Business schools require 5 essays in average. The essay questions are published one month or 2 months before the deadline. However, you can start writing the essays much earlier. If you want to apply to one or two schools, check the essay topics of last year (you should easily find them on the schools' websites, or google them up). You can start working on those. Once the official topics are published you will have less work. Most of the times the changes from year to year are minor.
If you want to apply to more schools you can start by creating a General Application. There are topics that keep coming up every year. Once you write essays for the general application, you will be able to use these for each school. Write long essays, with many examples, so later on you can shorten them to fit to the school's actual essay.
The General Application Essays
I have applied to 8 schools, so I know what most business schools ask. I took the most frequent questions, and put them here on a list. I also wrote the name of the school from which I took the exact wording for the question. Don't be mistaken - those questions came up again and again in various wordings.
- Discuss your career goals. How will your past and present experiences help you achieve this? (LBS) What skills do you expect to gain from studying at SCHOOL and how will they contribute to your professional career. (INSEAD)
- Please give a detailed description of your job, including nature of work, major responsibilities and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, number of clients/products and results achieved. (INSEAD)
- Please give us 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? (INSEAD)
- Give a candid description of yourself, 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. (INSEAD)
- What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (HBS)
- Please describe your experience of working in and leading teams, either in your professional or personal life. (LBS)
- Please tell us about a time when you had an impact on a person, group, or organization. (MIT)
- Describe a failure or setback that you have experienced. How did you respond, and what did you learn about yourself? (Wharton)
- When have your values, ethics, or morals been challenged? How has this shaped who you are today? (Wharton)
How to go about writing an essay
For each question you need to brain storm first. Write down every option, every example, every thing that might be related. You have to realize that the essays are the only part of the application that the committee will learn about you. They need to know who you are, and why they should pick you for their school. Some tips:
1. Don't be modest - This is your only chance to show that the committee should choose you! If you don't feel that an activity, action, idea, contribution is an achievement - think again. Everything can be phrased as an achievement. You just need to write it in the proper way.
2. Be honest - you can't fool them. They can smell lies from miles. It can come up in the interview. It is easier to write an essay about the truth. You should have plenty of stuff to write about. But it is ok to exaggerate and embellish the truth in good taste.
3. Each essay should show different aspects of you. Try to make your application cover as much as possible - this way the admissions committee will see that you are a diverse and strong candidate that can contribute in various ways. Everything that is not covered in the essays, should be addressed in the recommendations (and the recommendations should support your essays). Note that sometimes there are short essays in the application form itself, which gives you a chance to cover more.
4. If you have more than one topic to write about, definitly write the essay more than once. This way you will have more material when you work on the real application. Also some examples and stories can be used in several questions, so you will have more flexibility when you assemble the pieces for the real applications.
5. Answer the question. Read it carefully, and if there is more than one part don't forget to address everything.
6. Don't waste words. Try to write in short and decisive manner. This way you can tell more things about yourself.
7. Don't use offensive, cynical, definitive words. Always leave room for someone with opinions that are different than yours (you should be decisive, but show that there is a 0.001% that you might be wrong). Don't use rethorical questions.Writing the real essays
Start from the earliest application deadline. The school will publish the essay questions about 1-2 months before the deadline. First, plan! Read all the questions and decide what you want to write about in each question. Than pick stuff from the general application and make the needed adaptation so that your application will fit the school.
1. Make sure that the application is in coordination with your strategy, and that you covered as much a spossible.
2. You should use stuff from your general application. Remember that each school looks for different things, so you might want to change some paragraphs. Also - schools don't like getting generic application - they want to make sure that the application was written especially for them. So make the essays fit the school.
3. Don't go over the word limit. But use every word you can. In each sentence rephrase it so it will be as short as possible. Than if you have more words think about adding new things. If you don't have anything to add, you can add words to the essays in order to make it longer.
4. The schools care about YOU - NOT your story. They don't care about the details, and they don't care about your company or your team. It is very tempting to write half of the essays about the story - because you don't have to dig deep. But you have to remember that they care about what you did, felt, said, and thought. So write the story background in short (if you do it correctly you will be able to tell only the important part and make it interesting), and then focus on your actions. Tell them what you have learnt. Tell them how did you make an impact. Tell them how you can improve and grow. Show that you are a leader.
5. There is always an optional essay to include. USE THIS ESSAY. You can include an essay that covers a topic that you were not able to address in your application.
6. Read the entire application and see that you addressed everything. See that your application is suitable for this specific school. See that you did not contradict yourself. If there is a strength that you want to show, add it to one of the essays.
7. Make sure that you covered: Your leadership skills. Your teamwork ability. Your knowledge of English. Brand names. Your business skills (if there are any). Your intellectual abilities. Your international experience. Your extra-curricular activities (voulenteer and community contributions).
The Career Goals Essays
One of the essays is always: "What are your career goals? Why MBA? Why Now? Why our school?".
This essay is the most important, and it should be different for each school. In this essay you should include a short passage about your short and long term career goals. You might want to include a short description of your career progress.
Tell them why their school is best for your needs. Show that you need to aquire some skills (2 or 3), that those skills are best taught in their school, and show examples and facts based on your research (from the school website, and students/alumni). Give specific courses, clubs, faculty, facilitis, activities, etc. Show that you know their school and that you fit. Tell them how you can contribute to their student body.
The essays should show the committee who you are, what drives you, and why they should pick you for their schools. Make sure that the application fit the school and your strategy. Write short and to the point. Tell an interesting story - be unique.
I believe that this part is the most important, so you should work hard on it.