that goal and McDonough’s role in helping you achieve it. You can also discuss how you intend to contribute to McDonought’s community.

In short, why should McDonough accept you? How will you make the school proud that they did?

Optional Essays:

1. If you are not currently employed full-time, use this essay to provide information about your current activities. (250 words or fewer)

Show them that you are using this period to acquire new skills, contribute to your community, or grow in some way.

2. Please provide any information that you would like to add to your application that you have not otherwise included. (500 words or fewer)

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

Re-Applicant Essay:

How have you strengthened your candidacy since your last application? We are particularly interested in hearing about how you have grown professionally and personally. (500 words or fewer)

This is a key question (whether asked explicitly or not) for all reapplicants to any MBA program. What has changed? How are you “new and improved” since last year — when you were rejected? Georgetown does you the favor of providing this explicit prompt so you can address this question while retaining the ability to address the main essay.

If you would like professional guidance with your Georgetown McDonough School 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 Georgetown McDonough MBA application.

Georgetown McDonough 2015 MBA Application Deadlines:

Application Deadline Decision Notification
 Round 1  October 10, 2014  December 20, 2014
 Round 2  January 5, 2015  March 20, 2015
 Round 3  April 1, 2015  May 15, 2015

Linda Abraham By , president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.


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

Related Resources:

2015 MBA Application Essay Tips
Optional Essays: When and How to Write Them
• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your MBA Application Essays

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An Indian B-School Hopeful Racking Up the Work Experience

MBA Applicant Bloggers


This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA applicant bloggers, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the MBA application process. And now…introducing Balaji.

Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What is your favorite non-school book? 

Balaji: I’m based on out Bangalore, India. I currently work as a Program Management Analyst in a Fortune 100 company. I did my undergrad in Bachelor of Engineering (Electronics & Instrumentation Engineering) from Anna University, Chennai.

I love reading fictional and history books. My favorite ones have been Dan Brown’s series and my most favorite book related to history is Glimpses of World History by Nehru.

Accepted: What stage of the admissions process are you up to? 

Balaji: I did not start my application process yet. As I currently only have 3 and a half years of experience. And after thorough study, I thought I would require 5 years of experience to have a good chance of getting into top b-schools as the average WE is 5 years.

Last year, I tried applying to one b-school to get some experience in the application process. But I was dinged without interview, and I think it was due to my WE, as I had only 2 years of experience while applying.

Accepted: Do you plan on staying in your current industry post-MBA, or changing to a new field/career?

Balaji: I haven’t decided on that yet. I wanted to stay in my field for sometime post-MBA, as I love Project/Program Management – rather to generalize I love management/operational stuffs.

Also I have a plan to start my own business at some point in future.

Accepted: As an Indian male in the software industry (a highly represented applicant group), you’re going to need to work hard to distinguish yourself from the crowd. What are some things that set you apart from your competition? 

Balaji: Yes, I belong to Indian-Male category but not in software industry any more. My previous employer was a top 15 IT service provider in the world. But as soon I was done with my undergrad, I wanted to pursue an MBA. So I avoided any software related jobs in my previous employer, so I worked as Enterprise Project Management Analyst. After 3 years working with CGI. I moved to Honeywell (here I work for Aero Division). I thought working in Fortune 100 Company will make my profile/application more visible and strong.

Now moving onto distinguishing myself from the highly represented group, below are my extra-curricular activities I presently do/did during my work, undergrad and high school.

A.    Student Coordinator in National Entrepreneurship Network during my last 2 years of my undergrad.

B.    Core Cultural Committee member during my last 2 years of my undergrad – in charge/single point of contact for all technical related activities.

C.    Was a Sergeant of National cadet corps in my high school.

D.    Was a vice-captain of my high school football (soccer) team.

E.    Was core member in corporate social responsibility team at my previous employer. We conducted many charity and fundraiser events for orphanages, etc.

F.    Certified Competent Communicator and Competent leader from Toastmasters International. And also served as Vice President Education for 2 terms.

G.    Finally was a core member in Employee Welfare Association club at my previous employer.

On Entrepreneurship: My in-law runs an event management company. I take care of the business when he is held up with other important works or on travel.

Accepted: Why did you decide to blog about your experience? What have you gained from the experience? What do you hope others will learn?

Balaji: There isn’t a better way than forums and blogs to tell everyone around the world who is currently preparing for the GMAT/MBA application that it is easy to get into top b-school with your efforts and perseverance. I thought, if I start blogging about my experience I can learn my mistakes. (In PM terminology: We always to tend to document our project plan and risks etc., so that it will be helpful for the lessons learnt at the end of the project.)

And for others, there will always be room to improve from one’s own mistakes from others’ mistakes/experiences.

You can read more about Balaji’sb-school journey by checking out his blog, GNPTH: My GMAT/MBA Journey. Thank you Balaji for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages.

MBA admissions tips for Indian applicants! Download Free.

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Related Resources:

GMAT 101 Page
Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One
Entrepreneurship & the MBA

Is Your MBA Application Ready to Go Live?

FinalCheck1Wait! Are you sure you’re ready to hit submit? Are you certain that your MBA application is in tip-top condition and ready to go live? Don’t you want a definitive stamp of approval? An A+ grade that will enable you to send off your application with confidence?

With Accepted’s new Final Check service, you’ll receive a final review and critique of your essays, resume, and short answer/optional question responses. Our expert consultants will let you know what you can do to further optimize your application to get it ready for submission.

Now’s the time to get your Final Check…especially with the following deadlines right around the corner:

• Sept. 23 – MIT Sloan
• Sept. 24 – INSEAD and Kellogg
• Sept. 26 – Booth
• Oct. 1 – Stanford, Haas, Johnson, and Wharton

Give Your MBA Application that Final Check!

Submit with confidence! Get your Final Check today!

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