Essay 1:  Describe the most courageous professional decision you have made or action you have taken. What did you learn from that experience? (500 words maximum)

When selecting a topic for this question notice that they are looking for a professional decision – so don’t stray into personal or extracurricular activities. The key to this question is to make a very compelling case as to why your decision or action was so courageous. Many applicants will fall into the trap of describing a tough decision, but something that is “normal” or “typical” for their level in the organization. Think hard and find a time where the situation called for leadership – a time where you had to step up, go against the grain, tackle a tough issue, or handle a risky situation.   The most compelling essay will be one that convinces the reader that he or she was truly faced with a decision that required courage and then describe in narrative form how you either took action or made that decision. Make sure you expose your thoughts and emotions behind the decisions/actions you took.  When I finish reading your essay, I should not only know what decision you made, but I should also have a sense of how you think, what kind of person you are, and what makes you "tick" .  Don’t forget to talk about what you learned from the whole experience. The lessons we learn are what shape us as individuals and can also help you stand out with this essay question.

Essay 1:  What matters most to you and why? (750 words)

Introspection is the foundation for this first essay, which has become a hallmark classic for Stanford. “What matters most and why”, forces the applicant to take a deep look at themselves and truly articulate at a granular level what matters most. Our essay advice is to spend most of your time reflecting on the “What”, but in doing so understanding the “Why”. We recommend getting advice from others, either professional or not, who can help you explore potential themes through your life, which will enable you to get to the “why” – that is the key to this question. One of our clients expressed that the best portion our services was brainstorming for his Stanford essay. He cited,

“my consultant pushed me to reflect deeper and deeper, which provided me with an honest self-assessment and truly made me realize my core values – a realization that will make anyone feel more empowered.”

Essay 1:  The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice.  Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities.   (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

MIT focuses heavy this year on the concepts of developing leaders who are principled, innovative, and will improve the world. But, what does that really mean? When answering this essay question, I advise my clients to first define what it means to them to be a principled, innovative leader. What does it mean to  “change the world and advance management practice?”   Once you are able to define what those terms mean to you– then your essay will be more personal and you'll more effectively answer the ultimate question -  how you will advance their mission. Utilize strong examples from your past work or other activities to provide “evidence” that you are the type of person you defined and the type of person MIT is looking add to their class roster!


Essay 1: Required Question: What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)

Very straightforward question again this year. Even though Wharton is not asking for your career goals, I do think you need to give them a little context by providing a quick overview of what you plan to do with an MBA (e.g.  your professional objectives).  From there you can branch out an answer what you hope to gain specifically from the Wharton MBA! Notice that you have answer both personally and professionally, so make sure you touch on both aspects. See my blog post on “Career Goals” for further information when answering this question. As for the personal gains – try to dig deep and really think what you will gain from this experience. Steer clear of cliché responses such as alumni network, a strong support system, leadership and/or managerial skills. They are overused, too high-level, and not specific to you or to Wharton.

ESSAY:  There is one essay question, technically optional, for the HBS application:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

HBS adds this tip to the essay prompt:

There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.


This is the same question as last year so we finally have some “data” as to what kinds of essays gained notice from the admissions committee.   The final verdict – GO PERSONAL!   We found that those individuals that truly dug deep and revealed personal aspects/traits about themselves has the greatest success rate.  

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