Failure and setback stories are among the hardest admissions essays to write. My clients often struggle to find the right stories that showcase their ability to survive and thrive in the face of obstacles and frustration. They also wonder how much responsibility to take for what happened, and how to prove that they have learned their lessons. Here are the tips I use to help them to tell successful stories.
This is not an undertaking in which you look at an audience/customer (i.e., the Committee on Admissions) and then write what you believe we want to hear. It is quite the opposite. This is a process in which you look inside yourself and try to express most clearly what is there. We are trying to get a good sense of your perspectives, your thoughts on management and leadership, and how Stanford can help you realize your goals.
What worked here? I’m told the admissions officers appreciated how the writer conveyed her love of words — and in the process told them much about herself. As a writer, I admired the way she built a sense of mystery at the outset, one that served to draw the reader in.
You can be authentic even if you ultimately decide to pursue other career goals after graduation. Many MBA holders end up pursuing different goals than they wrote in their admissions essays. Out of the nearly 500 applicants I have helped, I can think of only a few that did what they wrote when applying. Adcoms know this, and respect it. In fact, they want you to change and grow as a result of your MBA experience. Some schools, most notably MIT Sloan, do not ask you to explain their future goals because they hope that you will co-create their future vision from within the MIT community. I respect MIT for this. For those of you applying to nearly any other program, you need a goals story.