Essay 1: Introduce yourself to your future Ross classmates in 100 words or less.
Anyone have any idea how tight 100 words is? It’s tight. But that’s okay, because the point here isn’t to cram in as much as possible in a tight space. It’s to JOLT the reader and force him to take notice.
This is all about attention-grabbing. We need something that your classmates would actually listen to, and get excited about. Appropriate humor here can be the perfect choice. Self-deprecating humor, especially. Something stunning about your background or experiences, also good fodder. Whatever you do, do NOT be plain, matter-of-fact, and unmemorable. It will seem like a squandered opportunity. Take the conceit of the question seriously. If they just wanted a succint description, they’d have said “Introduce yourself to us in 100 words or less.” But they specify “to your future Ross classmates.” Have fun with it. Talk to THEM, not to the Adcom. Ask a question of them. Offer them something amazing that you can do.
We’ve all been here before. You’re sitting in a giant circle and everyone goes around and says some 2-minute description of themselves. You have your little speech prepared, and then the first guy gets up, and KILLS IT. Says something ridiculously funny and the room explodes into laughter. Oh no, yours is boring! So you scramble to tweak it on the fly. The next person is a girl and she gets up and says something that is frickin insanely cool, tells of something that no one has ever done, whoa, the crowd loves it. Gulp. Your turn is coming up, the pressure is mounting—now what do you do?
You search for that thing that’s gonna make your little speech NOT boring. To be boring in this situation is suicide. So you search for interesting fun little tidbits. “I have six toes.” “I once complained about dinner at a restaurant and demanded to see the chef and it was Gordon Ramsey. I gave him an earful, and then asked for his autograph.” “I am a blackbelt in Karate and can kick through 3 feet of solid cement.” “I grew up on a farm that had 74 animals. I’ve not only milked cows, I once delivered a CALF during an emergency.” “By day, I work in M&A at XXX company. By night, I sing opera.” Be loose. Be disarming. Be… a classmate. Become part of the Ross campus, RIGHT NOW, through this 100 word introduction.
Essay 2: Describe your career goals. How will an MBA from Ross help you to achieve those goals? What is your vision for how you can make a unique contribution to the Ross community? (500 word maximum)
A mostly standard career goals essay, with a little twist. They wanna know that you have a vision for not just yourself—but Ross, too. We’ll get to that in a sec.
First, the goals. Always, always, always—we need CONTEXT before we launch into career goals. This could be background, it could first be a teaser of your vision… whatever it is, it needs to 1) give us a sense for what this essay is all about/where it’s headed, and 2) give us a reason to keep reading (i.e., capture our interest).
Slam us with a cool opener, and do it in roughly 50-75 words. By the end of this chunk, we should have a ROUGH idea of what your ultimate vision is, what industry we’re talking about, in a basic sense. Now, it’s time to move into the hardcore details.
The meat of the essay. Walk us through the plan. The whole enchilada. Short term into long term. Remember, become a student of your own trajectory. Understand and communicate exactly how each step leads to the next, and why they’re important pieces of one bigger picture vision. Be incredibly specific. Do not skimp over details and assume we know what’s what. Explain it all to us methodically. 200 words.
How will Ross help you achieve your goals? Standard attack here. Here’s an excerpt from another analysis that is applicable here (and everywhere there’s a “how will our school help?”):
Specificity reigns supreme.
I’m about to explain to why the Intercontinental hotel in Budapest will serve my needs best as I visit this city:
- It has a bed for me to sleep on.
- It has a faucet in the bathroom which I can use to wash my face.
- It has a television with a remote control.
Congratulations. I just described 99.9% of all hotels on Earth. You have learned nothing about ME, OR the Intercontinental’s unique ability to serve me on my trip to Budapest.
Now what if I said I’m an 83 year old man dying to see the Danube one last time before my time is up. I need a hotel that is located close to the river because I am infirm and am unable to travel distance without difficulty. I need a hotel that has comfortable pillows because I have severe neck problems that can be exacerbated by insufficient pillows. And I need a bathroom that is handicap friendly, because I move around in a wheelchair.
Then I explain that the Intercontinental:
- is located ten feet from the Danube River.
- has 100% goose down pillows which are rated #1 for people with neck problems
- is the only hotel located close to the danube that has handicap-friendly bathrooms on each floor
The first agument is preposterously unspecific, and it’s the one we see 95% of the time. The second argument lays out (1) specific NEEDS/CONDITIONS of the visitor, and (2) how specific aspects of the hotel MEET those needs.
150 words or so here, folks. Dig in. Get specific. If your argument can apply to other applicants, you’re doing it wrong. If your arguments can apply to other MBA programs, you’re doing it wrong. It has to be about specific needs of YOURS that specific aspects of Ross will address. Show us what those needs are, and HOW Ross will address them.
That should leave you with roughly 100 words to pitch how you are a VALUE-ADD to Ross. But, it can’t be passive. This is an opportunity for Ross to suss out exactly how serious you are about their school. They don’t wanna be a “backup plan to Harvard.” They wanna be the NUMBER ONE choice for the overachiever. That guy loves Ross. He has a desire to make WAVES there. This question can determine who the fakers are, compared to the ones with a genuine interest in doing some damage at Ross.
This takes knowledge. And research. Visit the campus. Talk to alums. Read everything you can. Get inside the skin of Ross. Figure out where YOU fit in, and where you can contribute to the community. The Ross community. That’s… student, faculty, alums, etc. It can be lots of things, but whatever it is, it has to demonstrate a familiarity with Ross that bespeaks desire. If Ross is an afterthought, we’ll know it from the way you answer this piece.
Essay 3: Describe a time in your career when you were frustrated or disappointed. What did you learn from that experience? (500 word maximum)
1. The thing.
2. The learning.
Let’s call it 300 or so for part 1, and 200 for part 2. Roughly. Don’t wanna go less than 150 on Part 2 (it’s tempting, because the story you WANNA tell in Part 1 will always feel like it needs more words—but the second piece is just as important).
So, what does it mean to be frustrated or disappointed? The two are quite dissimilar, or can be. This is potentially liberating. Let’s define each term briefly and then come up with a plan of attack.
Frustrated—this doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of success. All it implies is something that made you clench your teeth, bang your head against a wall, go home and scream for a moment, grab a few drinks and then bore a friend or loved on about this thing that irritated the hell out of you at work, etc. So, doesn’t need to be success or failure, it simply needs to have hit a nerve, somehow. Something wasn’t getting done; something wasn’t getting done IN THE WAY YOU WANTED; someone was doing the office politics thing; something failed despite the fact that you did everything perfectly; you brought amazing ideas to the table, but were surrounded by people stuck in their ways; etc etc. Lots and lots of ways to be frustrated. We need to simply understand the source of it, and why it frustrated you.
Disappointed—again, success/failure, doesn’t matter. One can be disappointed in either scenario. What is relevant here is a busted expectation. You expected something of someone, or some thing, and the result somehow fell short. Or there was an aspect that tainted the success, or led to failure. The only subtle differene here is with an expectation that didn’t pan out. Frustation doesn’t necessarily require that.
In either case, we need to understanded what you WANTED. What was the objective. Then give us the result, and explain how that result either frustrated or disappointed you. Next, explain the ACTION you took. The one impression we don’t want to end with is of you just passively letting a situation take command over you. It has to be the other way around. Fine, you were frustrated or disappointed, but what did you DO in response to it? We need to address this.
Part 2. What did you learn? Fairly straightforward. Tell us what you learned. Don’t be afraid to reveal some vulnerability here, admit to mistakes YOU might have made in the experience, etc. The more you allow yourself to admit weakness or falling short, the steeper the potential for learning. That’s a good thing. The best way to articulate a lesson learned is to demonstrate how you may have applied it to some future event. Action is always better than theory, so if you have an example that supports it, great. If not, don’t be afraid to set this section up with faulty assumptions you made, or mistakes in general, that led to your frustration or disappointment. To be aware of it is an incredible show of future growth potential.
Essay 4: Select one of the following questions. (300 word maximum)
a) What are you most passionate about?
Making it 300 words certainly makes it easier than Stanford in some ways. Use the 300 to frame (and focus) how you’re gonna approach it. It isn’t a lot of space, so we don’t really have room for a lengthy backstory. What we need a sense of two things:
1. What the thing is, that you’re most passionate about.
2. How does this… affect your day-to-day?
If what you’re most passionate about doesn’t affect your day-to-day, um, what’s the point? Part of the genius of someone who is ACTUALLY driven by a passion is the fact that it is evident in just about everything he does. It becomes the lifeblood. It is an indicator of… a guy who has a fighting spirit. A raison d’être. This is a guy who is less likely to wither away.
So, as you’re shaping your response, remember that second component. Show us how it becomes relevant to you on a day-to-day basis. This may be a not-obvious way to look at it, but it will become the difference between a serviceable response and one that actually has some value for the adcom.
b) Describe a personal challenge or obstacle and why you view it as such. How have you dealt with it? What have you learned from it?
“Personal.” Key word. Could be something in your personal life, sure. But almost more importantly, this is looking for an obstacle to an objective that is INTERNALLY generated versus EXTERNALLY generated. In other words, it has to do with a goal that YOU’VE set for yourself, that has nothing to do with outside pressures. That’s a personal objective. Anything that frustrates that is a personal challenge or obstacle.
Now, there are two ways to NAIL this one.
1. Have a STRONG desire. Something you really, really want. Where the personal stakes are HIGH.
2. Have an incredible RESPONSE to the challenge/obstacle. Something that demonstrates a never-die attitude.
The stronger the desire, the steeper the challenge, the better.
First part – the setup, should be about 125 words. Give us a “personally motivated objective” and lay on something that could challenge it. Explaining why you viewed it as a challenge. Could be recurring, that is, it doesn’t have to a specific challenge tied to a specific event.
Second part – explain how you dealt with it. Action. Give us the plan, and then walk us through the execution OF that plan. 100 words.
Third part – Some analysis. Something quick that summarizes how you have become stronger as a result of this, and WHY. What would things have looked like had you NOT experienced the challenge/obstacle? Presumably, you’re better off for having gone though it. Try to capture that, and give us the reasoning to help us understand.