Posted on June 1, 2013

How Should I Choose Stories for Essays?

In response to my blog titled 'Common Mistakes You Should Avoid in Your Essays,' I received emails from applicants with some interesting queries regarding stories to be used in essays. I would like to share their questions and my responses to the questions:

Question #1: Are these stories supposed to be the guiding spirit of the essay question? In other words, should they be more of a backbone or just supporting information?

Answer: It depends on the essay prompt.  For example, if the essay prompt asks you to describe a ‘difficult situation’ or a ‘disagreement’ where you were required to use your teamwork skills or leadership skills to resolve a conflict, or if it asks you to recall a situation in a personal or professional setting where you experienced ‘an ethical dilemma’, your story/experience would be the ‘backbone’ of the essay comprising all the four components of your experience: (the situation/ challenge, action, outcome, and significance), your role in dealing with the situation being the most significant part of the story.

However, if the question asks you about your perspective about something (e.g. “What advice would you give to a foreigner moving to your home country?  Why?” or “What is your definition of leadership?”), the purpose of your story would be to provide “the supporting information” with a view to substantiating your perspective and views.

Question #2: Should the stories be life-altering and vivid events of commonplace events of leadership and perseverance would also do?

 Answer: Again, all your responses will be customized to the essay prompts.  If the question is about a life-altering event in your personal life, you will choose an experience that changed your life in a significant way.  On the other hand, leadership stories in your personal and professional life might not necessarily be life-changing events but should have been ‘meaningful’ for you or should have contributed to your ‘growth’ in some or other way.

Furthermore, the vivid details may be used to make the story compelling and engaging to the Ad Com; however, you need to make sure that vivid descriptions of the story do not eclipse the relevant content or the message of the story.  Please note that we are not writing these stories for short-story competitions, but for B-schools’ essay questions that are designed especially by them to get a sense of their prospective candidates’ personal and professional attributes.  So the stories should be the ones that meet the requirement of the essay question and represent you in the best light.

I believe that reflecting on past experiences for addressing essay questions on ‘culture,’ ‘background,’ ‘setback,’ ‘mistake,’ ‘strengths’/ ‘weaknesses,’ etc. is an exciting journey. But it demands your time. So, embark on this journey NOW.

Do you have questions about your application? E-mail Poonam at or sign up here for a free consultation.