MBA written application – long essays and data form short answer questions

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Have you registered with each of your target schools? Did you notice that they ask LOTS of short-answer questions?

Busy applicants often overlook the "mini-essays" that adcoms include in online application data forms. Please do not make the same mistake. With a bit of advanced planning and strategic brainstorming, you can pack those "little boxes" with valuable information that the schools would not otherwise learn from your resume, essays, and recommendation letters.

Here is a compilation of useful tips that can help you add value to your application data forms.

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Harvard (HBS)

Key accomplishments (KA)



What are your key accomplishments?


What can you teach me?

Which of your accomplishments do you want to highlight and why? What do these accomplishments tell us about your hard and soft skills? 

Some clients include a mix of

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Most significant challenge (MSC)



What was your most significant challenge?

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The question: What was your most significant challenge (at work)?

Situation: what problem were you trying to solve?

Task: why was it difficult to solve this problem

Action: what you did, step by step

Turning point: how did you know that your efforts were making a difference?

Result: since this is not an “accomplishment” story, what partial success have you achieved, and why do you know that there is still work to be done? 

(Implied) How would an MBA (from Stanford, HBS, etc.) help you develop the necessary skills to overcome similar challenges? 

How would an MBA help you overcome that challenge?

Note: this is NOT the place to share a failure story.


Vince example (assuming Agos was paying for my MBA and I planned to returned as director of new business development and eventually CEO)


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Vince's FAQ

Q: Do I need to write in complete sentences?

A: I encourage applicants to use "resume English" for other schools (Columbia, Tuck, HBS, Stanford, Wharton, LBS, and others) that limit your responses.

Please see 

Q: What is "resume English"?

A: Remove all articles (a, an, the) and personal pronouns (I) and helping verbs (is, was, were). Use the extra space for more details (numbers and qualifying adjectives like "best," "only', "first-ever" and "best"). Always show the impact of your actions on your team, company, industry, and country. 

Q: What should I write if the school application asks me where else I am applying?

A: Mention 3-5 other schools (perhaps up to 7 if sponsored) that conform to a definite pattern. At your interview, be prepared to show why you could choose this school over all others. By what criteria will you make your decision if admitted to multiple schools? Hint: pick criteria in which this school "wins." For example, "I am applying to one-year programs that emphasize finance and offer multiple experiential learning practicums and consulting projects. Among these, Cambridge is best because of..."

The following questions display adcoms logic when asking "where else you applied."

Advice from ClearAdmit

Don’t rush the application forms! Most candidates leave the forms for the last minute or rush to fill out online applications from work on deadline day, but a weak effort on these forms can damage your candidacy. Here are a few tips


Advice from Adam Markus

Family Information

This information helps admissions understand your background.


In general, I suggest only listing languages you actually could use. Listing a bunch of languages where you have a novice ranking looks pretty lame, so I would recommend keeping the novice language list to at most one language. If you studied a language in school and got a high grade, but don't remember much, the novice ranking is for you.


Why are they asking me all this stuff that is already on my resume? Adcoms want to be able to refer to your employment history in a standardized way, and they want to make sure that you accurately provide specific information in the categories they ask for. So why do they need a resume? First, they need it because they conduct blind interviewing. Next, a resume measures what you think is essential to know. It is a kind of self-evaluation. On the other hand, an application is what they want to know regardless of whether you think it is essential or not.

Job Duties

Focus on the most critical parts of your work and especially those aspects that you think the best show your potential for your post-MBA goals. At the same time, make sure that you are not just providing accomplishments (you can do that on the resume), but also are providing an overall accounting of your duties.

Supervising others

How many employees do you supervise? Please explain this number briefly (i.e., direct reports, matrix organization, dotted line)

Provide an honest answer to this question. If you manage employees on a project basis, state that. If the number has varied and you supervise significantly fewer people than in the past, you might try to indicate any such differences in your job duties description.

Reason for Leaving

Address this honestly and directly. If you have been let go as part of an overall cut in staff, indicate that. If you were let go for reasons to do with your performance, I don't suggest such disclosing such information (and apparently you would not want to select a recommender who would state that). If you were given voluntary early retirement, indicate that and the size of the package you received. If you quit because you wanted to travel for a year, no problem, just make sure you write about that amazing experience elsewhere in the application.


Please upload your resume, one page only

If you have two pages or more, alter your format and prioritize your content. Consider what you want to discuss at your interview when determining what to keep in your resume. If you have to cut something of value, be sure to include it in your online application data form short answers.


If you have no awards, do not make something up. Give them the facts

Name of the award, criteria for selection, and if a prize was given, what that was.

Expected Major

Select one that is consistent with your goals and reasons for attending this MBA program.

This is a non-binding choice unless you are applying for Health Care Management.

The only wrong choice here is one that is not consistent with your goals essay.


In addition to providing the name of the certification, provide the date you received it, the basis for getting it if impressive, and if it not a very popular certification, briefly explain it.


Please list your extracurricular activities while in college/university, listing your most important first.

Tell us about the activity above that is most important to you and what you have learned from the experience.

Activities since college/university studies

Please list your extracurricular activities since college/university. List in order of importance.

Tell us about the activity above that is most important to you and what you have learned from the experience.

Writing about professional certifications, scholarships/awards, and extracurricular activities (during and after college) is hard for some applicants who have so much stuff to write about in one or more of these lists. For others, it will be hard because they have so little to mention. Whatever the case, provide honest and comprehensive information here and don't pad these sections with nonsense. You may have started playing golf, volunteering for the homeless, or studying French for the last couple of months, but you should think twice before including it.

If you were involved in extracurricular activities that were a significant time commitment and your grades suffered. As a result, you will probably be mentioning that in the optional essay, but here you should still provide factual information that will support your claims. In addition to what adcoms specifically request for each activity, if it is not clear what an organization is or what your role was from the title, briefly explain that. Regarding the need to prioritize this list, think about which activities are most important to you and reveal the most about your potential and personality.

Here are the common questions and responses

A: Explain that in the optional essay. It is better to explain your concerns than to have them noticed without you providing your interpretation. 

A: Sounds pretty wrong to me, do you think that the highly experienced admissions officers at Wharton are naive enough to buy that? Forget it. If something commenced in 2008 and you have


Please list any hobbies or related activities, not listed above, which hold particular significance for you.

Tell us about the activity or hobby above you have enjoyed most and why.

If something commenced in the last 12 month and you have absolutely no prior connection to it or something like it, think twice before listing it here.

A: While some extracurricular activities might classify as hobbies, the critical difference is that extracurricular activities should be part of an organization.

Distinguish between activities that you have shown a long-term commitment to and standard forms of passive entertainment. If you are an expert of French cinema of the 1960s, it is perhaps worth mentioning, but if you like to watch movies in general, I suggest omitting such information.

This section offers an excellent opportunity to explain aspects of your private life that have been sources of pleasure and interest for a significant part of your life. This section can also add some personality to your application. Make sure you provide specific examples and don't write something like "Enjoy cooking," but instead write about what type of cooking it is and whether you have taken any cooking classes and even just enjoy cooking for friends or family. By the way, if you have kids, use this section to highlight family activities that you might continue at MBA. Finally, if you have a strong religious commitment, please write about that here (as a special interest), if it does not fit above as an extracurricular activity.

International experience

If you have worked outside of your home country, please name the country or countries and duration

This final question is straightforward. Even if the work duration was small but significant, mention it. No, quick trips to a conference do not count.

END of Adam's advice


Information is subject to change. Please, verify all data with the schools.