MBA - Application Process

Personal Story Development in Your MBA Application

This article is sponsored by Personal MBA Coach.

If I think about the area in which business school candidates often need the most help, personal story development comes to mind first. Defining your story may be the hardest, yet the most important part, of the application.

Personal story development was also a key point of discussion at the most recent Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) conference where I spoke with Admissions Directors from 25+ top MBA programs.

I advise my candidates to start this process months, if not years, in advance! The good news? Everyone has a personal story, you may just need help figuring out how to make it shine.

So, what should you include in your personal story? This will be different for every MBA candidate but across the board I can tell you, not everything! No one wants to read a long explanation detailing a chronological flow of your life. This is also not the time to tell the admissions committee what you think they want to hear.

Instead, you must be focused, logical and unique.

The most successful candidates do not always write essays about overcoming a horrible tragedy or solving world hunger. Sure, if you have done something impressive or triumphed over a difficult situation and it fits with your story, include it. But you can also write compelling essays without this.

When I meet with a new candidate, I start by asking a lot of questions. We talk about everything the applicant has done, often starting from childhood. I advise you to start with a similar process and figure out what is really important.

Make a list of everything you have done in your life and take the time to write it all down.

  • List personal, professional or social passions.
  • Think about the activities that you enjoy most.
  • Assess the decisions you have made and why you made these choices.
  • Outline your future goals: what do you want to do after you earn your MBA and again, why?

Next, look for a theme. What connects your passions, choices and goals together?

Once you have identified a theme or unifying idea, think about how you can weave this idea throughout your essays.

Take a look at this illustrative example.

Jane looks at her list and finds that her desire to improve healthcare access is a unifying theme. She volunteered at a clinic in college and currently works in R&D for a biotechnology company. In this case, Jane will want to tell the reader what motivated this passion. There is no right or wrong motivation for a passion. What is important is that she is able to demonstrate a logical explanation for this choice.

While Jane was fortunate and grew up in Boston with access to all major medical centers, her family once temporarily hosted a child who had to travel to Boston to have surgery. This experience introduced her to the issue of healthcare inequality at a young age.

(Note: in some cases you will not be able to work this into your essays but you should have this story prepared for interviews, conversations with your recommenders, etc.)

Next, as she thinks of success stories to share and extracurricular passions to highlight, Jane should focus on those relevant to her passion for improving healthcare access.

Finally, her career goals should ladder up to this passion in a unique way. This does not mean she should aspire to cure an obscure disease. Instead, she should thoughtfully share the specific impact on the healthcare industry she hopes to make.

For Jane, this means transitioning to business development for a pharmaceutical company, expanding into emerging markets.

Business schools want to know how you will make the business world (and the world more broadly) better when you leave their campuses. They also want to know how you will leave a unique mark. Past behavior is the best predictor of the future and we have all left a mark somehow or another.

No candidate is ever perfect; instead, we chart the best course we can with the hand we are dealt. The best personal statements show this.

Founded by a Wharton and MIT graduate, Personal MBA Coach regularly helps applicants navigate their applications each year. Our comprehensive support includes mock interviews with a team of former M7 interviewers and customized GMAT/GRE tutoring with tutors who scored in the 99th percentile. Personal MBA Coach has been guiding candidates through all aspects of the MBA application process for over 11 years with a 96% success rate.

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