Scott Edinburgh
November 15, 2022

Guiding Principles for MBA Essay Writing

Wondering what it takes to write the best MBA application essays?

Personal MBA Coach publishes detailed tips on how to approach most of the top MBA application questions to download our e-book on how to approach the M7 essays. While of course, Personal MBA Coach clients received details and customized advice through our comprehensive packages, there are some key essay writing and editing basics that hold true regardless of the essay question or school.

Whether you are targeting Round 2 and facing the task of writing your MBA application essays on tight deadlines or whether you are thinking ahead to round 3 or next year, Personal MBA Coach would like to share the most important essay writing tips. And these bear repeating.

First of all, let’s talk about the basics of the essay writing process. We advise our candidates to follow a 5-step process as they develop their application essays, leaving adequate time for each stage: 1. Brainstorm, 2. Outline, 3. Draft, 4. Edit and edit again, 5. Proof.

  1. Brainstorm each essay question one at a time. For those applying early decision, start with ED essays first. Otherwise, begin with the essay that seems easiest or comes most naturally to you, as your writing will improve throughout the process. In developing potential topics, consider your relevant strengths, experiences, and accomplishments: choose those that bring the most to the table.
  2. Before you begin to develop prose, outline the key points you hope to cover in a sequence that flows logically. Pay special attention to the length you are going to allot to each section of the essay.
  3. Once you have a solid outline, begin to put together your first draft. At this stage, it is ok if your writing is not perfect. Most first drafts will be a bit longer than the final product, but make sure you have the substantive points in place and that they flow together well.
  4. Editing is the most time-consuming part of the essay writing process, particularly if you have written much too much in the initial draft. Be critical of what needs to be there and what does not, and make sure you remove extraneous or superfluous material. Fine-tune your writing to make sure that the structure, verbs, and vocabulary all serve to make your thinking clear. Avoid repetition and be concise.
  5. And finally, proofread. If you are not great at spelling or grammar or even generally at writing, ask someone who is good at those things to read your essay. A fresh set of eyes is priceless to catch all mistakes. Personal MBA Coach uses proofreaders for each MBA application for this reason.


With those basics of Writing 101 in mind, let’s look now at five higher-level principles that should guide your MBA essay writing from beginning to end.

1) Answer the essay question

This seems like a no-brainer, but many candidates write beautiful essays that do not answer the essay question. Instead of writing what you want to show off, answer the question (or make sure that what you want to show off answers the question!). While we do advise thinking a bit outside of the box and considering the why behind an essay prompt (what are they really trying to get at?) first and foremost you must answer the question.

That is one reason recycling essay copy from one school to the other is often not a great idea: While it works sometimes for schools whose essay questions are nearly identical, most often it obscures the whole objective of answering the question. Good MBA essay editing should address this, refocusing the material. So, go through your copy and make sure the answer is in there. If you are using the essay you wrote for another school, make sure you tailor it to fit and answer the pertinent essay prompt.

2) Write authentically

Do not write what you think admissions committee members want to read. There is no one perfect candidate profile. Instead, your uniqueness will be one of your greatest selling points. Your essays should paint a clear picture of who you are, what motivates you, and what you are passionate about—genuinely. Do not feel compelled to show how you fit the mold that seemingly makes up the “ideal” candidate. If you have no desire to run a non-profit, that is ok. If you are not motivated by improving the environment, do not pretend you are. Readers will see right through this, and you could end up doing more harm than good.

3) Look at the application comprehensively

Essays are just one part of the overall MBA application. In addition to submitting a resume (unsure how to write an MBA resume? Check out these tips), you fill out a detailed application whose value you should use in every detail. Many schools require short essays and short answer questions and video essays as well. In addition, you have letters of recommendation. Those also should be used to your advantage to include material you may not have other opportunity or space to talk about. This means there are other places to list and highlight things such as extracurricular activities.

There is no need—or space—to try to fit this all into your essays: Focus on a few chosen facets of your passions or accomplishments to answer the essay questions and use other material in other places.

4) Keep your language approachable

You should assume that terms you regularly discuss at the office—what is commonly referred to as industry jargon—are foreign to others, including admissions committee members, and they do not want to have to wade through it, trying to understand, as if it were a foreign language.

Harvard Business School has gone so far as to specifically ask candidates to not use jargon, both in the MBA application essay and the short answer questions. The best MBA essay editing will eliminate jargony language entirely and translate to readily understandable English, which helps convey what you are talking about and who you are. Particularly when it comes to showing off an accomplishment or how you added value in a business scenario, you want to make sure that technical language does not get in the way and impede your ability to clearly communicate what you did.

5)  Limit flowery prose

Similarly, we often read complex flowery prose. By flowery we mean prose that is overly ornate, rambling, and verbose. While showing off your writing style may be the point when applying to a writer’s program, in applying to business school you should write well but practically and in a straightforward manner. Most schools want direct, substantial, detailed answers to the questions—not rambling prose. Everyone, from your grandmother to a professor of microfinance, should be able to understand your essays.

In sum, your essays should convey why you are someone others would want to study with, learn from, and eventually be inspired by. That type of person is human and down to earth. Your essays should show this.

Finally, be concise. Write to the word count. If you are having difficulty making a choice between two options, you can vet that choice, but once you have chosen your topic, during the outline process eliminate material that is not needed. It is very hard to cut 200 words from a 500-word essay and not change the overall intended impact and meaning. Trimming 30 words is one thing—though it is very time-consuming, it can be done artfully without losing much—but you cannot cut an essay in half and not lose substance that should be included.

Happy essay writing!

About Personal MBA Coach:

Founded by a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan graduate who sits on the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants Board of Directors, Personal MBA Coach has been guiding clients for 15 years and is consistently ranked #1 or #2 by leading sources. Personal MBA Coach is the #1 most favorably reviewed US Consultant of all time on Poets & Quants.

We help clients with all aspects of the MBA application process including early planning, GMAT/GRE/EA tutoring, application strategy, school selection, essay editing, and mock interviews. Our team includes former M7 admissions directors and former M7 admissions interviewers.

Last cycle, our clients earned more than $6.5M in scholarships!