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How to Find a Powerful B-School Admission Essay Topic
By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe

Nobody said it was going to be easy to think of the greatest achievement that you've accomplished in the past 20- or 30-something years of your life. It's even more of a challenge when you have to encapsulate it in a few hundred words. But that's exactly what business schools are asking you to do—and not just your greatest achievement, but also why you want to attend business school, why their school is the best fit for you and what you have to offer your fellow b-school students.

It's no wonder that many students are nervous wrecks when it comes time to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write their admission essays. But before you even begin writing, you need to do some thinking. A successful business school essay is not only written well, but it also conveys insightful thoughts and relevant examples from your experiences. It shows your ability to analyze your past, present and future as well as express how an MBA fits into your overall life goals. The following steps will help guide you through the process of finding a killer topic.

Know the question you need to answer.

One of the most common complaints from admission officers is that applicants do not answer their questions in the essay. Don't fall into this trap. Tape the list of questions above your computer, on your bathroom mirror or inside your refrigerator to remind you of what you need to answer.

In general, you'll find that most questions fall into one of three major categories:

  • Why do you want to attend business school?

  • Why did you choose this particular institution?

  • What value will you add to this school?

The wording may differ among schools, but the bottom line is that admissions officers want to understand your reasons for attending business school, how you think you will fit into their institution and what special skills and talents you bring to the class.

Brainstorm a topic, starting with you!

Moms were always good at asking those impossible-to-answer questions. Remember when yours would ask, "What do you want to do with the rest of your life?" Or how about the time she asked if the person you were dating was "the one"? These difficult, highly personal questions that mothers are famous for asking are very similar to the types of questions you'll find on the typical business school application.

The questions business schools ask require you to search deep into your heart and soul and really ask yourself some honest, introspective questions. So if your mom hasn't done so already, now is the time to ask yourself these serious questions about what you've done that you are proud of, why you want an MBA and how the degree fits into your future plans. Fortunately, the answers to these questions will form the basis of your admission essays.

Grab a sheet of paper and start scribbling some answers to the following Mom-inspired questions:

  • What made you decide to attend business school?

  • How have you demonstrated leadership?

  • What tangible contributions have you made as an employee?

  • What is your biggest workplace success? Failure?

  • Why is it essential for you to get an MBA? Why pursue it at this point in your life?

  • What makes you unique?

  • What is the most difficult thing you have done? Why did you do it?

By answering these types of questions, you will be able to generate a list of your most meaningful influences, experiences and beliefs. This list will provide all the examples and themes that you will use when answering various essay questions.

Always ask "why".

You could really cheat yourself out of a great essay when answering the questions in Step 2 by only focusing on the obvious. If you answered the question about the most difficult thing that you have done by writing, "Climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro," you've only partially completed the answer. You need to ask "why." Why did you climb it? (Hopefully, not just because it was there.) Harness and use the full strength of your analytical ability. Remember, business schools want students who can break down and examine problems and issues. Apply this type of evaluation to your essay topics. The truth is that your essay is also a demonstration of your ability to analyze as much as it is a test of your ability to communicate.

About the Author

Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Accepted! 50 Successful Business School Admission Essays

By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
With fierce competition to get into business school, your admission essays are one of the most important factors in whether or not you are accepted. This book helps you craft essays that market your strengths to b-schools while avoiding the most common mistakes.

Learn More