Nov 26, 2021

MBA Essay Tips for Ivy League Business Schools

If you’re reading this article, chances are you are trying to get accepted at an Ivy League business school. But as you might already know, rising numbers of applications means more stringent admission guidelines and lower rates of acceptance overall. This past year’s admissions cycle actually had the lowest rates in history at all but one Ivy League school.

For every open position at an Ivy League MBA program, there are at least ten other applicants contesting it–and you are one of them! Most applicants to top-tier graduate schools might appear very similar on paper, since nearly all are academically well qualified, having high grades and test scores and likely involvement in a host of extracurricular activities. 

So how will the MBA admissions officer make the decision about who to admit and who to reject? In addition to the MBA interview, the MBA essay often makes the difference. The MBA application essay is the one chance for you to share a piece of yourself that does not appear in the basic numbers and test scores in your application. The application essay is therefore your opportunity to demonstrate why you’d be a perfect fit at the college, how you would contribute to the school environment, and why the college should admit you over other applicants

Business school admissions committees are concerned about more than just your GMAT scores and undergraduate GPA—they want to know who you are and why you belong in their program over other applicants. Your MBA essay must expand on your business school application and create a more complete candidate profile that demonstrates your character, what you have been involved in, and what positive attributes you will bring to their B-school.

Here are a few of our top MBA essay tips to keep in mind as you begin to write your application essay to Ivy League business schools.

Ivy League MBA programs have their own guidelines and standards for admissions essays.

How to Write a Strong MBA Application Essay for Ivy League Schools

While we can’t write your MBA essay for you, we can give you some advice on what to do (and what NOT to do) to compose a solid essay that will get you into some of the best MBA programs in the country. Keep in mind that these writing tips apply to most admissions essays, but they are especially true for an essay like the MBA application essay because of what is valued in the world of business. 

1. Convey that you are a proactive, self-directed person.

Business schools are seeking applicants who are leaders, not those content with merely doing what everyone else is doing. If you want to make an impact on the admissions officer, show both your uniqueness and your goal-driven personality in your essay. This does not mean literally writing the words “self-directed person,” but rather showing through your actions that you don’t let anything get in your way to achieve your personal goals.

2. Provide specific reasons why you would be a great fit for the program.

Simply writing that you would “be the ideal candidate for this program” will only make the reader yawn and move onto the next essay. You need to explain why you (rather than almost all other candidates) would be the ideal person to be admitted to this school and MBA program. This could be achieved by pointing to your background, personality, worth ethic, or any other personal element that might show the admissions officer why you belong at their school. 

3. Show boldness and passion in your writing.

Admissions officers want to know what makes you excited about your business pursuits–and about life and goals in general. This means you should show this passion in each endeavor worthy of being included in your admissions essay. If you write about a small business endeavor you started on your own, let your emotions about your deep interest in this work show. Likewise, if you had a negative experience at a job or class in your past, convey this experience through details that demonstrate your feelings and position (but don’t make it TOO negative). 

4. Use real-life examples (“show, don’t tell”)

Too many students use adjectives and abstract nouns to define their achievements. But it is much more effective to use concrete nouns and sensory details to explain what you have done, what you learned from the experience, and how you grew as a result. For instance, if you started an entrepreneurial project that succeeded, don’t just write about “how happy you were” or that “my project was highly successful.” Instead explain, for instance, what exact steps you took to achieve this result, what the result was, how much revenue your efforts earned, and how you changed your planning and outlook as a result. Showing versus telling is almost always a better way to paint a more detailed picture for your readers.

5. If you have an unorthodox story to tell, include it in your essay

Admissions officers appreciate those who take risks or venture into the path least traveled. Perhaps you graduated from college a decade ago and haven’t been engaged in a business profession for several years, but now you are returning to get your MBA and join a finance team at a reputable corporation. Such a path makes you a more interesting candidate than many other applicants, and to NOT include this would be to waste the chance to really show what makes you stand out. Additionally, if you have had any negative experiences or setbacks (such as legal or financial troubles), explaining these in your essay is a great way to avoid leaving crucial questions in the mind of the admissions officer. 

6. Discuss your unique identity as a gender, ethnic, racial, or other minority

In this day and age of the personal profile being paramount to building a brand and identity, including elements that are central to your own profile and identity can make you stand out from the crowd. However, be careful not to venture too much into political territory, as some more conservative business schools and programs might not be as receptive to essays with this kind of focus. In other words, know your audience, but do everything in your ability to appeal to them while truthfully representing yourself. 


MBA Essay Tips for Ivy League Business Schools

As every MBA program has their own unique sets of standards and guidelines–both for applications and admissions essays–it helps to be informed of this information ahead of time so you can successfully prepare all of your application materials. Use the following resources to read up on some key elements you may need to be aware of when applying to the Ivy League business school of your choice. 

Harvard Business School (Harvard University)

  • Visit the Harvard Business School Application page for detailed information on deadlines, application materials, and MBA essay prompts.
  • Main Essay Prompt for the Harvard MBA Essay for 2021-2022:
    • “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?” (no word limit)”
  • Tips for Writing the Harvard MBA Essay for 2021-2022
    • One former Harvard Business School admissions officer stresses the importance placed on the HBS admissions essay: “The essay really is make or break for HBS. So many applications have acceptable credentials up to that point of the application. It really is the essay that sets the overall application apart and earns it the interview.”
  • Click to view Harvard MBA Essay Examples

The Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania)

  • Visit the Wharton School Application information page to learn details about applying to Wharton, including deadlines and what to include in your admissions essay.
  • Information about the Wharton School essay prompts
    • There are usually two mandatory essay prompts for the Wharton MBA application, along with one optional prompt. There are also essays for those applying to joint-degree programs and an additional essay for applicants reapplying to Wharton. 
    • The Wharton MBA essay prompts tend to change yearly. However, most of the same topics and ideas in the essay questions remain consistent.
    • Examples of Wharton MBA essay prompts:
      • Essay 1: How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton. (500 words)
      • Essay 2: Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)
  • Wharton School essay for 2021-2022

Columbia Business School (Columbia University)

Tuck School of Business (Dartmouth College)

  • Visit the Tuck School of Business Application page for details on application deadlines, relevant materials, and MBA essay prompts.
  • Reading the Tuck School of Business MBA admissions essay questions is just the start when it comes to understanding what Tuck admissions officers are looking for in their applicants. As the headings on their essay explanation page note, “Tuck students are accomplished, impactful, and principled…Tuck students are aware, ambitious, and purposeful…Tuck students are encouraging, collaborative, and empathetic.”

The MBA admissions essay page includes some oblique-but-useful advice about the ideal traits in Tuck students that could help you when writing your essay:

“Your professional performance matters, as do community engagement and personal achievements. You are excellent at your job and impactful outside of it. And you have the results, progression, and endorsements to prove it. You also act with conviction, thrive in tough moments, and seek to win the right way. Your principled commitment to these behaviors, in both success and setback, will help you make bold decisions, solve problems, seize opportunities, and take the right risks at Tuck and beyond.”

Brown School of Professional Studies (Brown University)

  • Brown University offers a rather unique approach to the MBA program. The IE Business School and Brown University have created an alliance to offer a joint Executive MBA that extends beyond the bounds of traditional business education in most MBA programs.
  • Learn more about the Brown School of Professional Studies admissions and program details.

Yale School of Management (Yale University)

  • Learn more about the Yale SOM application process
  • Read the Yale MBA Essays for 2021-2022
  • One admissions officer shares her guidance for writing the SOM admissions essay: “The Admissions Committee cares less about the commitment you choose and more about the behaviors surrounding the commitment. You can choose a commitment from either your personal or work life—and each year there are many excellent essays on varied topics—but what makes them all great is that we come away learning something new about you as a person that helps us understand your values and motivations.”

MBA Essay Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid these common pitfalls students tend to make when writing an MBA admissions essay. 

1. Submitting an essay that doesn’t address the prompt or question

An essay that is off-topic or that merely repeats the details found in your resume or CV will annoy and bore MBA admissions officers. One good way to avoid redundancy in your essay is to create an essay outline before you even begin drafting. This will provide structure to your essay and help you ensure that you have fully answered the essay prompt and not included unnecessary or repeated information.

2. Filling essays with business or industry jargon.

Although you want to show admissions committees that you are competent and somewhat fluent in the language of business, adding too much jargon or buzzwords can make you appear disingenuous–or even pretentious. Rather, stick to the facts of who you are, what you did, and what your goals are. That way, you will appear more “human” and practical in your desire to climb the business ladder. 

3. Including poorly defined reasons for wanting to attain an MBA.

Admissions officers want to pass candidates who have well-defined goals and plans. Even if you are somewhat unsure about your future plans, you should at least be able to outline a business plan so that you appear to be a more prepared and goal-oriented applicant. 

4. Exceeding the recommended word limit

Being a graduate student (even at a business school) means paying attention to details and following guidelines. If you go over the word limit stated in your prompt or elsewhere on the B-school site, admissions officers could use this as an excuse to weed you out from the competitive Ivy League field and reject your application.

5. Making excuses for (or ignoring) issues in your past

If your academic record does not exactly reflect the kind of school life you want to lead (or at least would ideally want to share in an admissions essay), be honest and explain what the reasons were for any failures, indiscretions, or holes in your record. For instance, if your undergraduate grades were not so great, explain why this is and take accountability for it rather than blaming external forces. This can present a great opportunity to explain to admissions officers how you have grown and developed since that time and are now an excellent candidate for their MBA program.

6. Sending your essay to the wrong school, or using another school’s name in your essay

Admissions committees may be insulted when they see another school’s name or forms. Not only this, but they might also get the idea that you aren’t focused enough to even review your essay before pressing the “Send” button. A good rule of thumb is to never send the EXACT SAME essay to multiple schools. That way, even if the essays are relatively similar, you will be sure to go through and change all of the particular elements you intend to include when applying to one school or another.

7. Leaving typos and grammatical errors in your essay

“A sloppy application essay is indicative of an unfocused or lazy mind.” While this might not always be the case, when it comes to application essays, it might as well be an axiom. Keep in mind that business school admissions committees read through hundreds if not thousands of essays each admissions season. This makes it quite easy to use language and writing errors as justification for simply rejecting an essay outright. 

Your best bet for preparing your MBA essay before submitting it to Ivy League programs (or any other business schools or graduate programs) is to use an MBA essay editing service to proofread your essay and edit any issues with style, flow, and readability, and make an impression on admissions officials.

Best of luck to all the MBA applicants this year. Look for more helpful articles on essay writing on the Wordvice Admissions Resources page.