Carnegie Mellon Tepper Essay Tips & Strategy

February 22, 2021 | by Catherine Tuttle

One of the smallest among the top 20 business schools, Carnegie Mellon Tepper boasts a close-knit culture and pioneering approach to management curriculum (a “management science” model over the case method, that’s now integrated within all the leading business schools).

As such, the admissions team is looking for evidence of self-reflection and your ability to appreciate differences as a profound asset to a culture of innovation. These values are woven into Tepper’s singular MBA essay question.

As mentioned in my related blog, Applying to Carnegie Mellon Tepper: 3 Essential MBA Tips, the admissions committee seeks students who define community in the broadest sense of the word and have a desire to effect positive change. In replacing its previous essay question, “What difference will you make as a member of the MBA class at the Tepper School?” Tepper invites you to get more personal.

How to Tackle Tepper’s New Essay Question

Required Tepper Essay: The Tepper community is dynamic and unique. Each community member’s individual journey has shaped them into classmates who are collaborative, supportive, and inclusive. Describe how you have overcome adversity during your journey. What did you learn about yourself and how has that shaped who you are? (Maximum 350-500 words.)

With a small class size of 200, Admissions, along with Tepper students, faculty, and staff place a high value on creating an inclusive and tight-knit community – one that is committed to making a positive impact on each other, business, and the world. And as the country grapples with the deaths of unarmed Black Americans, the school has committed to supporting systematic change on a local and national level. That said, this essay is an opportunity to explain who you are and how you would add value to the community on- and off-campus.

We all face adversity in our lives. In asking this question, Tepper seeks to uncover the less visible forces that shape your decisions, opportunities, and character. While some may have overcome challenges such as poverty or homelessness, others may have struggled with their mental health, academics, loss of a loved one, or family dynamics. This essay requires that you reflect on your life so far and dare to be vulnerable. The specificity of the essay question’s wording signals that you should connect the dots for the admissions committee between where you are coming from and where you are heading.

To get started, consider the following questions:

  • Are there events that have shaped your values? Your definition of family? Your self-worth?
  • What were they and how did you overcome the challenges?
  • Taking it one step further, how will this experience overcoming adversity make you a better teammate, student, and/or Tepper alumnus?

You only have 350-500 words to deliver a response that’s memorable, meaningful, and articulate. A compelling tactic is to elaborate on one, specific experience that reveals an important part of or dimension to who you are. Share specifics with your reader that go deeper into what makes you unique and what you stand to offer. The admissions committee wants both substance and specificity.

Want more advice?

View my related blog: Applying to Carnegie Mellon Tepper: 3 Essential MBA Tips


Catherine Tuttle is former Associate Director at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where she worked in the Career Management Center and also served as the liaison to Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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