“Be yourself.” This is among the most common bits of advice that applicants get about writing strong MBA essays. On the one hand, it’s a great bit of guidance because authenticity is vital, but on the other hand, it can be quite frustrating because it doesn’t necessarily give you anything specific and actionable. How, after all, can you “be yourself”?
Here are three pieces of advice that will help you write a personal statement for your MBA application that is effective and authentic.
Tell a story
The first rule of writing is “show, don’t tell.” Telling is explaining, and explaining is boring and impersonal. If your personal statement focuses on telling stories, your personality, values, and potential will come across in the choices you make, the actions you take, and how you respond to the hardships and challenges you describe in the essay. If you’re the main character in your essay, you can’t help but “be yourself” because the reader encounters you as you are in your world. Besides, the human brain is designed to care about and remember stories, so not only are you conveying your true self to the reader, but you’re doing so in a manner that will be memorable and impactful.
Focus on your dreams for the future…
When you listen to people talk about their hopes and aspirations, their true selves come through. What they care about, how they see themselves, and what they find in the world that needs to be changed. In some respects, your future (and all the hopes packed into it) is among the most personal things about you. So, as you describe your future, be truthful (don’t just tell the school what you think they want to hear), be passionate, and provide as much detail about how you hope to do the thing you want to do.
At the same time, be sure to connect them to the reality of your present. If you talk about your future without detailing how your past and present have prepared you for it, your dreams will sound inauthentic and disconnected from reality. You want to start an NGO? Okay, then be sure to tell the reader about all the things you’ve done that have given you insight into this field, show you that you are well-suited for it, and prepared emotionally and otherwise for the challenges you will face. A dream without a plan is just an idle wish, and a plan has to be built on real-life knowledge, capabilities, skills, and experience. The best MBA essays make clear that you are excited about your dream AND that you can achieve it with a bit more training.
Write like you talk
Nobody ever says “whereas” or “heretofore” in their everyday lives, so don’t put those words in your essay! Do you go around talking about what you’re going to “leverage”? No? Then don’t use that verb in your essay! If you write like you talk, your text will sound natural, normal, and usually more competent and confident. An excellent way to check if your text is natural is to record it and listen to it a few days later. Even better, read your MBA essay out loud to your friends, and ask them, “does this sound like me?” If not, then smooth it out so that your voice shines through. Rework the unnatural parts by talking aloud and turning your narration into new text.
I can still remember getting ready for my first date. I was in high school, and before I headed out the door, my mom urged me, “be yourself, Brian!” I was already a bundle of nerves, so her advice didn’t make any sense to me. Now, years later, I understand the wisdom of her words. Of course, as with personal statement writing, it takes effort and self-reflection to reach a point where being yourself is possible. And, what is true for dating is also true for your MBA application process: being yourself is critical to making sure you find the right match. And whether we’re talking about finding the love of your life or the ideal spot for learning about mergers and acquisitions, it all starts with having the courage and confidence to be yourself.
Are you a movie fan? If you’re curious to learn how to write your personal statement like a movie, head over to this article.
About the author
Brian Fobi is the CEO of Gurufi – an admissions consultancy service that focuses exclusively on the writing portions of your application, helping you write powerful personal statements for graduate and business school. Gurufi was founded in 2008 by a group of Yale University entrepreneurs to help applicants improve their admissions writing by connecting them with expert editors. In the decade+ since, they have served over 9,500 clients with a satisfaction rate of over 99%.