Are you gearing up for the MBA application process and feeling stuck when trying to answer essay questions like “How will you contribute to our MBA program?” This challenging question is a common fixture in MBA application essays at top programs worldwide. It’s your opportunity to showcase your unique qualities and convince the admissions committee that you’re not just any candidate in the slush pile, but instead a valuable addition to their cohort who will bring unique perspectives, strengths and contributions to small-group and large-group settings when you arrive on campus. In this guide, we’ll dissect the question, understand what the admissions committee seeks to learn and provide you with expert insights on crafting a compelling response.
Why Does the Committee Ask This Question?
Before you draft your response, it’s essential to grasp the committee’s intent behind this question. What are they trying to unearth about you? Essentially, they want to discern if you’re a good fit for their MBA program based on how you’ll enhance the academic community and the experiences of your fellow students. It’s not just about your qualifications; it’s about your potential contributions to the collective learning environment.
From our former experience as admissions committee insiders, we at Fortuna have a good sense of what AdComs are looking for, which typically includes:
- Diversity, Broadly Considered: MBA programs thrive on diversity, not just in terms of nationality, ethnicity, or gender identity, but also in terms of life experiences, backgrounds and perspectives. They want to see how you can add a unique perspective to the mix.
- Professional Maturity: Your career journey thus far should reflect maturity and a willingness to learn and grow rather than accept the status quo. AdComms are seeking individuals who can draw from their professional experiences to enrich classroom discussions.
- Leadership Potential: Business schools are often proving grounds for future leaders. They want to identify candidates who exhibit leadership qualities and the potential to contribute to group projects, student initiatives and the school community.
- Club Interest and Engagement: Part of fitting into and enhancing that community is participating in or leading extracurricular activities. Demonstrating enthusiasm for joining or even starting a club or organization focused on your interests and passions — whether it’s consulting or kayaking, entrepreneurship or stand-up comedy, social impact, or other areas —is a great way to show you you are and that you have thought deeply about what the culture at your target school offers and how you fit that culture socially.
- Classroom Engagement and Study Groups / Learning Teams: Discuss how you can enhance classroom discussions by bringing real-world experiences and a diverse perspective, both in larger classroom settings that are professor-led, as well as in small group discussions and on your learning team, if your target school uses this instruction model. Most top B-schools put you on a team with four to five peers. You’ll take most of your first-year coursework with your team, so AdComms are keen to understand the type of person you are in small groups and what type of contributions you’d be most likely to make in this setting.
- Diverse Co-curricular Experience: Beyond academics, AdComms want candidates who are open to diverse co-curricular activities, such as case competitions, volunteering, and industry-specific clubs. They give preference to applicants who have spent time not only furthering their own careers and ambitions, but also consistently engaged and supported other people and groups. Remember that business school is a social commitment in addition to an academic and professional one, and applicants with a strong history of extracurricular engagement tend to be engaged students on campus.
Understanding the key points highlighted above and incorporating examples of each in your essay can help you generate a final draft that represents you across multiple dimensions instead of one or two. You don’t want to be known as just academically inclined, socially engaged, or professionally focused on your own recruiting. Ideally, the version of yourself you share with AdComms is a composite of all three of these, and also considers the diverse experiences perspectives you’d bring to enrich the incoming MBA class.
If your final essay is simply a list, though, it will not be compelling, so it is important to take a step back and consider the best ways to structure your response. Let’s delve into our best-practice recommendations to help you get started.
How to Write the ‘How Will You Contribute to Our MBA Program?’ Essay
When it comes to composing your response to this key application question, consider these tips, which we have seen prove successful for past clients working with us over more than a decade:
- Start by Generating Sketches of Your Answer – Brainstorm ideas and jot down your initial thoughts. Consider what skills, experiences or perspectives you possess that could enrich the MBA program. We’d encourage you to take a moment, in particular, to think about yourself outside work — what motivates you, has most shaped your experiences and makes you most curious about the world and your place in it. The AdComm wants to know about the full version of you, not just the version you bring to work.
- Reflect on the Likely Class Composition: Think about the typical profile of an MBA class at your target school. What qualifications and experiences do most students possess? This reflection can help you identify what makes you stand out. Our clients have found success doing some of this preliminary research on LinkedIn to see what recent graduates of their target schools have pivoted to professionally, as well as which experiences they’ve had that seem to mirror each other. For example, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business tends to attract students whose first positions post-MBA are in the management consulting world. As a result, the typical Fuqua class profile contains students whose prior work experience in financial services, marketing, tech and other fields provided them with a strong business foundation to recruit for management consulting.
- Identify What They Might Not Have: Consider what unique facets you bring to the table. What can you offer that may be missing in the current student body? Again, LinkedIn research can prove invaluable here. You might notice, for example, that your entrepreneurial experience is underrepresented in the typical student profile at your target school and highlight the value this perspective would bring to class discussions, especially in second-year elective courses focused on launching new businesses.
- Focus on Contributions You Will Make to Others’ Learning: Remember that the contributions you highlight should not only benefit you but also your peers. How can you enhance their learning experience? Are you willing to collaborate and share knowledge? Are you willing and eager to open up your professional network to help out your fellow students? Can you highlight an example of a time you did these things to demonstrate it is a “real” trait and not an empty claim?
- Keep It Concise but Detailed: Effective essays are concise yet detailed. Avoid vague statements and show concrete examples of how you’ve contributed in the past or intend to contribute in the future. The more concrete you can be, the better. A specific example is much easier to remember than a generalization. Feel free to use AI to help you on your specific example scavenger hunt. ChatGPT, for example, can comb a B-school’s web pages and online web presence quickly to help you discover which student clubs, for example, might be the best fit for you to contribute your skills and interests
If you’re read this far and implemented our recommendations, congrats on building a solid foundation for your future essay drafts, which will serve you well as you continue to polish your essay. We have found in our client work that once you identify specific ways you can contribute to the student body, giving your essay a coherent structure can optimize its effectiveness and memorability.
How to Structure the Essay
When organizing your essay, find a format that allows you to present your points clearly and logically. Here’s a general template our clients have found success with in the past, which you can adapt based on your own intuition and writing style:
- Strong Opening (20%): Begin with an attention-grabbing introduction that sets the tone for your essay and clearly states your intention to contribute to the MBA program. We often recommend our clients use a strong image, dialog, or urgent language to draw the reader in and make them feel there is something at stake in what you are about to share with them.
- Reason 1 (20%): Present your first reason for how you will contribute. Provide specific examples or anecdotes to support this point.
- Reason 2 (20%): Follow up with your second reason. Again, back it up with relevant experiences or evidence.
- Reason 3 (20%): Present your third reason, ensuring it complements the previous two. Use examples to illustrate your point.
- Strong Closing (20%): Conclude your essay by summarizing your main contributions and reiterating your enthusiasm for joining the MBA program, being as school-specific as possible.
Remember that this structure is flexible and should not be interpreted as set in stone. You can adjust how much time you spend on each essay facet based on the number of contributions you want to highlight. We have seen clients write successful essays with three to four very detailed reasons and five to six reasons with less detail supporting each.
The primary point to emphasize is that your research and reasons should move beyond cliche and what everyone knows about the B-school you’re targeting to display that you spent significant time researching it and thoughtfully matching your interests, values and personality to what the school offers academically, socially and professionally.
General Best Practices for Writing MBA Essays and Final Thoughts
You will no doubt write countless MBA application essays beyond this one, so we wanted to leave you with some general tips to keep in mind while writing this and other MBA application essays:
- Be Authentic: Your essay should reflect your true self. Avoid embellishing or exaggerating your achievements, but also don’t shy away from sharing times you failed and grew as a result, instances in which you faced a difficult emotional scenario, or experienced a key life turning point.
- Focus on Quality Over Quantity: It’s not about how much you’ve accomplished, but rather how your experiences have shaped you and how they align with your contributions to the MBA program.
- Proofread and Edit: Carefully proofread your essay for grammar and spelling errors. Seek feedback from peers or mentors to ensure clarity and coherence. Critically, read your final draft aloud to yourself before submitting it. You will catch any errors your brain missed when visually skimming it. Our brains aren’t always the best proofreaders, so use your mouth to hold your brain accountable.
- Stay within Word Limits: Adhere to the word limits specified in the application instructions. Going significantly over or under can be a red flag for AdComms.
- Tailor Your Response: Customize your essay for each school you apply to. Highlight aspects of your profile that align with the particular program’s values and strengths and resist the urge to submit the same essay to multiple target schools. The school reps read thousands of essays each year, and they will notice.
In your pursuit of an MBA, your response to the question, “How will you contribute to our MBA program?” is an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Embrace the chance to showcase your unique qualities, experiences and perspectives that will enrich the academic community and your fellow students’ learning journeys. As you embark further on your essay-writing journey, remember that authenticity and clarity are your allies. Reflect on your past experiences, envision your future contributions and craft a compelling narrative that convinces the admissions committee that you’re not just seeking “any MBA,” but rather actively seeking to make a difference in their specific program. By following the strategies and insights outlined in this guide, you can confidently address any essay questions asked and stand out as a valuable asset to the MBA program of your choice.
We hope you have found this essay-writing guide helpful! Find out how Fortuna’s expert coaching team of former B-school insiders can help you optimize any element of your application or your whole package. Sign up for a free 30-minute consultation to learn more.