While a school may change the wording of MBA prompts slightly every year, there are some common MBA essay topics that reoccur every application season. The MBA admission essay is a critical component of admission to business school, so preparing in advance by researching common MBA essay topics can give you an advantage.
Although all candidates must possess a winning combination of academic, personal, and professional achievements to get into grad school, MBA programs typically attract and accept students who have significant career experience. Therefore, your professional path is key to your admission to business school and should be emphasized in your application essays. In this article, we’ll look at 10 of the top business schools’ MBA essay topics, identify common themes that you can expect in any MBA essay prompt, and review some exemplary responses to help you prepare for this important part of MBA applications.
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What Purpose Do MBA Essay Topics Serve?
MBA essay topics are meant to elicit what makes you the perfect candidate for an MBA and for the specific business program you are applying to. Your essay should convince the admissions committee that you have what it takes to be successful in an MBA program, based on personal, academic, and work experience, and that you are the right fit for the class. Whether you are writing an MBA personal statement, a statement of purpose, or another type of essay, your essay should tell the story of the steps you took to end up here. MBA essay topics also highlight the mission, core values, and priorities of the business school. Because business schools are all quite different, tailor your essay to emphasize the curricula and teaching approach that appeals to you in the school’s philosophy of business education and research.
A Master of Business Administration is a highly sought-after credential. Admission to this challenging program is competitive, and the application process, like the MBA itself, is demanding. Business schools are seeking leaders, not followers, and the MBA essay is your opportunity to demonstrate how you measure up. The admissions committee will be keen to understand your background and aspirations and how you see yourself fitting in and contributing to the MBA program. Finally, they will be looking for proof of your self-assessment abilities and business acumen.
The key to acing MBA essay topics you encounter is to remember that everything you include in the essays must inevitably link back to the questions “Why MBA?” and “What makes you right for our MBA program?” We will discuss other important themes below, but as an MBA applicant, all your application components must in some way answer these important questions.
When Should I Begin to Prepare my MBA Essay?
New MBA essay topics are typically published on business schools’ websites in May and June with their updated admissions requirements. However, as we already mentioned, many of the themes remain the same, even if the exact wording of the prompt changes. This is why you can start brainstorming and preparing for common essay topics long before you have to actually submit!
MBA programs may have rolling admissions or deadlines. Several business schools have three application rounds per year. The first round will be in September/October for admission in the fall semester of the following year; in other words, you are applying a full year before you hope to start the program, and your MBA essay is due when you submit your application.
What Format Do MBA Essay Topics Take?
There is a huge variety of formats your MBA essay may take. Some business schools require just an MBA letter of intent or personal statement, but most require one or more essays in different formats. MBA essay topics may be in written, multimedia, and/or video format. For example, John Molson School of Business requires a 500-word MBA statement of purpose and a video interview. Rotman School of Management asks that you include 1–3 images in your application based on their “spike factor”: life experiences that “demonstrate passion, grit, resilience, innovation, drive, ambition,” or other qualities. In addition to a 1,000-word essay, they require a 2-question video interview response with a timed 10-min. written response component. As part of their required essay package, NYU Stern asks you to describe yourself using their “Pick Six” method (six images with an introduction and corresponding captions in a PDF).
These divergent approaches underscore that you should research your preferred business schools carefully. You will see from our list of 10 of the top business schools’ MBA essay topics below that they are all quite different!
What Is an MBA Video Essay?
An MBA video essay or interview uses a third-party platform, such as Kira Talent, to enable you to introduce yourself and/or verbally respond to a prompt. It serves the same purpose as a written essay, but your answers must usually be much more concise. This requirement should not be mistaken for the interview extended by invitation only if the admissions committee decides to advance you in the application process! That is a separate step.
An MBA video essay, like an interview, is designed to assess your verbal communication skills as well as your ability to pitch yourself and think on your feet. It also helps the admissions committee evaluate how you might contribute to classroom discussions or teamwork. Kellogg Business School is one top b-school which requires an MBA video essay as part of its application.
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How Do I Submit my MBA Video Essay?
Depending on the business school, you will record your video essay either via a link provided on the admissions page as part of the application requirements, or via a link sent to you after you submit your application. It is important to review the admissions page and make sure you understand the submission process.
The topics and instructions for video essays may appear on the admissions page, along with those for other required MBA essays, or they may only be provided once you access the link. In that case, there may be an option to test the platform and practice some questions before the actual recording. However, certain schools, such as Smith School of Business, present random questions in real time “designed to be answered without advance preparation … highlighting how quickly and concisely you can formulate an answer.”
You will be expected to complete any MBA video essay requirements independently, and your application will not be complete until you submit the video essay.
Required vs Optional MBA Essay Topics
With MBA essay topics, “required” vs “optional” also has diverse meanings! One essay topic may be required for first-time applicants, but it may be optional for reapplicants. Each business school may also have a different definition of a reapplicant. For example, if you applied to the MBA program within the last two years, you may be a reapplicant; however, if it has been three or more years, you may be considered a new applicant. It is essential to check which category you fit into and confirm the MBA essay topics and types that apply to you.
For reapplicants, the objective of an optional essay is usually to find out what you have done or what has changed (career moves, test scores) since your last application; in other words, why you are more worthy of admission now. Further, like many other graduate schools, MBA programs may provide the opportunity for applicants to explain any extenuating circumstances in an optional essay. In all cases, we recommend taking advantage of the optional essay to make your application stand out, unless doing so would go against the rules/requirements.
List of 10 Top Business Schools with MBA Essay Topics and Examples
The following list outlines what you can expect in terms of essay requirements this year for admission to 10 top business schools in the United States and Canada. This list includes the name of the school and associated university/location as well as MBA essay topics, submission format, required length, and some examples of good responses.
You can also check out MBA essay questions and answers for Stanford Business School, Harvard Business School, Kellogg Business School (Northwestern U), Wharton (Pennsylvania U), Haas (California U), MIT Sloan, Yale, and Columbia.
1. UCLA Anderson School of Management
University of California Los Angeles
2. Chicago Booth
The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Example for Essay Topic 1: “How will a Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals?”
Eight years ago, after earning my M.S. in Business Analytics from Franklin University, I partnered with two alumni in a startup venture. TechCapital’s mission is to assess technology needs of companies looking to retrofit their older plants. We act as an intermediary between investors and companies to structure, implement, and manage the retrofitting contract. Our unique business model has proven to be highly successful, and we guarantee significant ROI once operations begin.
Columbus, Ohio, has since come to be known as the Midwest’s “tech capital.” Recent investment in startups is booming. We launched three newly retrofitted enterprises, all representative of key industries: advanced manufacturing, logistics, and insurance. Moreover, we have tripled in size and expanded our core departments: consulting, business analytics, and contracting. Sensing that we are at the cusp of real growth, I know the time is right to step up my game.
With its reputation for innovation, impactful research, and transformative knowledge, the prestigious Booth Weekend MBA Program is my first choice for fulfilling a lifelong ambition. I certainly fit the profile of a high-potential professional seeking to rise to the next level. The Chicago Approach aligns perfectly with my analytical sensibility, as confirmed by attendance at several Roundtables and Student Panels. I am eager to learn from talented peers and an exceptional faculty. Finally, I look forward to building my professional network and ultimately establishing a second TechCapital in Chicago to share lessons learned and implement the novel, creative, and sustainable business solutions our company has pursued.
Check out more Chicago Booth MBA essay examples!
3. Darden School of Business
University of Virginia
Example for Essay Topic 2: “Please describe a tangible example that illuminates your experience promoting an inclusive environment and what you would bring to creating an inclusive global community at Darden.”
My first small business experience taught me valuable lessons about customer service and marketing but also about leadership and learning style. I hope to be able to share these insights with my peers at Darden.
To pay for my college tuition, I used to offer summer art classes in my backyard to neighborhood kids. I later expanded my activities by renting a small studio space. Yet, when my students went back to school, my client base shrank. To cover the rent, I offered a seniors’ promotion, and soon every hour not dedicated to my own studies was spent in the studio. It wasn’t an immediate success, however. My students weren’t happy!
In time, I got my answer. One student, expecting a lecture style as value for money, complained, “That’s not teaching.” Another contradicted them, saying, “You’re just telling, not showing.” Someone else said, “This project hurts my hands too much.”
With the kids, I recognized that they all had different needs, based on their ages, abilities, and interests, but I had assumed that my seniors would be a homogenous group. How wrong I was! To be successful, I had to address their different learning styles and expectations as well as any issues with vision, hearing, or fine-motor skills. I had to adapt my approach to each person while still presenting a coherent lesson. I had to recognize that even with adults, there is no single, correct approach.
I do have a passion for engaging with people, and I am a problem-solver by nature, but today, I take the time to better understand others’ perspectives. As a student at Darden, I will seek to connect with my peers and facilitate knowledge sharing. Perhaps most importantly, I will be prepared to challenge preconceptions and help others see things through someone else’s eyes.
McGill University Desautels Faculty of Management
Duke Fuqua School of Business, Duke University
Example for Essay Topic 2: “25 Random Things” (10 Prompts to Get You Started)
- If I could live anywhere in the world, I’d live _______.
- If money was no object, I’d _______.
- If I were to teach any subject, it would be _______.
- If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, it would be _______.
- I’d love to open a shop that sells _______.
- I am most proud of _______.
- I won an award for _______.
- If I could start a foundation, I would aim to help _______.
- The first paper I ever wrote was on _______.
- If I could accomplish just one thing in life, it would be _______.
6. Ivey Business School
University of Western Ontario
Example for Essay Topic 2: Decision “Tell us about a challenge you have faced in your life, and what lessons you learned from it.”
Our firm recently went through a merger, and a major challenge was to agree on production restructuring. While our plant included a range of manufacturing processes, the other firm’s three plants were specialized. To address the bottleneck, I met with the director of that company and key personnel. It soon became clear that what was needed was not a complete reorganization of the infrastructure but rather, a creative restructuring of teams. We took advantage of the change to close one floor in our plant that had aging equipment and reorganize the warehouse. In the process, we added a fourth production facility, turned the defunct production floor into office and meeting spaces, expanded the cafeteria, and reclaimed the yard for a staff garden. We also created an innovation hub to regroup senior technicians from each firm and interns from local schools. While this represented a massive challenge, respectful, open communication between the two management teams with input from staff at all levels enabled buy-in and consensus. In fact, the process seemed to energize the new firm. Although initially resistant, the employees recognized the benefits: a safer, cleaner, more pleasant work environment with efficient equipment. This experience was formative for me in terms of conflict mediation. It also showed me that value can be generated from potentially negative circumstances. The new firm has surpassed all its targets, and our HR team can hardly keep up with response to our job postings.
Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Example for Essay Topic 3: “Pick one thing from your resume and tell us more.”
My internship with Agrivesta was memorable. With my interest and experience in organic farming, I felt prepared for my role as assistant production manager in this small local startup. However, a major flood changed everything. Suddenly, I had to assume management responsibilities to help coordinate the emergency response and insurance claims. All of us had to pitch in and think on our feet to arrange vet care and alternative shelter for animals. We moved the store to safely sell off produce and maintain the revenue stream. This experience showed me that I can handle pressure, take responsibility, and act autonomously.
8. NYU Stern School of Business
New York University
Examples for Essay Topic: “Change _________ it.”
- Change: Dare it.
- Change: Dream it.
- Change: Drive it.
- Change: Empower it.
- Change: Manifest it.
- Change: [Any word of your choice] it.
Preparing for your MBA interview? Check this out:
9. Tepper School of Business
Carnegie Mellon University
Example for Required Reapplicant Essay Topic: “Explain how your candidacy has strengthened since your last application.”
I applied to the full-time MBA at Tepper School of Business two years ago, but unfortunately, I was not accepted. In seeking feedback from Tepper’s admissions services, I learned that my work experience was not considered extensive enough and that my TOEFL and IELTS scores were too low. While my speaking skills are strong, I struggled with the written component, as my studies were undertaken in Spanish in my native Bogotá, Columbia. I believe a related issue was my decision to take both the TOEFL and IELTS, to meet the requirements of my three preferred MBA programs in the United States. Although I prepared extensively for these two exams, without exposure to much specialized vocabulary in my work environment, I had few opportunities to apply my knowledge or practice my skills. Further, I realize now that I rushed the application process due to my excitement at obtaining my F-1 student visa. Nine months did not allow me enough time to adequately prepare both exams as well as fulfil all the other requirements and maintain my performance in my high-level position in human resources.
However, in the meantime, I was accepted to the MBA program at Universidad de los Andes and have just completed my third part-time semester. I was also promoted to the position of assistant director of our firm’s Bogotá branch after three years as an HR associate and four years as department manager. Last summer, I was offered a two-month internship at our sister office in Pittsburgh to engage in the joint exercise of reconciling our reporting, data management, SOP documentation, and other protocols to be able to expand our international market. This immersion experience, which involved considerable translation between Spanish and English alongside bilingual peers, was exactly what I needed to bring both my written and spoken English up to a professional level. In fact, my recent TOEFL score was 105. My IELTS scores were an especially gratifying personal best: Listening: 9, Reading: 7, Writing: 8, Speaking: 9. In writing, I gained a full 3 points.
I have therefore decided to reapply for the Tepper MBA but in the part-time online hybrid stream. I believe this to be a reasonable choice, given my advancement and responsibilities at our firm. The recent rapprochement of our offices in the two countries means that I will be able to travel freely between them. I know that the excellent leadership and analytical training I will receive at Tepper in its STEM-designated MBA will enable me to streamline the Pittsburgh office and develop our Bogotá branch to an unprecedented high level. In fact, our management science-based approach is what sets our HR services apart in that city, and this is precisely why I have returned to re-apply to Tepper—and only Tepper—as it is the ideal environment in which to advance my leadership skills as a new director and ensure that our firm has access to the most advanced business analysis available. Finally, and most importantly, I believe my persistence demonstrates my commitment to and interest in the school as well as my ambition. I am certain my contribution, enriched by recent experiences, will be significant, both academically and among the international student body.
10. Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth
Want to see more MBA essay examples from top business schools?
- Wharton MBA essay examples
- Kellogg MBA essay examples
- Haas essay examples
- Stanford MBA personal statement examples
1. What is the purpose of an MBA essay?
An MBA essay is intended to show the admissions committee why you are a perfect candidate for MBA and their program specifically. It also serves to introduce you and complement your application by providing additional information about your background, career experience, aptitude to succeed in a challenging MBA program, business acumen, and motivation.
2. Is it true that MBA essay topics change every year?
Certain business schools tend to change their MBA essay topics each year, while others use the same or similar topics to the previous year. The business school may seek to compare applicants to the previous cohort or focus on current priorities that match their unique philosophy of business education and research.
3. When are MBA essay topics announced?
MBA essay topics are usually announced in May and June for applications starting in the fall for the following academic year.
4. When should I begin to prepare my MBA essay?
You can start any time to research business schools, look at the types of MBA essay topics they post, visit the campus, attend events, make inquiries, connect with alumni, make notes, and write drafts. Then, when the topic is announced, you will be ready to write your MBA essay. Give yourself around 6–8 weeks to finalize your essays.
5. What format do MBA essay topics take?
MBA essay topics may be presented as a letter of intent, personal statement, written essay, short answer questions, multimedia presentation, or video essay. One or more essays may be required in different formats. A wide range of formats is used by different business schools.
6. Is the MBA video essay the same as an interview?
An MBA video essay is different from an interview, but it may take the form of responses to interview-type questions, such as “tell us about yourself” or “why do you want to pursue an MBA?”. It should not be mistaken for the by invitation only interview, which is a separate step. Some MBA video essay topics are proposed in advance in the admissions requirements, while others may be presented via a platform as random questions to which you must respond in real time.
7. When do I submit my MBA video essay?
The MBA video essay is part of the application package and must be submitted when you apply or via a link sent to you shortly after you apply.
8. Should I respond to the MBA optional essay topic?
If you are a reapplicant or have extenuating circumstances, the MBA optional essay will be required. We recommend taking advantage of the optional essay to make your application stand out, unless the instructions state otherwise.
9. Where can I get help to respond to my MBA essay topics?
Many applicants wonder if admissions consulting is worth considering. It certainly is, especially if you are unsure how to tackle your MBA essay topics. Your MBA essay is one of the most important components of your application because your admission depends on your career experience, not just your grades. An MBA essay consultant can help you craft a strong written response to your MBA essay topics and prepare for the MBA video essay.
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