Scott Edinburgh
July 16, 2020

Less Is More When it Comes to Writing Compelling MBA Application Essays

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Nearly all MBA programs have confirmed their MBA application essays for 2020-2021 hopefuls. While some top programs including Harvard Business School, Kellogg, Dartmouth Tuck, Yale SOM and NYU Stern left their MBA application essays unchanged this year, many programs changed their essay prompts. Personal MBA Coach devotes considerable time to tracking all MBA essay questions and looking for trends and themes.

This year, shortening essays was a common trend!

A number of top schools including Michigan Ross, Stanford GSB, UCLA Anderson, and Duke Fuqua are asking candidates to write LESS! UCLA Anderson now has only one 250-word required essay (along with a few short answer questions which will be another ~200-250 words). Michigan Ross now requires only 400 words across all essays. Duke Fuqua reduced its 2-page essay to 300 words.

While many applicants may be excited by these reduced word counts, writing less is actually HARDER than writing more. It can be a challenge to summarize your life’s accomplishments into one or two short essays.

Personal MBA Coach spends the greatest amount of time with our clients on the actual editing process, helping clients maximize each available word. Even with MBA essays that have no word limits, it is crucial to be succinct.

Here are our top four tips for writing more with fewer words.

1) Resist the urge to include unrelated details

Business applicants are accomplished. Naturally, it can be tempting to try to include as many of these accomplishments as possible in your application essays. However, it is crucial that you avoid this urge.

For each application essay, think about what the question asks and why the admissions committee is asking this question. Do not include any detail that does not cover this what or why. For example, a question asking how an MBA will help does not require hundreds of words on your past professional success, however impressive it may be. Similarly, a question on career goals does not require you to explain the industry dynamics in detail or the reasons behind your perspective on the industry. With each sentence you add to your essays, consider the question you are actually answering. If it is not related to the question asked, cut it!

2) Avoid repetition

With limited words available to sell yourself, there is rarely a need to say anything twice. Regardless of how successful you might have been in your role, admissions committee members do not need to read about it multiple times. Whether you founded a non-profit, were the first in your class to be promoted, or were a Division I athlete, tell each story one time. While naturally you can (and should) touch on a broad theme or aspect of your personal story from multiple angles, this is not the same as repeating the same story.

3) Leverage all aspects of the application

As a natural extension of point 3, use all aspects of your application to your advantage. Even for schools requiring very short essays, there are countless other aspects of the application to pay attention to. Ensure every piece counts! Take the time to carefully craft answers to your short-answer questions. Prepare your recommenders to ensure their stories complement (but do not reiterate) yours. Use every line in your resume as efficiently as possible to show your leadership and success. In addition, video essays and pre/post interview essays provide other ways to sell yourself.

Leave plenty of time for these application extras.

In fact, Personal MBA Coach advises our round 1 clients to finish their essays by the end of July (and round 2 clients to finish by late November) whenever possible to allocate adequate time to other crucial MBA application components.

4) Look for every opportunity to trim words

As we have said countless times, edit, edit, edit. Ensure every word counts. If there is a way to say it more succinctly, do! Cutting excess words will lead to stronger writing while giving you extra space to cover details that really set you apart. You’d be surprised how a trained eye can cut 50-100+ words from a 400-word essay without deleting a single piece of true content.

Need help? Personal MBA Coach is willing to be your guide. Founded by a Wharton and MIT graduate, we regularly help applicants navigate their applications each year. We also conduct mock interviews with former M7 interviewers on our team.

Personal MBA Coach has been guiding candidates through all aspects of the MBA application process for 13 years with a 96% success rate. Call us today at +1 617-645-2424 or email for a free consultation on your profile along with how we can help make your MBA dreams a reality!

For more tips on how to write an MBA application essay, check out the following blogs:

How to Write a Business School Application Essay

How to Answer MBA Essay Questions: MBA Goals

MBA Application Assistance: Top Misconceptions