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Cambridge Judge Essays for 2023-2024: Tips & Strategy

Cambridge Judge Business School

The application for the MBA program at University of Cambridge Judge is essay-intensive. Judge continues to evade the business school trend of fewer MBA essays, requiring your thoughtful response to no less than four required questions.

In addition to a 500-word career objective, the school asks applicants to respond to three essay prompts — and all are new for the 2023–24 application cycle. 

These three essays are limited to 200 words, providing slim real estate to work with. Judge also asks similar questions about different topics – in this case, seeking evidence of self-reflection and what you have learned in each case. 

The trick is to be substantive yet succinct, and ensure each essay is artfully executed to stand alone while advancing an overall narrative. The full slate of Cambridge Judge essays comprises a full picture you must put together without being repetitive.

Here, I have provided an overview of the new essay questions and some thoughts on how to respond. 


Decoding the Cambridge Judge MBA Essay Questions

Question 1: Tell us about a time when you made a professional mistake. How could it have ended differently? (up to 200 words)

First, what is a professional mistake? There are a wide number of things you might consider here: concrete deliverables like missing a deadline; bigger issues like not pushing a salary negotiation; or ethical mistakes like not speaking up and supporting a colleague. Whatever the choice, you must present your example clearly and own the mistake. Judge is asking you to show accountability. 

The second half of the prompt asks you to reflect on what you learned from making a difficult decision or one that did not work out well. The adcom is looking for signs that you have considered your actions and others’ responses, understand what you could have changed to get a better outcome, and internalized these lessons. 

The best essays will spend time considering not just the mistake itself, but what the behaviours were that led to the mistake. Was there a specific decision or choice you made that ended up producing a less than satisfactory outcome? Did you fail to do due diligence/research? Or did you play it safe when perhaps you could have taken a risk? 

Identifying the personal traits or tendencies which played into your mistake will add another layer of complexity and depth to your story, demonstrating to the adcom that you have the maturity, self-awareness, and insight to understand any shortcomings, and better navigate future problems. 


Question 2. Tell us about the best team you worked with. What made the team successful? (up to 200 words)

This is another essay asking what you learned from a specific situation (a thread that runs strongly through all the essays in the Cambridge Judge application). Understanding how you have worked in previous teams is a key indicator to an adcom of how you will perform at b-school, where you regularly need to collaborate with classmates on project work, case studies and presentations.

Calling out a specific example here requires some thought. It’s likely at this point that you will have worked on a number of teams in school and in your career. Given the previous essay is work-based, this could be a good opportunity to discuss other successful teams you’ve been a part of. If you have a passion for team sports or made a strong contribution to a team at university, this could be the place to bring those experiences to the forefront. 

Don’t forget that b-schools seek to bring in a widely diverse class representing many different nationalities, cultures, and professions, so keep this front of mind when thinking about the characteristics which made your team experience a success. Ideas to consider will depend on the type of team you are referencing, but consider how you might have:

  • utilized the strengths and weaknesses of your team members to best effect; 
  • created a safe space for less confident team members; 
  • brainstormed to bring creative ideas to the table; 
  • worked towards and achieved buy in to common goals; or
  • enabled mutual respect or celebrated difference, etc. 

Remember that although this an essay about a team, you should be clear about your own individual contribution. What part did you play in making this team successful? In other words, what was your impact?

One final thing to consider – no team, even the best or most successful, is ever completely smooth sailing or without friction. Adding reference points of conflict or clashes between team members will give weight to your essay if you can highlight both how you worked together to overcome these issues, and what you learned in the process.

Question 3: Provide an example of when someone else positively impacted your life. What did you learn from this experience? (up to 200 words)

Your success with this essay will depend a lot on who you choose to write about. Most of us can think of countless people who have impacted our lives in many different ways — teachers, professional mentors, family members, community leaders, sports coaches … the list goes on. Sometimes, the most impactful people in our lives are those we meet only briefly. Be sure to choose someone whose influence has been both lasting and substantial. 

You also need to be careful to get the balance right; don’t be tempted to focus everything you write on the other individual, no matter how important they are to you. This is a short word count, and while the reader needs to know why that person matters to you, they are more interested in what the impact of your interaction with them was, and how it has influenced your actions and values, or even changed your behaviour, since.

In the second part of this prompt, the Judge adcom again returns to the same theme: what did you learn? Think about what this person taught you, and why their influence has affected you so deeply. Are they someone who displays admirable values you now seek to emulate as you move through life? Are they someone who shaped your early years — maybe a teacher who encouraged you to develop a strong work ethic or consider a completely different academic direction? Are they someone who inspired you to take up charity work, explore a spiritual path, or start a new venture? It pays to go deep with this question, spending some time on self-reflection, exploring the lasting impact the person has had on your life, and, in doing so, displaying your self-awareness and maturity.


The Career Objective Essay

This longer, 500-word essay remains unchanged, and it’s helpfully structured to guide the applicant.

  • What are your short and long-term career objectives? How will the Cambridge MBA equip you to achieve these?
  • Looking at your short-term career goal, describe the research you have done to understand how this industry/role/location recruits MBA talent and what they are looking for in a candidate.
  • How confident do you feel about meeting your short-term career goal? What skills/characteristics do you already have that will help you to achieve them, and what preparation are you doing now?

This first bullet calls for an opening paragraph centered on your career objectives. Be focused, specific, and clear on your short-term goals and a little more general, ambitious, and open on the longer-term ones. You need to then clearly explain why the MBA is essential for you at this point in your career. Be sure to identify specifically how the Cambridge MBA is key to the success of your career aims. If your career plan is not yet certain, you can demonstrate how the breadth of skills that the MBA will equip you with will prepare you for a range of roles. 

The second bullet requires you to demonstrate that you’ve done your research on companies, roles, and opportunities. Highlight personal outreach and contacts that you’ve already begun to foster. Explain how you will continue with this. Be clear on the location you will target post-MBA and how you plan to source and secure the ideal role.

The final bullet point allows you to showcase the experience you have to date and how this has equipped you with important, transferable, and flexible skills to allow you to make the career move you aspire to. Don’t repeat details from your CV, but rather focus on the skillset you’ve built up over time. 

Think about team skills, leadership potential, a developing strategic perspective and skills that are more specific to the sector/role that you’re hoping to move on to. Use examples where possible (and it is helpful if your recommender can back these skills/examples up in their submission). Show that you’ve identified any gaps in your skills that will need to be addressed before the program and explain how you may be planning to address them (for example, by taking preparatory courses). Show that you’re aware of the networking opportunities available to you while you’re at Judge. Consider companies that have existing relationships with the school; networking with peers; and utilizing the career services team to assist you.

For more insider essay advice for the schools on your target list, view Fortuna’s MBA Essay Tips.

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