How to Help Your Recommendation Writers

If you’re just starting to work on your business school applications, there are some pieces that are already pretty well formed, such as your undergraduate GPA, your work experience, and perhaps your GMAT score. The rest of your application components are still largely unformed — such as your essays, your interviews, and your letters of recommendation. Of the pieces that have yet to take shape, your letters of recommendation are the ones over which you have the least control. After all, someone else is writing them for you! But fear not — there is a lot that you can do to ensure that your recommendations are impactful, memorable, and fit with the rest of your MBA applications.

The first thing you can do is give your recommendation writers plenty of time. Ideally, you’ll first approach your recommenders two months in advance, and provide them with everything they need at least a few weeks before you need their recommendations. Writing a recommendation is no small task, and it can be stressful for the recommendation writer even without added time pressure! This is especially true if you plan on asking each recommendation writer to provide multiple recommendations; writing three recommendations can in fact take almost as much time as writing one, so err on the side of giving your recommenders more than enough time!

The second thing to do is help your recommenders understand why you’re applying to business school and what you hope to do with an MBA. You probably hope to get a better, higher-paying job, but what else can you share? What industry do you want to go into? What role do you see yourself in, both now and five or ten years from now? Also, think about what you have and haven’t learned or accomplished until now — what will an MBA provide that you don’t already have? Your recommendations don’t need to perfectly repeat all of this (and, in fact, if they do it will seem suspicious to MBA admissions officers), but they should at least deliver a message that’s consistent with the message you will deliver in your own essays and in your admissions interview.

The third thing to do is provide with your recommendation writers with specific examples of things that you have accomplished in your time together. It’s one thing for a recommendation to say “This applicant displays great leadership potential,” but it’s infinitely more impactful when the recommendation says, “This applicants displays great leadership potential, such as one time last year when he led a project…” The latter is more believable, and it’s certainly the story that business school admissions officers are more likely to remember as they flip through your application and make a decision about whether or not you’re worth considering further.

There are certainly other things you can do to help your recommenders write effective letters of recommendation — such as showing gratitude! — but if you can at least do these three things listed above, you will be far ahead of the game in garnering effective letters of recommendation that can get you into a competitive MBA program. Your letters of recommendation may be written by someone else, but there is plenty that you can do to help make them not just good, but terrific.

Hope to get into a top-ranked business school this year? Be sure to pick up a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

UCLA Anderson Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

Today we take a look at UCLA Anderson’s admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2017. Last year Anderson was on the vanguard of the effort across MBA programs to reduce essay count, dropping down to just one required essay, and for the 2014-2015 admissions season the school’s application returns with just one required essay once again. However, that one essay is all-new this year.

Here are UCLA Anderson’s admissions deadlines and essays for the coming year, followed by our comments in italics:

UCLA Anderson Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 22, 2014
Round 2: January 7, 2015
Round 3: April 15, 2015

Not too much to discuss here. UCLA Anderson’s admissions deadlines are exactly the same as they were last year. Note that, unlike most top business schools, Anderson doesn’t release its Round 1 admissions decisions until late January. So, if UCLA is your first choice, you will need to already have your Round 2 applications done for your backup business schools before you now where you stand with Anderson.

UCLA Anderson Application Essays

  • UCLA Anderson is distinguished by three defining principles: Share Success, Think Fearlessly, Drive Change. What principles have defined your life and pre-MBA career? How do you believe that UCLA Anderson’s principles, and the environment they create, will help you attain your post-MBA career goals? (750 words)


    This question is new this year, although it’s really a heavy revision of last year’s question more than an entirely new prompt. The difference this year is that this question highlights Anderson’s three principles, and the takeaway here is that the Anderson admissions team clearly is looking for a fit with the program here. You don’t need to echo those same themes — in fact, the question explicitly asks what your own principles are — but here the school sends a strong signal about what traits it values in applicants. Knowing that Anderson wants applicants who are generous with others (“Share Success”), aren’t afraid to take chances (“Think Fearlessly”), and make an impact on those around them (“Drive Change”), what traits and experiences do you want to highlight from your career up until now?

    Not that you really want to demonstrate a knowledge of and a passion for UCLA Anderson. One way any school protects its admissions yield is by eliminating applicants who don’t show enough enthusiasm for the program. Failing to answer the second part part of the question — how will UCLA Anderson help you to achieve your goals? — is a quick and easy way to get weeded out by the admissions committee.

  • Are there any extenuating circumstances in your profile about which the Admissions Committee should be aware? (250 words)


    We always tell applicants the same thing regarding optional admissions essays: Only answer them if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. If you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it’s entirely okay to skip this essay. That advice especially holds now that Anderson’s application only includes on essay prompt… Don’t feel the need to submit extra essays simply to command a few extra minutes of the admissions committee’s attention!



Do you dream of getting into UCLA Anderson? Be sure to pick up a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Yale SOM Admissions Essay and Deadlines for 2014-2015

Today we dig into the Yale School of Management’s admissions essays and application deadlines for the Class of 2017. Last year, Yale was one of the most aggressive movers in reducing its essay count, dropping from four required essays down to two. This year, the Yale admissions team has gone even further, announcing just one required essay for the 2014-2015 admissions season. Note that Yale has kept its video questions, which the school added last year.

Here are Yale SOM’s application deadlines and admissions essay for the coming year:

Yale SOM Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: September 18, 2014
Round 2: January 8, 2015
Round 3: April 23, 2015

Yale’s Round 1 deadline has crept forward by a week this year, although its Round 2 and Round 3 deadlines are virtually unchanged. Note that, if you apply to Yale in Round 1, you will receive your decision by December 8. This gives you plenty of time to get your Round 2 applications deadlines together for other MBA programs if you don’t get good news from Yale.

Yale SOM Admissions Essay

  1. The Yale School of Management educates individuals who will have deep and lasting impact on the organizations they lead. Describe how you have positively influenced an organization —- as an employee, a member, or an outside constituent. (500 words)


    Very interesting. Yale SOM has narrowed down its slate of essays to just one, and for that one essay the Yale has chosen a topic that focuses on one of the defining attributes of a leader — the ability to have a positive impact on those around you. When you hear the term “leader” it’s normal to envision an elected official or a CEO, but leaders exist at every level of an organization, even if they don’t have any people reporting directly to them. And, one of the best ways to spot a leader in a group is to find the person who is able to positively impact those around him or her.

    Note that the Yale admissions team not only wants to know what you accomplished, but also wants to understand exactly what you did to make it happen. Examples where you went above and beyond the call of duty, or went beyond your standard job description, will be the most powerful here. For this essay you can use the classic SAR (“Situation Action Result”) format: Describe the challenge or opportunity you identified, explain in detail what you did, and then be sure to spell out exactly how your actions positively influenced those around you.

    Finally, note that this question focuses on the impact that your actions had on your organization, not the role you were in. In other words, admissions officers care about what positive impact you truly have on those around you much more than they care about your job title.

Thoughts on Yale SOM’s Video Questions
As Yale SOM Admissions Director Bruce Delmonico wrote earlier this year, the work that goes into your application overall should prepare you well for the video questions. That means knowing how to deliver a short “headline”-type introduction of yourself, being able to succinctly explain why you want a Yale MBA, and being prepared for basic behavioral questions (the kind that start with “Describe a time when you…”). As Delmonico mentions in that article, the school isn’t looking for a perfect level of polish. In fact, the more off-the-cuff your remarks seem, the more likely you are to come across as authentic. You shouldn’t ramble for 90 seconds, but your answers should be just as they probably would be in an in-person interview — imperfect, yet succinct and convincing.

Do you plan on applying to Yale SOM this year? Be sure to pick up a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

UC Berkeley (Haas) Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

Earlier this summer UC Berkeley’s Haas School of business released its MBA admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2017. Like other business schools, Haas has chopped an essay yet again, dropping down to three required essays (although we should note that the school’s word limit for each essay actually increased). The Haas MBA admissions team has also made significant changes to the questions that it asks in its essay prompts, so we have plenty of new advice for applicants this year.

Here are the UC Berkeley (Haas) application deadlines and essays for 2014-2015:

Berkeley (Haas) Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 1, 2014
Round 2: January 7, 2015
Round 3: March 11, 2015

Another top-ranked MBA program has significantly moved up its Round 1 deadline! Haas has pushed its Round 1 deadline earlier by more than two weeks, meaning that only several other top schools have earlier first-round deadlines. Note that, while most schools will give you your admissions decision in December if you apply in Round 1, Haas may not notify you until January 15, 2015, meaning that you will probably have to have your Round 2 applications completed for most business schools before you get your Haas decision. Looking at the other rounds, Haas barely changed its Round 2 and Round 3 deadlines this year.

Berkeley (Haas) Admissions Essays

  1. Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world. How did this transform you? (400-500 words)


    This question is entirely new this year, and it replaces a fun one that asked, “If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why?” This new question, while more conventional, is still a good one. Note the second part of the question, which tips you off to what the admissions committee really wants to see: How did you grow as a result of this experience? Think about the “SAR” (Situation-Action-Result) essay framework that we so often tell our clients to use — describe what happened, what you did, and then what happened as a results. Sounds obvious, right? You would be surprised by how often applicants get lost in the details and end up devoting 300 words or more to the situation, and not devoting enough space to their actions or the results! And, in this case, the “result” is not only what happened in that particular instance, but — again — how the applicant changed as a result. You could have experienced a terrible setback that made you more mature, or achieved something great that you never thought you would accomplish… It can be a “good” or a “bad” story, but the key is that it will only be interesting to Haas admissions officers if it shows how you changed (for the better) as a result!

  2. What is your most significant professional accomplishment? (200-300 words)


    This essay almost carries over unchanged from last year, but it contains one very important change. This year the Haas admissions team introduced the word “professional” to the question. That’s right… Previously, any story would do, whether it was from your professional life or your personal life, but now Haas wants you to devote this essay specifically to a professional experience. Often this kind of change means that the admissions team hadn’t been getting exactly what it wanted, and is trying to nudge applicants in a certain direction. However, in this case, we think the change has more to do with Haas’s new Question #1 (above). Applicants are likely to give stories from their personal lives, leaving this one wide open for a good professional story. Said another way, if you were thinking about using a professional story for the first question, think again, since this is where Haas wants you to tell that story. Again, use the “SAR” framework, and put special emphasis on the results and how you grew or changed as a result.

  3. What is your desired post-MBA role and at what company or organization? In your response, please specifically address sub-questions a., b., and c. (500-600 words combined)

    a. How is your background compelling to this company?
    b. What is something you would do better for this company than any other employee?
    c. Why is an MBA necessary and how will Haas specifically help you succeed at this company?


    This question is also new this year, and it replaces a fairly typical “Post-MBA career goals” that Haas used to ask. What makes this version less typical is how specific it is. In part (b), for example, Haas practically makes you prove your worth and talk your way into a new post-MBA job on the spot! Note that this question is very focused on the near future. While many such questions ask what you see yourself doing in 5-10 years, with this question it’s clear that the Haas admissions team wants to see that you have a clear and realistic goal for what you will do right after business school.

    Several thought here: First, Haas knows that you may not totally, completely know what you want to do after you get your MBA, and that your career goals are certainly subject to change. This is fine. The admissions committee just wants to know that you have realistic goals, and that you seem at least somewhat like someone who will hold up well in the grueling MBA job recruiting process. Second, you are obviously not yet a finished product, because if you were, you wouldn’t need an MBA. So, use part (c) to really highlight the two or three things that you expect to get out of the program. Finally, resist the temptation here to try to zig when everyone else is zagging — e.g., don’t fool yourself into thinking you need to write that you want to do non-profit work when your heart is really set on the financial sector. Be honest, and be specific.

Want to get into Haas? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

NYU Stern Application Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

NYU Stern has released its MBA application deadlines and essays for the 2014-2015 admissions season. Among top MBA programs, Stern has perhaps made the fewest changes of any school. But, Stern’s famous “Personal Expression” prompt — for which you can submit almost anything at all — remains, which we like. Overall, our advice has changed very little since last year. Read on….

Here are NYU Stern’s admissions deadlines and essays for the Class of 2017, followed by our comments in italics:

NYU Stern Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 15, 2014
Round 2: November 15, 2014
Round 3: January 15, 2015
Round 4: March 15, 2015

Well, nothing new here. Nothing at all. In fact, NYU Stern’s admissions deadlines are exactly the same as they were last year! After adding an additional round last year — making NYU Stern one of the few top American MBA programs to stray from the typical 3-round model — the Stern admissions team has apparently decided to stand pat this year. Note that applying in Round 1 means that you will be notified by December 15, giving you several weeks to prepare Round 2 applications to other schools if you’re not admitted to Stern.

NYU Stern Application Essays

Note that the first prompt is required. Then, choose one of the next two prompts.

  1. Professional Aspirations: (750 words)

    (a) Why pursue an MBA (or dual degree) at this point in your life?
    (b) What actions have you taken to determine that Stern is the best fit for your MBA experience?
    (c) What do you see yourself doing professionally upon graduation?


    Once more, this question carries over unchanged from the previous year, and so our advice pretty much remains the same. Pay special attention to part (b) of this essay prompt — Stern clearly wants to see that you have done your homework and are applying to the school for reasons that go beyond the obvious. Besides looking at the rankings or seeing that Stern places a lot of graduates in investment banks every year, what have you done to be sure that Stern is a good fit for you, and vice versa? Like most top-ranked business schools, Stern places a good deal of emphasis on fit, and you need to demonstrate that you have done the same.

  2. Option A: Your Two Paths (500 words)

    The mission of the Stern School of Business is to develop people and ideas that transform the challenges of the 21st century into opportunities to create value for business and society. Given today’s ever-changing global landscape, Stern seeks and develops leaders who thrive in ambiguity, embrace a broad perspective and think creatively about the range of ways they can have impact.

    – Describe two different and distinct paths you could see your career taking long term. How do you see your two paths unfolding?
    – What factors will most determine which path you will take?
    – How do your paths tie to the mission of NYU Stern?


    This question also remains the same as it was last year. As far as MBA admissions essay prompts go, this is one of our favorites because it’s a great way for Stern to try to get past applicants’ super-polished answers and try to get a better sense of what makes them tick professionally. Yes, you should have at least a pretty good idea of what you want to do after earning your MBA, but the admissions committee knows that you probably don’t know for certain what you want to do. And, even if you do, circumstances change, new trends emerge, life events happen, etc. While there is no single “right” way to approach this essay, one thing we recommend trying is laying out a fairly standard path (the one that you have probably already been telling people) and one pretty creative one — perhaps one career path could be as an investment analyst and one could be as a manager of a charter school system. The more different the two paths are, the more interesting your story will be, and the more it will help admissions officers get a read in who you are.

    Resist the temptation to make your second path an altruistic-sounding one simply for the sake of sounding like a model citizen! But, if there is a career path you’ve been toying with but have been reluctant to share because it might make you sound aimless or unrealistic, don’t be afraid to describe it here.

  3. Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use almost any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative. If you submit a non-written piece for this essay (i.e., artwork or multimedia) or if you submit this essay via mail, please upload a brief description of your submission with your online application.


    Ahh, Stern’s famous “personal expression” prompt, which the school has used for years! This is significant because it means that the admissions committee must feel that it’s effective in helping the admissions committee get to know candidates. Stern truly wants to learn about what makes you unique. The school’s admissions officers are almost begging you to stand out here, which is a reminder about how you can make their job easier by helping them remember the real you.

    One other note: Just because this question allows you to use any medium, that doesn’t mean that you need to submit something other than the written word. If that’s your best medium, use it. “Being memorable” means more than just sending them something outrageous; the most effective submissions really are the ones that leave admissions officers feeling like they know you better. Finally, while this essay prompt truly is wide open in terms of what you can submit, note that there are a few parameters (e.g., nothing perishable!) that you need to observe.

  4. Additional Information (optional)
    Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee. This may include current or past gaps in employment, further explanation of your undergraduate record or self-reported academic transcript(s), plans to retake the GMAT, GRE and/or TOEFL or any other relevant information. If you are unable to submit a recommendation from your current supervisor, you must explain your reason, even if you are a re-applicant. If you are a re-applicant from last year, please explain how your candidacy has improved since your last application.

    As we always advise our clients when it comes to optional essays, only use this essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you are simply making excuses when you don’t need any. If you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it is entirely okay to skip this essay!

Do you dream of getting into NYU Stern? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Chicago Booth Admissions Essay and Deadlines for 2014-2015

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business recently released its admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2017. Once again we see a top-ranked MBA program cut back on its number of required essays this year; now Booth only has one essay, and it’s not a traditional essay at all. Booth has decided to keep its famous “PowerPoint” question and drop everything else! Of course, this puts even more importance than ever on how well you answer this prompt.

Here are Chicago Booth’s deadlines and essay, followed by our comments in italics:

Chicago Booth Application Deadlines
Round 1: September 25, 2014
Round 2: January 6, 2015
Round 3: April 7, 2015

Booth’s Round 1 deadline has crept up by about a week, making Booth the latest top MBA program to move its first deadline into September. Note that applying to Booth in Round 1 means that you will get your decision back by December 18, which gives you at least a couple of weeks before most business schools’ Round 2 deadlines come. Booth’s Round 2 and Round 3 deadlines each budged only slightly compared to last year.

Chicago Booth Application Essay

  1. Chicago Booth values adventurous inquiry, diverse perspectives, and a collaborative exchange of ideas. This is us. Who are you? (You can see all of the technical requirements and limitations here.)


    Chicago Booth’s “PowerPoint question” returns once again, although the wording of the question is new. Still, our advice mostly remians the same. As you think about how you want to approach this prompt, remember that the Chicago Booth admissions committee members already hold in their hands a great deal of information about you… What else do you want them to know? Don’t simply use this response to just show off professional achievements that you already cover elsewhere in your application. Be creative! The reason Booth kept this question is because, while it hasn’t worked perfectly for the school so far, it really is the admissions committee’s best chance to tease some personality out of your application. So don’t be afraid to give them some!

    Finally, note that an essay truly is okay here. Don’t feel that, because PowerPoint is an option, it’s expected or preferred. If you can best “broaden their perspective about who you are” using plain old words, then we recommend that you go that route.

Thinking of applying to Chicago Booth? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Kellogg Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has released its MBA admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2017. While most top MBA programs have mostly been making nips and tucks to their admissions essays this year, Kellogg has made a lot of changes. And, like other business schools, Kellogg has dropped a required essay, going from three to two required essays for applicants to its traditional MBA program. The video response, which Kellogg introduced last year, remains.

Here the Kellogg essays and deadlines for the 2014-2015 admissions season, followed by our comments in italics:

Kellogg Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: September 24, 2014
Round 2: January 7, 2015
Round 3: April 1, 2015

Kellogg has moved its Round 1 application WAY up, by more than three weeks. If you plan on applying to Kellogg in Round 1, this means you should get started no later than early August. Note that applying in Round 1 means that you will get your decision by mid-December, which should give you enough time to complete your Round 2 applications for other programs, if you don’t get good news from Kellogg. The school’s Round 2 and Round 3 deadlines are virtually unchanged since last year.

Kellogg Admissions Essays

Note that we don’t include Kellogg’s essays for dual-degree applicants or re-applicants here. You can find those essay prompts on the Kellogg admissions website.

  1. Resilience. Perseverance. Grit. Call it what you will… Challenges can build character. Describe a challenging experience you’ve had. How were you tested? What did you learn? (450 words)


    This question is new this year, although it actually replaces a fairly similar question that Kellogg used in last year’s application. This year’s version actually gives you 100 more words to work with, and puts a bit more emphasis on the “What did you learn?” aspect, although, at its heart, this question is still trying to get at the same thing: The admissions committee wants to see how you have grown in your relatively short professional career. The phrase “challenging experience” gives you the opportunity to talk about situations you faced that weren’t necessarily of your own doing. For example, getting laid off when your company goes out of business represents an obstacle, but not a mistake on your part.

    Your mission will be to show introspection (What did you learn?) and a motivation for self-improvement (How did you use what you learned to better yourself and avoid that mistake again?). Also, note that your story can be a personal or a professional one. Ideally you will have a terrific work-related story to at least consider using there, but remember to look for experiences in all aspects of your life. Your most powerful “obstacle” story may come from outside your job, and that’s perfectly fine.

  2. Leadership requires an ability to collaborate with and motivate others. Describe a professional experience that required you to influence people. What did this experience teach you about working with others, and how will it make you a better leader? (450 words)


    This question is also new this year. Again, though, it mostly covers the same topic (leadership) that last year’s second question covered. In some ways, this new question represents at least a small move by Kellogg back towards the school’s roots in teamwork and collaboration. More than any other top MBA program, Kellogg has staked its reputation on its ability to produce great team players and collaborative leaders, and this question reflects that philosophy. Note both parts of that term (“collaborative leaders”)… Kellogg doesn’t want just friendly team players, bur instead wants people who can take charge and get things done. At the same time, the admissions committee isn’t looking for sharp-elbowed people who lead by edict; Kellogg wants to find applicants who inspire people to work harder and achieve great things through teamwork and empowerment.

    This particular essay prompt is a classic candidate for the SAR (Situation – Action – Result) outline that we recommend applicants use. The situation will likely be an opportunity or challenge where you needed to rely on someone in order to get something done. The action will be how you managed to influence them in order to see things your way and to convince them to take up your cause. Perhaps it was an employee or peer who wasn’t motivated, or didn’t agree with what you wanted to do. How did you win them over? Finally, the result will be the outcome — not just of that particular situation, but also the positive impact that it had on you as a young leader.

  3. If needed, use this section to briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.) (no word count)


    As we always tell applicants with these optional essays: Only answer this essay prompt if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. If you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it is entirely okay to skip this essay. Don’t let yourself get too tempted by that lack of a word limit… Less is more!

Finally, Kellogg’s video response returns for its second year. The recorded video answer was crafted to mimic an interview in that you will be given a question and will have to record your response right away (after a couple of minutes to gather your thoughts). Note that, while last year Kellogg would let you try again (with a new question) if you didn’t like your attempt, this year you will NOT be able to try again. (You will be able to warm up on some practice questions first.) And, you won’t know the questions ahead of time. For your official response, you will have just 20 seconds to think up your answer, and one minute to deliver it… No pressure! This is just one more example of how top MBA programs are trying to break away from the essay and get to know applicants better using other formats.

Do you hope to get into Kellogg? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Duke (Fuqua) Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has released is MBA admissions deadlines and essays for the Class of 2017. Duke hasn’t added or cut the number of required essays this year, although it did add a new option for the second required essay. The “25 Random Things” prompt remains, which makes us happy!

Here are the Duke (Fuqua) application deadlines and essays for the coming year, followed by our comments in italics:

Duke (Fuqua) Admissions Deadlines
Early Action: September 17, 2014
Round 1: October 20, 2014
Round 2: January 5, 2015
Round 3: March 19, 2015

Fuqua’a admissions deadlines are virtually unchanged vs. last year. On important note about the school’s Early Action deadline: Even though it’s called “Early Action,” which most schools interpret as “non-binding,” Fuqua considers it to be binding. So, we only recommend applying in this round if Fuqua is clearly your first choice. If it’s not, then save your application for Round 1, which still gets you your final decisions from the admissions committee before the holidays.

Duke (Fuqua) Admissions Essays

Required Short Answer Questions (Just 250 characters each)

  1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA?
  2. What are your long-term goals?
  3. Life is full of uncertainties, and plans and circumstances can change. As a result, navigating a career requires you to be adaptable. Should the short-term goals that you provided above not materialize what alternative directions have you considered?
  4. This trio of short questions (and really, really short answers!) has not changed since last year, so our advice mostly remains the same. The three above short answers should add up to only about 150 words, if it’s easier for you to think about them that way. With the three short questions, the Fuqua admissions team really is just looking for the high-levels facts about you. In other words, they’re looking for less hand-waving and “big picture”-speak and for a more succinct, “to the point” story to help them quickly get a read on why you’re even applying to Fuqua in the first place. Think of this as your chance to make the admissions team’s job a little easier… Rather than making the admissions team sort through your application essays to figure out why you’re applying to Fuqua, here you’re spelling it out in three bold, unmistakeable headlines.

    One more thought: It’s easy to look at the third question and think it’s meant to be a curve ball, but this sort of adaptability is important to show. No one knows how exactly their career will unfold, and with this question the Fuqua admissions team wants to see if you “get” that idea and have at least thought through some alternatives.

First Required Essay

  1. The “Team Fuqua” spirit and community is one of the things that sets The Duke MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. When a new person joins the Admissions team, we ask that person to share with everyone in the office a list of “25 Random Things About Yourself.” As an Admissions team, we already know the new hire’s professional and academic background, so learning these “25 Random Things” helps us get to know someone’s personality, background, special talents, and more.

    In this spirit, the Admissions Committee also wants to get to know you—beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of “25 Random Things” about YOU.

    Please present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may be only a few words, while others may be longer. Your complete list should not exceed 2 pages.

    Fuqua has used this fun, unique question for several years now. This exercise makes many applicants uncomfortable since it’s so far removed from the “typical” MBA admissions essay, but it’s one of our favorite questions in the MBA admissions world. While you shouldn’t generate a completely frivolous list, you definitely don’t want to rehash what else is in your application. Seemingly random facts such as “I once came in dead last in a karaoke contest” are relevant and reveal something important about you (that you’re fun!), whether you realize it or not.

    Some admissions experts tell applicants that all 25 items must be “unique” and “aligned with their brand,” but it would be a mistake to apply that rule to all 25 items. If the favorite part of your week is playing pickup basketball with friends, then it would be crazy for that not to make it into this list, whether or not other applicants might possibly say the same thing. For us, a good rule of thumb is that approximately half of this list should reinforce your application themes (which you should have nailed down long before drafting this list), and the other half can be more “fun”… Don’t run the risk of putting the admissions committee to sleep with your list. Finally, take a look at these examples that Fuqua admissions officers and students have posted about themselves… You’ll see that they’re far from 100% serious!

Second Required Essay

Instructions: Choose only 1 of the following 2 essay questions to answer. Your response should be no more than 2 pages in length.

  1. When asked by your family, friends, and colleagues why you want to go to Duke, what do you tell them? Share the reasons that are most meaningful to you.

    Your response to this essay question should be no more than 2 pages in length. Please respond fully and concisely using 1.5 line spacing.

    This question also carries over unchanged from last year, and that’s a strong hint that the Fuqua admissions team likes what it’s been getting from applicants. The purpose of this question is really to assess your fit with the school. The school used to simply ask, “Why Duke?” in an essay, but this question is still about fit: This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have really researched the program, understand its culture, and really want to spend the rest of your life as a member of the Fuqua community. The first eight words of this question are the Fuqua admissions committee’s way of saying, “Please don’t just tell us what you think we want to hear.”

    Some pragmatic components to your response are totally fine — it has strong ties to the health care industry, or has a specific research center that interests you, for instance. That’s a completely real, honest response. But the school wants you to go beyond rattling off lists of professor and course names from its website and convince them that you will be eager to attend Fuqua if you’re admitted.

  2. The Team Fuqua community is as unique as the individuals who comprise it. Underlying our individuality are a number of shared ideas and principles that we live out in our own ways. Our students have identified and defined 6 “Team Fuqua Principles” that we feel are the guiding philosophies that make our community special. At the end of your 2 years at Fuqua, if you were to receive an award for exemplifying one of the 6 Principles listed below, which one would it be and why? Your response should reflect the research you have done, your knowledge of Fuqua and the Daytime MBA program and experience, and the types of activities and leadership you would engage in as a Fuqua student. (You can read the rest of the question here.)


    This question is new this year, and it’s another example of how much emphasis Fuqua places on fit and a desire to find applicants who truly want to attend the school. Fuqua is the classic example of a top business school that’s not quite in the uppermost echelon of MBA programs — it’s ranked highly enough that it attracts a lot of applicants, but there are enough schools ranked higher that Fuqua often loses out to other schools when an applicant has multiple offers to choose from. That’s not a knock on the school at all; rather, it underscores how tough it is for the Fuqua admissions team to try to determine just how enthusiastic an applicant is for the school.

    This question is your chance to show that you really, truly are enthusiastic about Fuqua, so much so that you see yourself embodying one or more of the traits that Fuqua’s own students have identified as the community’s core principles. Don’t just regurgitate what you read in Fuqua’s brochures and on its website: Bring out specific examples of your own past experiences that demonstrate how you embody one of these important traits. There are few more effective ways to show how much you want to be a part of the Fuqua community!

Optional Essay

  • If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Admissions Committee should be aware, please explain them in an optional essay (e.g. unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, or any significant weakness in your application).


    As we always tell applicants, only use this essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. More generally, if you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it’s okay to skip this essay!

Plan on applying to Fuqua? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Dartmouth (Tuck) Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business recently released its application essays and deadlines for the 2014-2015 admissions season. Like so many other top MBA programs these days, Tuck has eliminated an essay, going down to just two required essay prompts this year. The two essays that remain are taken directly from last year’s application (with just one subtle tweak to the second essay prompt).

Without further ado, here are Tuck’s MBA application deadlines and essays for the coming year, followed by our comments in italics:

Dartmouth (Tuck) Admissions Deadlines
Early Action round: October 8, 2014
November round: November 5, 2014
January round: January 6, 2015
April round: April 1, 2014

Tuck barely changed its application deadlines since last year. Note that Tuck is one of the few top business schools to offer an Early Action admissions option. “Early Action” means that the decision is non-binding, although if you are admitted you will need to send in a $4,500 deposit by mid-January, or else you will give up your seat. If Tuck is your top choice, or at least a very strong 2nd or 3rd choice, Early Action is a great way to signal your enthusiasm for the school. Also, if you want to know the fate of your Tuck application before most other schools’ Round 2 deadlines come, then aim for Early Action, which allows you to receive your decision by December 18. Applying in any other round means that you won’t receive your decision until mid-February.

Dartmouth (Tuck) Admissions Essays

  1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck? (500 words)


    This question carries over from last year with no changes, and so our advice mostly remains the same. Last year, Tuck dropped “what will you uniquely contribute to the community?” and replaced it with the more straightforward “why are you the best fit for Tuck?” This newer phrasing puts more explicit on one of our favorite subjects — fit with a school! — and we expect it will work better for all parties involved.

    Beyond that important change, this question is the fairly standard “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that most business schools ask. Tuck takes the concept of “fit” very seriously when evaluating candidates — maybe more so than any other top school, given its small class size and remote location — so you need to take it seriously, too. The Tuck admissions committee knows that you’re probably applying to multiple top schools, and knows that it is a bit unique among programs… What really excites you about Tuck, and what about you should get the Tuck admissions team excited about adding you to the Tuck community?

  2. Tell us about your most meaningful leadership experience and what role you played. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience? (500 words)


    This question also carried over from last year, with just one small (but important) change: Last year this prompt asked for a collaborative leadership experience, and now the “collaborative” part is gone. (Interestingly, they added the word “collaborative” last year, and have now gone back to the wording they used two years ago.) It’s easy to overstate the importance of this change, but it likely indicates that the admissions team felt that last year’s prompt led applicants to bit too much emphasis on teamwork and not quite enough on actual leadership. Note that those things are definitely not mutually exclusive, but err on the side of discussing a time when you really made something happen, vs. a time when you were an active participant in something that was already happening.

    You only have 500 words in which you need to describe what the situation was, what action you took, and what the results were (“Situation-Action-Result,” or “SAR” as we call it). Don’t overlook the second part of the question, about what you learned about yourself. What exactly happened is very important, but evidence of how you grew and how you got to know yourself better is even more critical. A great essay tells about how you learned valuable about yourself, such as a shortcoming or lack of experience, and how you were able to act and improve upon it. That’s the type of response that has the potential to stick with the application reader.

  3. (Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application. (500 words)


    As we always tell applicants when it comes to the optional essay for any business school, only answer this essay prompt if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. If you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it is entirely okay to skip this essay!

Do you hope to get into Tuck? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Michigan (Ross) Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business recently announced its application essays and deadlines for the 2014-2015 admissions season. After dropping from four required essays to three last year, the Ross MBA admissions team decided to shed another one, going down to just two required essays this year. And, the two required essays that remain are entirely new this year. The changes just keep coming!

Here are Ross’s MBA application deadlines and essays for the Class of 2017, followed by our comments in italics:

Michigan (Ross) Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 6, 2014
Round 2: January 5, 2015
Round 3: March 23, 2015

Here Ross bucked the trend that we’ve seen at other top business school — Ross actually pushed back its deadlines a bit this year. The Round 1 and Round 2 deadlines really only moved back by a few days apiece, but it’s interesting to see given that admissions deadlines have been creeping earlier and earlier over the past few years. The biggest change is in Ross’s Round 3 deadline, which comes about three weeks later than it did last year (although we normally advise applicants to aim for Round 1 and 2 if they can hit those deadlines). Note that applying in Round 1 means that you will receive a decision from Ross before Christmas, giving you at least a couple of weeks before most other MBA programs’ Round 2 deadlines come in early January.

Michigan (Ross) Admissions Essays

  1. What are you most proud of professionally and why? What did you learn from that experience? (400 words)

    As mentioned above, this essay prompt is new this year. This and the next essay question — and you really can’t think about one without considering the other — are asking you to be choosy and pick two things that you really want the MBA admissions committee to remember about you. Regarding this professional question, the best responses will demonstrate a time when you went outside your comfort zone or went beyond what was expected of you. Did you take a risk? Did you notice a problem that no one else was willing to tackle, and constructively solve it? While doing that, did you grow as a result?

    This essay is a great place to use the “SAR” method (Situation, Action, Result) that normally works so well in admissions essays. You only have 400 hundred words, so you need to strike the right balance between properly setting the stage (otherwise, admissions officers may not fully appreciate the significance of your accomplishment) and getting right into describing what you did and what results you achieved.

    Finally, don’t overlook the second part of the question, about what you learned about yourself. While what happened is obviously important, evidence of how you grew and how you got to know yourself better is even more critical. A great essay tells about how you learned valuable about yourself and how you were able to act and improve upon it. That’s the type of response that has the potential to stick with the application reader.

  2. What are you most proud of personally and why? How does it shape who you are today? (400 words)

    Even though this is about the personal side of you, our advice here isn’t radically different from what we wrote above. Use the “SAR” to succinctly help the reader understand the challenge or opportunity you faced, describe what you did, and then move into how you grew as a result. Again, how you answer the second part of the question is really what can turn this from an okay essay into a memorable one that will help admissions officers really feel like they got to know you better.

    A final thought: Don’t feel that your personal achievement needs to be something that’s outwardly impressive, such as completing a marathon or climbing Mount Everest. Some of the best essays we’ve seen have dealt with intensely personal issues, such as overcoming a speech impediment or putting life ahead of work to care for a sick relative. Be real and honestly discuss how you’ve grown, and odds are that you will write a great essay as a result.

  3. Optional question:Is there anything not addressed elsewhere in the application that you would like The Admissions Committee to know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (300 words)

    As always, only use this essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. More generally, if you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it’s okay to skip this essay. Yes, the fact that there are only two required essays in which you can tell your story, but don’t feel compelled to command admissions officers’ attention for an extra 300 words if you don’t need to.
  4. Do you plan on applying to the Ross MBA program? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!