Posted on December 10, 2014

‘Be Creative’ in your Essays

With round 2 deadlines approaching fast, the applicants must be  reflecting on their best stories for their essays  to demonstrate  their uniqueness to the Admission Committee  .

One of the greatest challenges that stares the applicants in their face is that every year, business schools come up with essay prompts that challenge them to use their imagination and creativity. These questions are thoughtfully composed by the Admission Committee to get illuminating glimpses into the lives of the B school applicants. These essay questions offer the applicants an opportunity to showcase their interests and passions, their background, and life experiences that have shaped their unique personalities.

I would like to share some of the most interesting  essay questions that have intrigued my  students in the recent years.

  1. If you could host a dinner party and invite any four people, either living or dead, whom would you invite and what would the five of you discuss together? There is no right answer concerning the dinner guests; we want you to be creative and thoughtful in your response. (4000 chars)

I still remember that Georgia Tech’s question in the admission cycle of 2012-13 gave a heartache to the students I had worked with. The purpose of this question was to gain insights into applicants’ views,  ideologies, and perspectives. Their first challenge was to select four people (living or dead) whose life experiences, achievements, had influenced , inspired or intrigued them.  Then they had to come up with common topics of discussion/ questions. The choice of guests and the topics and the details of discussion breathed life into the essay and offered insights into the writers’ thinking/ values/ belief system etc.

2.     If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (Haas- 250 word maximum)

 This unique  essay question that Haas had asked  last year  still lingers in my mind. It also aims to get insights into the writer’s personality. It is more challenging than it appears to select a particular song that expresses a person’s thinking and values. By explaining what is common between your personality and the lyrics of this song and how this song defines who you are, you are in fact sharing   your emotions, feelings, values, fears and dreams which in turn reveal your personality traits that  will set you apart from other candidates.

3. Imagine that you received an early morning call from your office telling you that due to a technical issue, the office wouldn’t be open that day: how would you spend your ‘found time?’ (250 word limit)

While recalling creative questions that stimulate the thought process , another question that crosses my mind is the ‘found time’ question that Ivy Richard asked last year. The question expected the applicants to describe how they would use their new-found time off if they came to know that their office was unexpectedly closed for a day Would you like to pursue your passions/ interest ( read a book, play, hike ) or would you like to spend time with your family, friends? Your response to the question would give the Ad Com   an understanding of your interests and passions.

4. (You are the author for the book of Your Life Story. In 1,000 characters or less, please write the table of contents for the book in the space provided or upload it as an attachment. Note: approach this essay with your unique style. We value creativity and authenticity.

Another fascinating but highly creative essay prompt that makes the applicants sweat themselves out  is   Cornell’s ‘Table of Contents’ ). By asking you to create a table of contents of your life story, Cornell is also offering you an opportunity to demonstrate your passions/ abilities/ influences / accomplishments that have not been described anywhere else in your application. You may approach this essay in two ways- thematically or chronologically. Please note that last year’s applicants had 300 words to write the book of their life story, while this year’s students are only allowed 1000 characters.

 5.    The "Team Fuqua" spirit and community is one of the things that sets The Duke MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. When a new person joins the Admissions team, we ask that person to share with everyone in the office a list of "25 Random Things About Yourself." As an Admissions team, we already know the new hire's professional and academic background, so learning these "25 Random Things" helps us get to know someone's personality, background, special talents, and more. In this spirit, the Admissions Committee also wants to get to know you–beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are.Share with us your list of "25 Random Things" about YOU.

I believe this discussion would be incomplete without mentioning Duke’s list of 25 random things -my personal favorite.  For the last three years, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has been asking applicants to share a list of “25 Random Things” about themselves. This question   allows applicants to showcase interesting and meaningful facts about themselves that they otherwise might not get a chance to share with the Ad .Com.

6. Some other interesting questions that allow applicants to showcase their creativity and imagination are fun fact about you ( Kelley 25 words), ‘a friend , colleague or a family member's tribute on your 75thbirthday, (IMD), the role of integrity in personal, professional and academic life ( Purdue), and   MIT’s  essay in the form of a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of themselves.

B -schools come up with such creative questions because they are seeking well-rounded personalities, and not one dimensional professionally accomplished people. However,  what makes tackling these essay questions more challenging is the changing trend of fewer and shorter essays every year. Schools are not only reducing the number of required essays, but also the number of words they expect the applicants to write which makes this process all the more daunting for applicants. For example, discussing your ‘greatest challenge’ in 300 words (Kelley), the  lessons you learned from your spectacular failure in 200 words (Cambridge), ‘the value you add to the school’ in 300 words ( LBS ), your ‘professional goals’ in 1500 characters ( Tepper), or explaining  ‘What are you most proud of personally and why and how did it  shape who you are today? in 400 words ( Ross) makes  application essay writing a difficult journey for B School aspirants. I have discussed some useful strategy tips to help you deal with stringent word limits in my article titled Business School Application Essays-‘Less is more’ published in the September issue of   Valley India Times .

As each school composes questions per their own requirements, it helps prevent plagiarism and ensures the students actually write the essays themselves. Since they change questions every year, applicants cannot recycle one schools essay responses to other schools. Most   schools include it in their instructions that there is no right or wrong answer. We want you to be creative and thoughtful in your response.

To sum up, developing stories for these fascinating essay topics for admission essays is a skill demands careful thought and preparation. To choose your best stories/ experiences, you first need to comprehend the essay prompt well and then devote significant amount of time in reflecting deeply on your professional aspirations and life experiences. After selecting your stories, organize them coherently, and flesh them out with relevant details. Remember, the essence of writing is rewriting. So you must revise your essays multiple times to ensure that all the pieces of your story fit together and then proofread them for any grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. Lastly, use economical expressions to fit your story to meet the stringent word limit specifications. I am confident that by following this structured approach, you will transform your stories into memorable essays that will help you secure admission in your chosen school.

B School essay writing is a creative journey- the more time and thought you will invest in it, the more rewarding it will turn out to be for you.

Note: Please refer to Business Week’s article Who Came up with that?  How MBA essay questions get written?)

For more MBA articles, visit myEssayReview blog. For questions, email me at

Poonam Tandon, Ph.D. English

Founder & CEO, myEssayReview

Partner-GMAT Club

Consultant-  AIGAC (Association of International Graduate Admission Consultants)

Contributor- Valley India Times

Web /Blog/ Free resources/LinkedIn/Facebook