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How to Write a Memorable MBA Essay

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The personal statement—sometimes referred to as the MBA essay—is among the most critical pieces of your Howard University’s Online Master of Business Administration (OMBA) application. It’s your opportunity to explain, in detail, why Howard’s OMBA is the perfect fit for you.

Most prospective MBA students apply to multiple business school programs with near-identical essay questions. It’s a time-consuming process, and you’ll be tempted to take the shortcut of recycling your essay for each MBA application. If you take nothing else away from this article, at least remember this: don’t do that. Admission officers see hundreds of applications, and they can spot recycled essays in an instant. When they see one, their takeaway is: our school is not this student’s first choice. That’s not the impression you want to make.

When applying to Howard’s Online MBA Program, tailor your essay to what distinguishes Howard and why that inspires you. Emphasize what makes you unique, who you are, and how issues of diversity factor into your story. Your MBA essay should address why Howard is the best program for you. How will Howard’s OMBA help you achieve your dreams and reach your career goals? How will you balance working full-time while enrolled in a part-time MBA program?

Authenticity is more important than having a “perfect” resume and set of experiences. If you have less-than-stellar GRE or GMAT scores, address that. Did your undergraduate GPA suffer because you had to care for a sick relative? Were you working full-time to pay for your college degree? Whatever your story, weave it throughout your business school application. The essay is your opportunity to provide context.

MBA essay tips

Howard’s MBA admissions committee reviews OMBA essays carefully because they often offer the most insight about a prospective student. In addition to general writing skills and the ability to communicate clearly, the admissions officers look for emotional intelligence. Do you know yourself? Are you relatable? What extracurricular activities are on your resume? Can you talk about entrepreneurship and success without being boastful? The MBA applicants who stand out are honest about their life experiences and the hardships they’ve faced. Tell the story of you, and make it genuine.

"Your MBA essay isn't the place to flex your excellent sense of humor."

Think critically about the “Why Howard?” aspect of your MBA personal statement. You want to attend Howard Online, obviously, or you wouldn’t be applying — but why? What does the flexibility of an online program mean to you? How will an online, part-time MBA program allow you to continue working, and why is that important? Is there a particular business school faculty member from whom you want to learn? Will you leverage Career Services or Howard’s robust alumni network? Are you attracted to Howard’s status as a historically Black college/university (HBCU)? What will you do post-MBA? What do you bring to the table?

Like all top business schools, Howard’s online MBA program seeks diversity of thought. What makes you different? The school also seeks students who can succeed in its program. Do you have what it takes to work full-time and complete a degree part-time while giving your attention wholly to both? Do you have experiences that prove your perseverance, grit and resilience? How will you make the most of your MBA experience if you get in? The MBA application process — especially the essay — allows you to answer all of these questions.

What should a B-school personal statement include?

There’s no one-size-fits-all at Howard; OMBA essay tips vary according to your profile. However, note the specifics of the OMBA personal statement prompt:

  • Applicants should provide a personal statement that describes the uniqueness of his/her character, abilities, issues of diversity, academic history, community service activities, and professional experience.
  • The statement should discuss the applicant’s interest in the Howard University Online MBA program and how completing the Online MBA will facilitate realizing his/her dreams and aspirations.
  • The statement should be between 2-3 pages and double-spaced.

Think critically about how Howard’s core values of excellence, leadership and service align with your own. Howard develops compassionate, historically aware leaders who solve problems on a global scale. Living up to the motto “In Truth and Service,” Howard students engage in scholarship to make the world better. What does all of this mean to you? Think less about the word limit and more about content (while keeping your essay to three pages, max).

What’s the best tone for answering MBA essay questions?

An excellent OMBA essay is clear and concise. State your point up front. Many MBA essays open with an overused quote from someone other than the prospective student writing the essay. Avoid this. The same goes for words like “rewarding” or “challenging,” which don’t paint a picture of your life and work. Show rather than tell. Creating jobs, helping others, running a non-profit, building a business that does good for the world, and coming up with creative solutions are all examples of what makes a “rewarding” career path. Use concrete examples of how you’ve driven change already — or want to in the future.

Share what you do and how you got here. Job titles vary within and across industries, so spell things out in detail. How will you make an impact? How have you made an impact? Don’t bullet your job description and responsibilities. Highlight results. Which experiences add to your candidate profile? The MBA essay is your opportunity to discuss a break in employment, a lower-than-expected test score, or any other aspect of your candidacy you want to explain or clarify.

The right essay tone and voice are critical and often challenging. Your MBA essay isn’t the place to flex your excellent sense of humor; “what’s funny” varies widely, and jokes are more likely to flop than to land. The same goes for Internet slang and pop culture references, which typically fall flat when taken out of context. However, this doesn’t mean stripping your essay of personality.

Reviewing, revising and submitting OMBA application essays

When should you start working on your MBA essay? How long will it take to complete the first draft? Start by writing a few hundred words each day until you fully address each prompt. Work through multiple versions before you consider it “final” — and, even then, know that you’ve got a way to go. Be patient.

Share your MBA application essay with people you trust — friends, family, mentors, professional contacts and previous teachers. If you don’t have anyone in your network to help, many MBA admissions consultants offer free consultations, and nearly all of them write blog entries with MBA essay tips. Consider seeking help from the same people who you’ll ask to write your letters of recommendation. When narrowing your list, prioritize the those who:

  • Know you well and can make sure you’re representing yourself genuinely
  • Understand your goals, accomplishments, and the challenges you’ve overcome
  • Have strong writing skills and opinions you trust

Be specific about what kind of feedback you want. Ask readers to review technical aspects, like grammar, formatting, ensuring you’ve answered the essay prompts and covered all relevant information of your candidacy. Is your purpose clear and concise? How are your tone and voice? Are you memorable? Are readers left wanting to know more?

Be clear about how and when you want feedback. Do you prefer direct edits or suggestions? What’s your deadline? If your essay is in Google docs, share a copy of the original. Don’t share your MBA essay with less than 24 hours to go. Give at least a week for feedback.

How will you know when you’ve finished your essay? It’s easy to improve your writing for longer than you need to, but you need to stop at some point. Sit with your MBA essay. Come back in a week, then read it again. If the essay tells your story, you’re done. If not, keep working.

For more information on the personal statement and applicable admissions deadlines for the OMBA application process, as well as frequently asked questions, please visit Howard Online or speak with an enrollment advisor.

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