This intriguing set of essay questions seeks to distill those applicants who are bold thinkers; who discern, or even better, create connections among disparate elements; and who have the will and the ability to transform sometimes difficult or uncomfortable ideas into effective action – all in one person. A person who also possesses “leadership performance, global perspective, and functional expertise.” These questions and the values they reflect accurately represent a university renowned for innovation generally, and for an MBA program famous for management innovation. While the statement of purpose challenges you to succinctly create your portrait as an applicant, the three essay questions, each in their own way, ask you to follow the arc of grabbing onto or defining an idea, finding synergies, and taking action. That basic arc reveals that the MIT EMBA adcom is not just interested in your engaging thought process or in your stellar achievements, but in the dynamic connection between them. People who have fundamentally mastered this arc are the people best suited to this EMBA program. Another notable aspect of the three essay questions is that they ask you to put yourself on the line, to take a stand. It appears that the adcom also seeks a certain quality of character.
In an overall plan for the essays, the statement of purpose works as a context, a positioner, an opening pitch. You will describe experiences in each of the three essays (although essay 1 doesn’t explicitly ask for it, you should still integrate actual experience in the answer), so strategically try to select experiences that are somewhat different from each other, to give a comprehensive and broad view. Also, it’s advisable to discuss fairly recent experiences, to allow the adcom to see you working at a high level and in relevant circumstances.
Statement of Purpose. Please provide a statement indicating your qualifications and why you are pursuing the MIT Executive MBA (500 words or less, limited to one page)
Again, this is your portrait – your candidacy at a glance. Will it be full length or head-and-shoulders? Will it have a realistic background or a wash of color? Will it be naturalistic or abstracted? Will it contain other objects or not? Will you look directly at the viewer or into the distance? There are a lot of questions in painting a portrait, and there are a lot of questions in answering the open question that a statement of purpose represents. It shouldn’t just convey facts – it should have a point of view and a message, and if you decide on these first, it will help you select and elaborate the content.
Beware of a pitfall: in discussing qualifications, do not present a list of accomplishments that repeats your resume in prose format. Also, don’t present all your qualifications. Think and select carefully which qualifications to discuss. Focus 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 the qualities (directly or indirectly) noted in the introductory section. Don’t just make it a did-this-did-that discussion; have a short meaningful point to make about each qualification, such as the insight it lends or its influence on you.
For why you are pursuing the MBA, presumably the reason relates to your professional goals and objectives. However, do not focus only what you want to do, i.e., become the CIO, but also on what you want to accomplish for the organization and/or its customers/market.
Essay 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. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
How does the above-defined arc play out in this question? In answering this question, you should clarify two key ideas: what you consider a principled, innovative leader, and what “improving the world” means to you – i.e., take a stand. (This essay question appeared last year, and sometimes people were tempted to answer it blandly, as if everyone knows or agrees on what these points are – doing so only sounds evasive.) Next, identify and articulate the synergies of these ideas with the program’s stated mission. And, finally, action – what you will contribute. However, don’t cast the whole essay in the future tense – all the things you’re going to do. It ends up not sounding credible. What makes a gripping, memorable essay is real experience and example. Your answer will have more credibility if you cite a previous time or two when you already have contributed toward the stated mission. In discussing how you will do so in the future, don’t list of 10 ways, but identify 1 to 3 and provide some succinct but meaningful discussion of them. Your future contributions may be related to your goals, or you may cite other initiatives.
Essay 2. Please describe a time when you challenged established thinking or an existing system. What did you do, and how did you do it? (500 words or less, limited to one page)
This essay will essentially tell a story – a story of when you took a stand. Don’t hold back. Show the adcom that you can mix it up and that you don’t shy away from the rough-and-tumble of the business frontier. If you are challenging established thinking or an existing system, it is because you perceive a problem with one or the other in some way – start the essay right there, with your identification of this issue. So you see this problem. Eventually you’ll take some action. But between the identification part and the action part comes the thought-and-decision part: what were your ideas, your thought process, for how to tackle the issue, and how did you decide on what action to take? Presumably in this thought process you would be looking for synergies among the possible actions you could take and the people, organizations, and/or principles involved. Once you decide what to do, you do it – describe how you implement your decision and plan. A nice structure for this essay is a short opening paragraph showing the problem you perceive, the next paragraph addressing how you decide what to do, and a couple of paragraphs detailing the actions you took and the outcome.
Note that the question does not specify a particular situation or setting. But there should be real stakes. And it ideally will be fairly recent, in the last few years.
Essay 3. Please give an example of a time when you needed to use knowledge from outside your role in order to achieve an organizational goal. (500 words or less, limited to one page)
Another story question, another straightforward narrative essay. Again, start the essay with the moment of recognition: you encounter the situation in your organization that makes you realize the need for outside knowledge. Walk through your thinking – be specific about how you come to this conclusion. Discuss how you pursue the knowledge and your thoughts or concerns about how to introduce or present this knowledge to your organization – the synergies. Finally, describe your actions; how you presented the outside knowledge, the responses to it (and your responses to the responses if there was some resistance), and the outcome.
Application review for the Class of 2013 will be opened on April 1, 2011, and will close at noon on June 30, 2011. Classes begin in October 2011.
For one-on-one guidance through the MIT Sloan Executive MBA application, process please check out Accepted.com’s MIT Sloan Application Package or our other Executive MBA essay editing and admissions consulting assistance.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Success, The Consultants’ Guide to MBA Admission, The EMBA Edge, and author of several articles and the free, email mini-course, “Ace the EMBA.” Also author of the NEW online mini-course, Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Choosing the One for You.
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