By Danielle, IvyWise MBA Admissions Counselor and Former Director of Deferred Enrollment at Wharton MBA
Business is the number one undergraduate degree in the US. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, 19% of bachelor degrees granted in 2019-20 were business degrees. However, some of the most selective universities do not offer undergraduate business degrees. Because of this, there tends to be some bottle necking of the hardcore business minded students applying to a small handful of elite undergraduate business degrees which unfortunately causes very low admission rates.
With such a coveted field for the most elite programs, it’s important to understand how to stand out when applying to undergraduate business schools and majors. And one of the most effective ways to do that is in the application essay.
4 Themes to Avoid in Business School Essays
In my admissions career, I was lucky enough to work at a school that offered both undergraduate and graduate business degrees, and during my time in both undergraduate admissions at University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and MBA Admissions at the Wharton School, I noticed some trends in applications that rose to the top of the pool and a few that always fell flat. Here are some essay themes that I think undergraduate business applicants should avoid.
Let Me Tell You About My Successful Business as a Child
Every year, admissions officers read thousands of essays starting with “From the moment I sold my first lemonade from my neighbor stand, I knew I was destined for a career in business.” This type of essay almost always disengages the reader from the very start. This is not because the statement is false. It is because it anchors your interest in business to someone you were years ago and not to the person you are today. It also does not help to set you apart from the large applicant pool to business schools. Most children have sold lemonade, stickers, or some other novelty. To set yourself apart, try to speak to when your mindset shifted to business-centric interests.
Your School Will Help Me Land a Job at a Top Consulting/Banking/Tech Firm
There are a few issues with stating your motivation for applying to a business school is solely linked to the job you will get after. First, schools want to admit students that can articulate what they will give to the school community, not just what they will gain from their education there. Second, it may imply a narrow focus and a lack of openness to embrace the liberal arts offerings at a school. Lastly, companies will almost always value leadership and critical thinking skills over a particular major. As Director of Wharton’s deferred enrollment program, I worked with graduating college seniors to help them decide on which job offer to choose. One of my students was English and Creative Writing major at Penn and received a coveted seat in Google’s Product Manager program and another majoring in French and International Studies landed a job at one of the top 3 consulting firms. Focus on your describing your excitement for the school’s curriculum as opposed to the jobs after.
My Goal Is to Be a Top Business Leader
This is a statement that I have seen grind the gears of both undergraduate and graduate admissions officers. In today’s ever evolving world what does it even mean to be a top business leader? Approaching the essay with this general lens will show a lack of research into career options or an unclear career plan. Instead, try stating it is your goal to be a thought leader in a specific industry (retail, finance, tech, healthcare, etc.), working to solve a clear problem you have identified.
My Stock Portfolio is Performing Great
While it is wonderful to get hands-on experience in the market, this should not be the central theme of an essay unless you are very focused on a set career within finance. Even then you should spend minimal real estate in your essays speaking about your portfolio performance and more on the zeal in which you dedicate time to learning about stocks, the classes at the school that you hope will help you perfect your forecasting, and why a business education is needed with the evolution of finance. If you have a high level of expertise, you can let this shine through as your application will most likely be reviewed in a pool of solely business applicants with staff and faculty from the business school present.
I want to walk in the footsteps of…
I have read more essays about Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett than I can count. The problem usually is the applicant takes more time describing their idol than they do describing their own professional goals. Centering your essay on another person shines all the light on them and none on your current accomplishments or future goals. Instead, I recommend doing extensive research on current leaders of the industry of interest to you. Use this research to state the work they are doing and how your education can help further these advancements in the future.
Your business school essay should showcase your business interests in a detailed way, demonstrate you have thought through your career path, show excitement for the business curriculum at each school to which you apply, and describe how you will contribute to the overall community.
Writing essays for undergraduate (and graduate) business applications is difficult work. At IvyWise we work with all students to ensure they are telling the admissions office something new and meaningful in their writing and that their essay is the best representation of who they are as a student and a person. Our team of admissions counselors can help you find the perfect essay topic and work directly with you from start to finish to ensure you submit the best essay possible with your applications. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you with your business school application essays.