Overcoming the hurdle of the essay

The essay writing process quickly turned into a personal, reflective exercise

Johanna Singer

MBA: Columbia Business School

The business school application process presents varying challenges to every individual. For some the greatest obstacle will be the GMAT. For others, it will be deciding where to apply, securing strong recommendations or building a resume. In my own experience, the essay writing was the most arduous portion of the application. I assumed writing the essay would mean figuring out the “right” way to present myself as a desirable MBA candidate; in reality it ended up being much more than that.

Columbia Business School was my first choice, far above any other school. After attending prospective student events, sitting in on classes and meeting current students, I had an impression of the Columbia community and was sure it was a good fit for me and I for it.

With my certainty in Columbia, I hoped that applying Early Decision would indicate my dedication to the school and give me a slight advantage. But in order to make the early deadline, I had to move quickly with my application.

Almost every business school application will ask, in some form or another, to explain why you are pursuing an MBA.

I knew for certain that the last thing Columbia wanted to hear was that my interest in attending was to work out the next step in my career. In order to answer this question, I was advised that specificity was key – to the point of listing my ideal future position and employer. The aim of this question is to show a thoughtful, logical career trajectory for which an MBA is critical.

The truth is, although I had a rudimentary idea of what I wanted in terms of a post-business school career, I didn’t have anything close to a definitive, well-thought-out plan. Like so many other applicants, I consider the greatest draw of business school to be the experience of it. I am interested in a respite from the corporate world, exposure to new industries, formalising learnings from previous work experience, strengthening personal skills and meeting new people. The challenge before me was to present these immediate interests within the context of a more long-term career plan.

The essay writing process quickly turned into a personal, reflective exercise. I analysed my past work experience and my own strengths and weaknesses. I spent time considering my career goals in the light of my overall story. I worked to reason objectively what I had to gain from an MBA and why I could not move forward without it.

What had started as an attempt to produce an application that would get me admitted to Columbia turned into an invaluable process of introspection. In writing the application essay I underwent a self-analysis that may have been my first lesson from earning my MBA.

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