MBA Essay Mode and My 2012-13 Application Strategy

So it’s been exactly ten days since I unloaded a huge weight off my back by hitting the 700 GMAT mark–if only by a hair.

Though I am about 85% sure to go for a retake, my “700 Club” status has decreased the pressure of this whole process to the point that I’m actually enjoying it for a change. Even the light GMAT review that I’ve been doing lacks the constrained, edgy feeling that it had when I wondered if I’d ever be able to break into the top 10% of test takers on the ever so cryptic GMAT exam.

After close to a week of rest from ANYTHING related to business school, I jumped head first (or perhaps it was with both feet?) into essay mode several days ago.

My 2012-2013 Application Strategy: To Chicago or Not to Chicago

In my application strategy (DISCLAIMER: subject to change based on changes of heart, cash flow and/or preferred admissions status) I have the 9 schools that are currently on my list split unevenly between Round 1 and Round 2. The current version of my strategy has me applying to all non-Chicago schools in Round 1 and the Chicago schools in Round 2.

There are two reasons for this seemingly random division. The first is that while I’m intrigued by the Chicago-area business schools (Booth and Kellogg), I really need to take some time to learn more about them both. Applying during December/January will allow me that time. And should I move forward with applying to both and be fortunate enough to be offered an interview from Chicago Booth (the Kellogg interview is mandatory for all who wish to be accepted), I can accomplish both interviews on one round trip plane ticket.

The second reason is that I haven’t wrapped my head around the idea of being in Chicago just yet. Intellectually, I am pretty sure that I would like it if I ended up there based on what I have heard from friends who live and used to live there. Nevertheless, I’ve always been a beach/coast person and will really need to experience “The Chi” in person before I can realistically envision myself not living next to an ocean; an NO, Lake Michigan doesn’t count.

My Round 1 MBA Admissions Splits

The 7 seven schools that I plan to apply to in Round 1 are broken up into two groups: Consortium schools and non-Consortium schools. My Consortium picks are Berkeley Haas, Darthmouth Tuck and Yale SOM. My non-Consortium R1 schools are MIT Sloan, Wharton, Stanford and HBS.

Since the Consortium R1 deadline is not until mid-November (you can apply to up to 6 consortium schools on one application) and some Consortium Schools (like Tuck) consider all Consortium candidates in one big block in the spring after Rounds 1 and 2 have passed, it makes the most sense to tackle my non-Consortium apps first.

The non-Consortium app deadlines break down as follows:

September 24 – HBS

October 1 – Wharton

October 3 – Stanford

October 24 – MIT

I have this crazy goal to try and get the essays for all four of these schools done by August–and by “done” I mean strong working drafts to tweak and iterate–but mostly done. We’ll see how pie in the sky that goal is (or isn’t) in a few weeks. Of course I know that each essay is likely to see many incarnations and tons of revisions, but I’d like to have the foundation–the MEAT–locked down early so that I won’t have to sweat about this part of my app at the last minute. I’ll also need plenty of time to work on my essays for the 3 Consortium schools prior to November and won’t want to be rushed on those, either.

MBA Essays in Fits and Starts

I had this delusional thought about a week ago; I thought, “hey, if i knock out my Stanford What Matters Most to You and Why essay first and get all connected with my inner purpose, that’ll make all of my other essays a shoe in for epic execution!”

Emmm…Not so Much.

I crashed and burned on my first 4-5 attempts at that essay. I temporarily abandoned it somewhere between my friend and Stanford GSB alum screaming “you’re not digging DEEP enough!” via text and Cheeterah1980 [basically] telling me “If you write another essay like that don’t ever speak to me again. Stop confusing good writing with good business school essays; they are not one in the same.

I switched gears and decided to kick things off with my goals essays, since the material is the most straightforward and the content will be the most repetitive between schools since attending a different program does not change your goals. After some strain, strife and painful revision I can say that I’m moderately proud of the current versions of my Wharton and Stanford goals essays.

I plan to finish Wharton’s essays first since their questions are the most standard and straightforward overall ; that’s good practice for getting the basic formulas and rhythms down before having to veer off the beaten path with less traditional essay questions. Kellogg is also good for this if you are applying during the first round. MIT’s essays are the next most straightforward, so I’ll tackle those after Wharton.

By then, my Stanford essay wounds should be healed enough to take another swing at their main question. I also read some advice that doing other essays before that one could help one gain additional insights and ideas (so it’s the opposite of what I originally thought).  However, if any essay puts a match and gasoline to my August goal date of 4 sets of working drafts, I imagine that will be the one.

I’ll wrap up this first group with Harvard Essays for one reason and one reason only–word count. To ask a writer to convey all that he needs to convey within two 400 word essays is like forcing the comedian Katt Willliams to “keep it clean”; its a painful stretch that just won’t work under normal circumstances. By saving the HBS essays for 4th, I hope that all of the previous writing that I will have completed will have sharpened my ability to spit out concise, compelling essays without a word to spare.


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About mbaover30

Wharton MBA and admissions expert

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19 Comments on “MBA Essay Mode and My 2012-13 Application Strategy”

  1. Deborah Knox Says:

    In previous years it has taken my clients about three weeks per application and two and a half if pinched. Most schools have fewer questions this year, but I think it is overambitious to think you will get the non-Consortium/Chicago essays done well by August, even if you were to have no job to otherwise occupy you. Even if you can write quickly, I have found clients’ essays get better when they have more time to let things pervolate and then steep.


    • mbaover30 Says:

      Agreed. My thinking is that if I can get strong working drafts by August, then I’ll have more time to really tweak and iterate to make them strong. Just getting a good, solid working draft has been much more challenging then I would have ever imagined. And who knows? I may end up cutting out some applications just so that I can focus on the ones that I feel strongest about. Time will tell.


  2. bschool2013 Says:

    The thought of applying to 9 schools makes my head hurt! I’m only applying to four, and one fo those is Darden which only has one essay. Then again, I’m also being OCD about my essays and actually drafted up Tuck’s in May based off of last year’s. So glad I rolled the dice since they’re largely the same.

    Best of luck moving forward!


  3. OhDenny Says:

    Hey dude,

    Quick Q: You going to be able to visit the East Coast schools prior to writing your essays? I know that my essays were much stronger for the schools I DID visit (Yale, Haas), than those I didn’t (Ross, Duke), when I applied, even though I’d been to multiple info sessions for the two latter schools. Ultimately, it worked out, and I visited for the interviews, but I would have felt even more prepared for the app had I seen the sights.

    Not saying it’s a deal-breaker, just wanted to flag that for you, in case you were considering a swing through New England.



  4. ladyroadwarrior Says:

    9 apps. Ouch. At least you’re starting early. A few thoughts
    – SO glad to see Tuck has stayed (so far) on the list
    – Good strategy on goals essay first. It’s the core, in my opinion, of all of the subsequent essays and really helped me tease out the “so what do you wanna be when you grow up” question
    – SUPER good strategy on Stanny essay. I tried to start with it (crash n burn) but ended up writing it last and feeling really great about it (of course the goat didn’t choose me but that’s another story)
    – Start lining up your (online and offline) support system. Trust me you will need them to help tame the crazy as you’re applying to all those schools.
    – I also have to agree with OhDenny. I’d venture you will write stronger essays for the schools you “get” culturally. And the best way to figure out culture is visit.
    Best of luck – we’re rooting for you!


    • mbaover30 Says:

      Thanks so much LRW. You, Denny and Cheetarah are definitely a part of that support system; though the latter is about to start charging me $250/hr if I don’t lay off the crazy a little lol. Tuck comes to LA next weekend and I will definitely be there to check them out. I registered about a month ago and have been very impressed with how they stay in contact.


  5. Kaps Says:

    Dear MBA Over 30 – I am in a similar boat as yours – over 30, infact even slightly more older than you, and still keen to pursue an MBA.

    I want to bounce one thought – do you think its a good idea to explain why you didnt pursue an MBA earlier, or just leave that issue out until its brought up?

    I have had differing opinions – some say explain proactively, some say it will come across as a weakness if you do do – therefore leave it out.

    I know most people advise that for more mature candidates the goals have to be much sharper, but addressing the timing issue, is something I am not sure about.

    Do you have any thoughts or advise on this?. People visiting this blog, please also chip in



    • mbaover30 Says:

      Hey there Kaps. Thanks for adding to the conversation on my blog. I think that’s something you should ask an admissions consultant. I recommend getting a free introductory session with someone like Kofi Kankam of Admit advantage or Linda Abraham of

      As far as my (non-expert: be forewarned) opinion goes, I was actually having this same conversation with Cheetarah1980, another popular blogger who successfully got into Booth, Kellogg and Wharton recently. I was 100% committed to addressing my age/time out of undergrad in each optional essay.

      Her (slightly more credible) opinion was that unless you A) are a 100k earning executive at your current company, or B) have been in the same job for 5+ years with no movement or C) are not looking to change careers, there really is no need to address age.

      Apparently, the age/time out of school comes into play more as a function of you meeting the above criteria–basically red flags that an EMBA migh be better for you–than your actual number of years of school or age itself.

      Hope this helps, but yeah…get some professional advice on that.


  6. crackthemba Says:

    I wanted to know how long it took for you to write your essays. I’m going to give my gmat in a weeks time, planning to apply to wharton in R1, do u think 3 weeks is good enough time to write essays, tweak resume and get reccos?


    • mbaover30 Says:

      It depends; if you are only applying to that one school R1 it may be possible, but you are going to want to devote your all to it night and day, with 2-3 friends who have ALREADY been successful getting into Wharton on standby to edit and critique your essays with super fast turnaround–OR pay someone like the essay snark. You should already have your pre- writes done by now to pull that off as well.

      The conundrum for you is that no matter who is helping you, good essays are cooked slowly, like good BBQ. It takes time to develop your themes, get multiple second opinions, cut the fat, etc. Then over time you’ll need to out them down then look at them with fresh eyes; and when you do needed revisions are likely to jump off the page at you.

      You will see better ways to express something in less words. The clarity and specificity of your goals is also likely to tighten as you write other essays and fill out apps. You’ll want to incorporate those upgrades as well. It takes time to really get the quality out of those essays; and the same goes for your app. There will also be red flags that ugly won’t see that your 2nd opinion editors will recognize and save you from.

      While I think 3 weeks may be possible if you have all these ducks in a row, I would advise against it if Wharton is a too choice for you–unless your GMAT, GPA, extras, a
      Leadership, rec’s and job history are so stellar that you know are going to. Low their socks off on that stud alone.

      But if you either don’t have an army of knowledgeable helpers in waiting or you have any chinks in your armor or your armor isn’t that shiny I’d say do R2 to give your leeks enough time to express yourself as perfectly as you possibly can. Even with solid stats there is no substitute for great execution IMO


      • mbaover30 Says:

        Sorry for the typos; done replied from an iphone.

      • crackthemba Says:

        Thanks for the reply. It was really informative 🙂
        I guess I shall apply in R2 then.

      • mbaover30 Says:

        Anytime; I think its a good call unless you’ve already got 85% of your act together by now. I wrote my Wharton essays nearly 2 months ago and I was still editing them LAST week. I’m just saying. Yeah, good essays are definitely slow-roasted. Thanks for commenting and don’t forget to the subscribe!


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