This application season, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business has streamlined its essay prompts down to just one and broadened the scope of the query to leave the decision of what to share largely up to the candidate. Rather than asking applicants about a defining moment and how they anticipate contributing to and benefitting from their experience in the Tepper program, the school poses what those familiar with the entrepreneurial/start-up world will readily recognize as a kind of “elevator pitch.” Candidates must distill what they feel are the most meaningful elements of their candidacy into a brief and compelling sound bite of sorts. Read on for our suggestions on how you might accomplish this…
Your essays are a great way for us to really get to know who you are. There are no right or wrong answers here – be authentic and tell us what we won’t find in the rest of your application. Only one essay is required. There also is an optional essay if there is additional information you wish to share with the admissions committee about your candidacy.
Essay 1: (Maximum 300-350 words, 12-point font, double-spaced): Imagine that you meet up with a member of the admission committee at an airport while on a layover. You have an opportunity to make a memorable impression. Use this essay to introduce yourself. Include any information that you believe is important for the committee member to know about you both professionally and personally.
With a limit of just 300–350 words, you do not have a lot of room to get too detailed here, so heed the school’s directive—“tell us what we won’t find in the rest of your application”—and steer away from providing a basic rundown of your current job title and company, your undergraduate institution, your extracurriculars, and/or any other statistics and data points that the admissions committee will already have. This is not an invitation to just offer a laundry list of attributes or achievements but to “make a memorable impression” (emphasis ours). Although you want to use this essay to convey key information about your candidacy, before you start writing anything, take a few minutes to actually imagine yourself in this situation in real-life. What do you think you would truly say to an admissions officer in such a setting? We are pretty sure you would not whip out your resume, begin detailing your greatest achievements, and outline the career you hope to have after graduating. Some of this information may indeed be part of what you want your brief message to be, but you should be natural and realistic in your approach. And given that being able to streamline your central, most crucial messages and facts into a readily accessible, compelling, yet brief statement is a valuable—if not required—skill in the workplace, this essay may also give Tepper insight into your abilities in that regard
So, go beyond the bullet points in your resume and consider touching on personal qualities that are distinctive and representative of who you are as an individual, providing some ideas of how or what you could contribute to the Tepper environment, sharing your post-MBA goals, explaining your reason for wanting the degree, and/or clarifying why you feel you need an MBA now in particular. Business schools generally want to know (whether they ask directly or not) what candidates have in mind when they apply to an MBA program. To change careers? Advance in their current one? Hone certain skills? Gain exposure to a particular aspect of business or build a stronger network? Keep all these ideas in mind when deciding what to include in your essay, and work to supply the admissions committee with any such details you feel are most relevant for your candidacy. We recommend downloading your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide to help you better understand the primary points schools often request and get some ideas on how you might frame or incorporate them into your essay.
Though this may be easier said than done for some applicants, do your best to infuse your personality into your submission as much as possible. Let your approach and style reflect how you generally conduct yourself. Are you typically light-hearted or more blunt and forthright? Do you tend to be creative and visionary or more grounded and conservative? This essay will be the school’s first glimpse into who you are beyond the short answers, flat facts, and numbers provided in the rest of your application, so you want to try to convey your individuality and character along with your key points.
Optional Essay: Use this essay to convey important information that you may not have been otherwise able to convey. This may include unexplained resume gaps, context for recommender selection, etc. If you are a re-applicant, explain how your candidacy has strengthened since your last application.
Tepper’s optional essay prompt is somewhat broad in the sense that it does not demand that you discuss only problem areas in your candidacy. However, the second line of the prompt seems to imply that the admissions committee expects the essay to be used for just that. If an element of your profile would benefit from further explanation—such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, or a legal or disciplinary issue—this is your opportunity to address it and answer any related questions an admissions officer might have. We caution you against simply trying to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you, and do not interpret this as a blank-slate invitation to dump every bit of remaining information about yourself that you feel the school is lacking or to offer a few anecdotes you were unable to use in your required essay. Although no word limit is stipulated, be mindful that by submitting a second essay, you are making a claim on an (undoubtedly very busy) admissions representative’s time, so you be sure that what you have written is worth the additional resources and effort. For more guidance, see our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice (along with multiple examples) on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay.
If you are a reapplicant, this essay is pretty straightforward. Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Tepper wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Tepper MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.
Tell us about yourself! There are no right or wrong answers. Be authentic and tell us what we won’t learn about you in the rest of your application.
Imagine that you meet up with a member of the admission committee at an airport while on a layover. You have an opportunity to make a memorable impression. Use this essay to introduce yourself. Include any information that you believe is important for the committee member to know about you both professionally and personally. (Maximum 300-350 words, 12-point font, double-spaced)
Many B-Schools have slimmed their required essay sections over the years. Tepper is the latest to attempt to essentialize a candidate through a single, short essay. Let’s have a look…
First thing you need to do is develop a sense of what’s interesting about you… not just to yourself, but to others as well. This is more art than science. But we have (an admittedly crude) method for at least kickstarting that private investigation. Here’s how it works:
- Write down your most impressive features (list of 10). Think of features as any of the following: achievements in general, talents, unique personal traits, interesting life experiences, key professional achievements, unbelievably innovative “big idea,” cool skills, etc. Some examples: Top marks at an Ivy or IIT or Tsinghua; GMAT damn near 800; worked in a leadership role at a place like Google, Tesla, BP, huge family enterprises; from some place other than America, India, or China (Moldova, Uruguay, anywhere in Africa, etc.); consistent and strong leadership role in a volunteer capacity at a place like Red Cross, Amnesty International, etc.; speak five languages; you decided one day to become a contortionist and became famous for it… at Goldman Sachs; and so on.
- Rank this list. How? In terms of which one is most meaningful to YOU PERSONALLY. This requires discipline and a heaping teaspoon of honesty. Think of this as a private admission to yourself… which one of these are you most proud of? Do you care most about? Is your greatest achievement? Or the hobby you are most passionate about? What defines you the most? It is somehow – impossibly – a combination of all those things. Take a swing, and rank them 1 through 10 (1 being the MOST).
- Weight this list. Use the following scale and place this number NEXT to your updated (ranked) list:
- 1 point – No one else on Earth can lay claim to this.
- 5 points – Very few applicants have achieved/done/experienced this.
- 10 points – Many other applicants are likely to have achieved/done/experienced this.
- 15 points – Virtually every competitive applicant will have some version of this.
- Multiply. Multiply the initial rank and the weight to general a Final Number. (To illustrate, let’s say a leadership story from McKinsey ranked 6th on your list and it was somewhat unique but not all that unique, and you weighted it a “5” (very few students have achieved this), you’d end up with a Final Score of 30 for the McKinsey item (6 x 5).
- Reorder Your List. Lowest Number FIRST. Look at it. See what it tells you. (This is not a perfect methodology by any means, and sometimes it won’t reveal much… but in most cases it can be a useful tool to at least nudge you in the right direction.)
Here’s why we went through all that. Given a ONE-SHOT-TO-LEAVE-AN-IMPRESSION scenario, you will probably be best served focusing on the items that end up at the TOP of your final list, and leaving aside the stuff at the bottom. In weighting these items, this exercise should expose traits and achievements you may be accustomed to regarding as impressive, but that are, in fact, not as impressive as some other stuff in your arsenal. THOSE are the items (your “greatest hits”) that you need to bring to THIS kind of impression.
Once you zero in on your top two or three items that combine well to paint a strong but also interesting/crackling portrait of who you are, what makes you tick, and why you should remain STUCK in this admission committee’s head, now it’s time to draft this sucker. 300-350 words is going to be two to three paragraphs max. Our recommendation is to waste NO time ramping up. Dive in. If you’re the guy/gal with the game changing idea, open with it:
“What if we’re looking at energy capture through solar panels incorrectly? What if we could achieve 2x the projected energy capture through existing automobiles instead within 8 months?”
Or, lead with the problem that bumps and sets your idea: “Companies today with over 500 employees spend X on Y, instead of Z. The problem? ABC. Here’s how we can solve it.”
If you’re a born leader (and that’s high on your list from our exercise), lead with that: “The battlefield looks different from a TV screen at an airport than it does from the inside of a tank.”
You get the idea. No soft introductions. There’s simply no time. Get to the thing you need to talk about. And go through one or two or three things off your list. Use maybe 200-250 words of your total on that. “The stuff.” For your final 100-150 words, make a case for why that stuff was necessary to communicate. Convey (somehow) that that information should motivate ANYONE listening to want to offer this guy/gal a seat at their school because it foretells success in the future. As long as you have those two pieces (communicating succinctly your TOP traits/qualities as well as some context for why that makes you fierce as an MBA candidate), your first draft will be headed in a solid direction.