ESSAY #2 “Demonstrate How You Will Contribute to the School…”
With the upcoming application cycle getting closer, I have decided once again to connect with guest author Kofi Kankam, Co-founder & Director or Admit Advantage, an MBA advisory company. Kofi’s earlier articles include “I have a weakness – GPA” and ESSAY #1 Be Succinct but Responsive to the Questions. Here, Kofi discusses a key aspect of the MBA application- demonstrating how you will contribute to the school.
Take it from here, Kofi…
Every program, and certainly the top schools request within the MBA application that each prospective student indicate “how they will contribute to the school”. Of course, if the situation was that obvious and prospects didn’t flub it – frequently, we would not be spending your time and ours missing reruns of Law & Order and the lead-up to the baseball playoffs reading and writing this short vignette. The schools never ask the question that directly as the request can come in many forms and even sometimes as part of other questions. These forms may include:
- “Why do you want to go to ‘School X’”
- “Trace your career progression”
- “How will you introduce yourself to your classmates”
Be Aware of What the School Actually Wants To Know!
With the question never stated directly and candidates already not aware of the need to answer this question generally (even if it is not asked specifically), the potential for death by negligence is exceptionally high. Too often, as MBA admissions consultants, we see MBA admissions essays which show only the perspective of why the candidate wants to attend an MBA program as opposed to what he/she is seeking to contribute. While these feelings may be true in answering the question about why you want to go to School X, it is critical for MBA applicants to balance this focus on what they will derive from the program with a focus on what they will offer. The reasons that candidates typically offer are:
- Fulfilling a lifelong dream
- Ability to become very financially successful, nab the corner office, drive the Benz, and hope to tee it up with Phil Mickelson, or trade ground strokes with Serena (don’t get her angry), etc…you get the point
Set Yourself Apart From the Pack…
Of course, those are the reasons, but how does that help an admissions committee member who is trying to decide which one out of five, six or ten MBA applicants deserves a seat in a program? Not very much. Neither does praising the school to no end, recounting the rankings, detailing famous alumni who have attended, deals that have occurred led by specific alumni, etc….Do you remember how annoying it was in high school when all the people trying to date you would just endlessly fawn all over you and tell you how great you are? Wait….I don’t remember either. But, when I observed it, I realized that the person who often “won” that contest often really made an impression on how they were going to make things fun, interesting, better for the person they were dating. They didn’t just praise them to the high heavens. Remember, you’re applying to impress MBA admissions, not to get a job with the school’s brochure committee.
Write From a Different Perspective.
Your MBA essay writing needs to include a focus on the admissions committee’s perspective. While they certainly want to verify that you possess the intellectual horsepower, ability to do the work, likelihood of gaining employment, and desire to attend their specific program, the great MBA candidates (or at least those who prepare great MBA applications – not necessarily the same thing) offer much more: They appeal to the MBA admissions committee’s desire to assemble a class which has unique individuals capable and committed to making a unique contribution to the MBA community. Once you have demonstrated you are admissible by the aforementioned standards, the MBA admissions committee is most concerned about “fit” which is largely your ability to enhance the experience for your other MBA classmates. Do you wonder who gets admitted to very competitive programs? Those people who make the programs better for others.
So, as an MBA applicant, you should include a focus on how you will contribute in a few key areas:
- Academically within the classroom
- Academically beyond the classroom (i.e. “learning/study teams”)
- With regard to your extracurricular activities
- With regard to being an alumnus (where you will spend most of your days)
Transplant yourself into the shoes of an MBA admissions officer who is composing their class for the demanding professors to educate. When you write your MBA essays, be sure to indicate how you will leave your mark beyond your career in the pursuit of impacting others and you will be well-situated to make a competitive run.
Thanks for reading and reach out if Admit Advantage can help you,
|Anthony is a test prep and admissions expert in Orange County, CA. Click here to read more articles from The Princeton Review and to learn more about The Princeton Review's GMAT services.|
If you liked this article, let Anthony Russomanno know by clicking Like.
Business schools look for candidates who not only have something to gain from an MBA program, but also something to contribute. Think about that. What can you contribute to an MBA class? We invite you to explore the different types of contributions you can demonstrate through your application and then to meet two students who have already answered this question. You might also want to take a look at our guide to crafting your best MBA application.
We also know that if you aren't yet sure you see yourself as an MBA candidate, you may not feel ready to even approach the "What can you contribute" question, and that's okay—you’ll soon discover that self-reflection is a big part of the MBA application process.
Demonstrating your work experience, academic potential, and passion to an MBA program
The application review process for the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA, Full-time MBA, and Berkeley MBA for Executives programs is quite holistic, meaning that your whole application is examined to determine the value of your experience and expertise.
"We look at every aspect of someone's candidacy to evaluate program contributions and make that final decision," says Eileen Jacob, senior assistant director of admissions of MBA Programs for Working Professionals. "This includes looking at applicants' job responsibilities, investments they’ve made in their team and department, impacts they've made at their companies, formal and informal leadership experience, and opportunities they've taken advantage of with professional organizations or events and clubs at work. We also look at contributions outside of work, including community involvement, active membership or leadership in organizations, and interest in various hobbies or causes.”
Tip: Look at other areas of your life in which you're already making a contribution, and think about how what you bring could translate to business school.
“When considering academic potential, we examine undergraduate and any graduate transcripts and overall academic progress in chosen areas of study. We also notice when applicants take an active role in making themselves as competitive as possible. For example, some Berkeley MBA applicants show initiative by bolstering their quantitative abilities with math courses like the UC Berkeley Extension Math for Management course.”
“Aside from professional and academic experience, we want to see students who have drive and who are getting their MBA because they have passion for their career plans and for creating new opportunities for the future. If you're showing those areas of excitement early on, you will get us more interested in learning how you can contribute to the Berkeley MBA community."
One applicant's approach: underscoring design thinking experience
Shivam Goyal, senior product manager at Adobe Systems and a second year student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program, evaluated his potential contributions by examining his past, and he recommends that other applicants do the same.
"It is important not to discount the uniqueness of your own journey," says Shivam. "Admissions committees care less about big achievements or awards and more about personal anecdotes that will help them assess you as human being. When you dig deep and think about what triggered the events in your life to get you where you are today, it helps you understand and demonstrate who you are.”
Tip: Focus less on big achievements and awards and more on personal anecdotes that let admissions committees get to know you as a human being.
“Self-reflection helped me think about what I am bringing to the program, why that makes me unique, and what past events shaped my work and education experiences. For example, I started off as a design thinker. When I saw problems in the area where I was growing up, such as people not having universal access to information because of the digital divide between rural and urban populations and the lack of technology penetration in all strata of the society, it instilled a sense of humility and keenness to solve difficult social problems and made me think about the benefits of a design education."
"I started off as a user experience designer and was really close to the customer in terms of building the product. I started thinking about how I could contribute more by influencing product strategy at its inception and moved into a product management role. In that role, I realized the need for gaining business acumen to compliment my design and technology background. That's what led me to an MBA program.”
“The design experience I acquired in undergraduate school and at work was unique to me and I thought it might be something valuable that I could bring to the program. I knew I could talk about customer empathy and solving real-world cases for a particular user problem to get the right outcome when introducing a product into the market. When I started writing my essays, I pushed myself to think and write about those experiences so that I could really tell a story about me as a person."
Sharing thoughts on how you'd add value both inside and outside the classroom
Sera Lee, bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco and a first year student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program, did a lot of research prior to applying to the program and realized that her work experience was one of her most valuable assets.
"Looking at the statistics, I knew that fewer Evening & Weekend MBA students were on the banking side," says Sera. "When considering what I could contribute to the program, I thought about how I could provide the value of my work experience in classes like ethics, finance, or macroeconomics. I figured I could be the voice of the banking industry and share some of the experiences that I have gone through in my work. And by being around people in different industries, I have been able to learn what's going on in their worlds.”
Tip: Check out the class profile to see if you bring experience that is under-represented
“I also have a passion for community volunteering. In my admissions essay, I wrote about the possibility of creating a program or student club committed to volunteering as an example of how I could contribute to the program outside of class."
Sera recommends that applicants do a lot of research in order to figure out which MBA program is the best fit for their contributions, but she also encourages them to be open to exploring.
"I sometimes tell my friends that they should get an MBA, and they tell me they don't see themselves as a 'business person' or a 'leader type.' I'm sure all of us have thought that at one time during the pre-application or application process. It's important to be open to exploration and change. Don't let the voice inside your head prevent you from taking that step forward. If you're open to learning, being adventurous, and meeting new people, you're ready to contribute to an MBA class."