I just wanted to offer some advice on the main essay topic as I know some people are racking their brain over this. Oxford wants to learn about your values. If it is shocking to you then it’s probably tripping upon some deeply felt principal. Ponder what that might be and speak from that place. Consider that they are trying to get to know you at the deepest level by understanding what motivates you, and examining if those values are a match for the Oxford Community. To generate some ideas you might actually consider looking at successful essays for Stanford’s main essay question which also speaks to values. For the part about how you would change this, I think they are looking to assess your innovative and strategic thinking abilities. Be imaginative.
This is a hard question, and you should prioritize it in your efforts. The key is doing the proper introspection. Think about past experiences that point to specific strengths.
With regards to examples, my #1 message about this essay is DO NOT TALK ABOUT WORK. They mention *personal* like 9 times in the prompt. This is the #1 error that most people make. There are so many opportunities to talk about work elsewhere in the INSEAD application.
One of my R1 candidates has a past history of organizing groups or initiatives that help others achieve a dream they felt was impossible “on the cheap” and provided 2 quick anecdotes to support that. The mantra is show don’t tell. Make your claims, but make sure to illustrate this with examples (for both strengths and weaknesses.)
If you don’t have a lot of clarity around your strengths and weaknesses- survey your friends and family and ask for their input with this. I use this tool, it is free for 15 days. Make sure to let everyone know you need feedback rather quickly. http://www.reachcc.com/reach/survey.nsf
The strengthfinders assessment is also very useful, if you can support the results it with personal anecdotes. If you buy the book it comes with an assessment. http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx
And finally, there is a values quiz on MindTools https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm
The key is to reflect on past times in your life when you did well (and not so well) and trace back the strengths and weaknesses those point to. The objective of this question is to give them insight into who you are, not just what you have done. And from this, they can discern your level of self-awareness. With this question, you want to make an emotional connection with the adcom. So often applicants spend all their time discussing accomplishments but are afraid to open up and describe who they really are as a person.
When someone is candid about their failings, it opens our heart to them, and we feel more connected to them. The importance of making an emotional, heartfelt connection to make you memorable cannot be overstated.
I recently received a question, “Could you offer any advice about how to approach this short answer question from the “Background” section? It’s a bit unclear to me whether this is an ethnicity / citizenship question or if you can talk about anything related to your background.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
1 – TRANSFORMATION IS THE CLAIM
Stanford’s claim is that you will be transformed by way of a GSB MBA. They key to success is to show how you embody transformation – how you have experienced transformation in the past, and how you have transformed others.
2 – AND DIVERSITY IS THE CONDUIT
Stanford believes that diversity is the catalyst to achieve said transformation. Being exposed to viewpoints, worldviews and experiences different from your own is how you will achieve this transformation. Diversity is generally traceable back to your background or perspective.
3 – SELECTION, NOT EVALUATION
You see yourself individually. But the GSB adcom is concerned with putting together an outstanding class. They think in the aggregate. The Stanford ding letter is very telling, it states that the process is about, “selection, not evaluation.” They are not looking at your merits in isolation. It’s not about you being good enough (evaluation), it’s about you being what they are seeking (selection.) The criteria for selection? You being so absolutely unrepeatable that they cannot pass you up. The class would suffer for it.
AN ANALOGY FROM REALITY TV
I watch a lot of Top Chef, and it always makes me laugh when, at the final elimination, the runner-up yells out, “I deserved to be Top Chef!” Does this mean the winner did not deserve to be Top Chef? Did you taste their dishes? If you didn’t, (and maybe even if you did) you really can’t make this claim.They are failing to grasp the fundamental principle of a competition. It is not about evaluating your merits as a chef. It’s about selection, not evaluation. It’s a comparative process.
4 – UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION
Stanford receives so many applications, your first order of business is to articulate the unique contribution you would bring to the class. Unique contribution meaning your “background or perspective.”
5 – WILL YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE TRANSFORMATION OF OTHERS?
The Stanford brand relies upon the transformation you achieve by way of a Stanford MBA. The adcom invests a lot of time and money in creating a highly diverse class, from all strata and walks of life, and want to make sure their efforts will be leveraged. It’s one thing for students to be diverse and have a diverse perspective, yet quite another for the student body to be enriched by that diversity.
6 – Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background or perspective influenced your participation at work or school.
This question allows them to refine things one level further. Most believe that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. Do you have a track record of sharing your experiences and perspectives for the betterment of all? They are looking to choose applications who have a track record of putting this into action. The question is, will you bring your diverse, unique background or perspective to the forefront in the classroom so that others can benefit from it? Or will you be Suzy Wallflower, hoarding all your goodies to yourself? If you do have a unique or diverse perspective/ background, how have you transformed others by way of this? Meditate on this point when answering this question.
Let’s connect if you would like guidance with your personal application to GSB or other top schools. Wishing success and transformation in your MBA journey!
As tempting as it is, avoid recycling essays. The adcom is very old hat at this, and will smell it out instantly. And consider you a B-rate applicant who is trying to pump out applications. They want see a demonstrated interest in their program, in part, because it means you are likely to “pick” them if they “pick” you.
However, there are things you can recycle from one essay to the next, and still answer the question. Almost every school has some derivation of asking 1) why you, 2) why MBA and 3) why this school. Meaning, why should we pick you, why do you want/need an MBA, and why do you want an MBA at this school.
Why you – generally about the same for each school with regards to unique contributions you can make to the program, your value proposition. However, we also want to include what you bring to the program in terms of FIT: this relates to how you fit with their culture and share their values.
Why MBA – this story should be pretty similar from one school to the next. It needs to connect the dots between your past and future, meaning, you haven’t just pulled this idea out of the sky. However at the same time, it needs to show that you need an MBA to accomplish your goal.
Why this school – this is all about school research – leveraging the networking you have done in many forms. This part is totally unique to each school.
Make sure to answer all parts of the question. You can never recycle an entire essay, but it is possible to recycle parts of an essay.
It always seems so unfair to contend with HBS….
everyone’s dream school – as the first application essay – right when you’re developing your “sea legs” in the world of MBA admissions!
A few pointers.
First of all, please know that when it comes to word count, they are giving you enough rope to hang yourself here. Concision is valued and needs to be reflected.
Applicants often feel as though more is better. This is not the case and if you’ve ever reviewed resumes for a living, you know what I’m talking about. The mantra here is targeted, not comprehensive.
If you are struggling to choose, can you take some of these things and roll them up into leadership characteristics that are broader, but still meaningful? The key is to find the essence of it, the golden thread, what others say is unique about you, what you’re known for – as it relates to leadership.
People can only digest so much at a time. For this reason, it’s your responsibility to be super clear and focused. Would you be more attracted to a political candidate who mentioned three things or 20? In many ways, this is your campaign speech – your pitch. Limit the focus to increase comprehension of the message.
Also, be transparent and avoid jargon. Make it easy for us to walk into your world – they ask for this specifically. Step outside of yourself and your world – in order to write an essay that is digestible by the adcom.
Strategically select an anecdote, possibly two, that reflect what it is you are known for, what might be your brand as it relates to leadership. There needs to be a hook and they need to get clear on what your trying to say in the first 15 seconds.
You don’t want the same anecdotes to show up in your letter of recommendation, but you want both items to point to the same qualities.
Feel free to reach out if you like me to review your drafts. I’ll send you audio file feedback.