UCLA stands out from other top business schools by relying on just a single essay — and giving candidates a mere 250 words to respond.
The challenge is to be as direct and incisive as possible while responding to a complex question that itself has expanded to 250 words. This year’s essay question allows you to showcase an achievement, but it asks you to demonstrate your perseverance in achieving that goal.
Required Essay: UCLA Anderson seeks to develop transformative leaders who think fearlessly, drive change, and share success. We believe the ability to persevere is an essential component of effective leadership. Please share an example from your personal or professional life where you demonstrated perseverance to accomplish a significant goal or milestone. (250 words maximum)
As a Fortuna Admissions coach and former Anderson Associate Director of Admissions, I know how challenging it is to deliver a response that’s concise, meaningful and distinctive. In years past, Anderson explicitly solicited your short- and long-term career goals within the context of Why Anderson, followed by a prompt asking you to articulate a time you’ve displayed a valued Anderson trait in your personal life. This prompt focuses on a very specific leadership trait: perseverance.
How to tackle the new UCLA Anderson MBA admissions essay
Anderson advises applicants, “Strong essays describe the impact of your achievement and clarify its connection to your future MBA plans in the short- and long-term. We look forward to learning about the specific ways your achievement helped set you up for future success.”
There is a lot of ground to cover within that prompt, and with only 250 words to work with, you’ll need to be direct and succinct. (Remember that you will have an opportunity to outline your MBA plans, career goals, and reasons for seeking a place at Anderson elsewhere in the application.)
To focus your response, first take a step back before you write to reflect on the recent achievements in your life. Think about the ones that did not come easy and required your grit and determination to prevail. Consider how an experience like that shaped your growth and life trajectory, leading you to the MBA as your next step.
As you sift through the possibilities, the single most important action you can take is to spend significant time on self-reflection. As you narrow down your list of potential stories to share, keep in mind that being sincere and true to yourself goes a long way in keeping the reader invested in you.
While you ruminate on possible stories to share, consider times in your life where tenacity, persistence, or even stubbornness enabled you to push through challenges. When dealing with struggles and obstacles, rather than giving up, how did you work steadfastly towards your end goal? What helped you stay committed?
Another approach is to think of situations where perseverance served as a powerful motivating tool for other team members. How did you inspire resiliency, or reinforce a sense of purpose and direction at times when this was lacking?
Don’t be intimidated by the last part of the question referencing a significant goal or milestone; what’s important is that the story is personally meaningful to you in your leadership journey. Again, sincerity will go a long way in creating a genuine emotional bond with the reader.
With very limited real estate to answer the question, it’s important to stay on topic, and removing unnecessary granular details as you tell your story. Be careful not to spend too much space discussing the nuts and bolts of your achievement.
The instructions clue you in to what the adcoms are really looking for: “the impact of your achievement and clarify its connection to your future MBA plans in the short- and long-term.” How did you leave your mark through this experience? And how did it influence your thought process, mindset, next steps and aspirations? You must be able to convincingly connect the dots between where you’ve been and where you’re going, both immediately and in the long run.
As you write, remember that this is less about the tactical aspects of how you triumphed and achieved the goal. It’s about the personal why and how: what led you to not give up? Because the prompt is framed in terms of leadership, it’s also about showing how you inspired others and actualized a vision in the face of obstacles. Those are the things adcoms would like to know more about when getting to know you through your essay.
One caution is to keep your audience in mind. This is a business school admissions essay after all, and your words are directed to Anderson’s admissions committee. Know that UCLA Anderson defines its community by three core qualities: share success, think fearlessly, and drive change. There is a lot of opportunity to exemplify one or more of those qualities as you consider your response.
Anderson’s motto, “Think in the Next,” speaks to a penchant for bold thinkers who are unafraid to chart new pathways and effect change. Show some humility in thinking about your impact; Anderson’s is a student-driven community where the notion of ‘ambitious yet humble’ is highly prized.
As you reflect on initial drafts, consider: What meaning can be discerned from your story and what does it say about you? Have a trusted friend, coach or colleague read your essay. If they can’t see you in the story or feel an emotional resonance, then try again until it comes through.
Although the prompt speaks of achievements, it can be compelling to tell a story of a time when you worked very hard, demonstrated true grit and determination in the face of obstacles, and failed. Sometimes being vulnerable and showing how failure led to some important insights and learning can really show the committee who you are. Picking the example or experience where you had the most growth can be more intriguing and set you apart from the crowd.
Speaking of vulnerability, don’t let the need for brevity rob your responses of emotional resonance. Write with feeling and remember to SHOW them the impact vs. simply telling them. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in essays is showing a lack of enthusiasm. If your tone doesn’t convey excitement or energy, it won’t stand out from the throngs of ambitious, excellence-driven wunderkinds.
The same if you haven’t taken the time to do substantive introspection and your essays lack meaningful insight or self-awareness. Remember, you want to leave the reviewer with a desire to meet you in person to learn more.
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Updated August 23, 2022
Fortuna’s Jessica Chung is an expert MBA admissions coach and former Associate Director of Admissions at UCLA Anderson. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.