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!
By Cindy Tokumitsu, 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.