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had met you five years ago and then met you again today, how
would we say that you have changed? Include specific examples
that characterize your development. (Sloan)
thirty to forty years, when you reflect back on your life,
what criteria will you use when judging if you have been
successful? What are the main achievements/events that you
hope will have taken place? (Anderson)
provide us with a summary of your personal and family
background. Include information about where you grew up, your
parents' occupations, your siblings, and perhaps a highlight
or special memory from your youth. (Anderson)
of us has been influenced by the people, events, and
situations occurring in our lives. How have these influences
shaped who you are today? (Stanford)
seminal influences or experiences, broadly defined (a book,
teacher, friend, relative, sojourn, hobby, and so forth), have
especially contributed to your personal development? What
correlation, if any, does your personal development have to
your professional goals? (Berkeley)
yourself and the significant events that have shaped you.
questions, as we have already mentioned, are a way for the
admissions committee to learn more about you personally. The
getting personal questions just ask more directly than others.
They give you a direct opportunity to speak for yourself. They
can be tricky, though, because they are often extremely
selective. You cannot include every detail about yourself, so
you have to pick wisely. Some applicants want to tell
everything, fearful that they will leave out a crucial detail on
which their acceptance, and future, could hinge. Do not give in
to this temptation. Instead, focus on one or two significant
qualities or characteristics that give the admissions committee
genuine insight into you.
the questions in this category are worded creatively or ask you
to use your imagination. This is intended to get you to loosen
up and be yourself. If the question takes you off guard, let
it-it means the committee is looking for an unguarded answer.
This makes many applicants uncomfortable. They try to present
themselves objectively but end up distancing themselves from the
subject matter with overly long words and a dry, academic tone.
This is a grave mistake since the whole point of this essay is
to reveal something about yourself. Therefore, put your heart
into this essay.
category does not have one standard question-every school asks
it in a different way. Although each school's question will
differ from the next, most of the personal questions still fit
into one of three categories: personal development, personal
goals, or personal background and influence. If you are having
trouble with a specific question, try to approach it from the
vantage point of one of these categories. See if the tips and
advice given below help.
If we had
met you five years ago and then met you again today, how would
we say that you have changed? Include specific examples that
characterize your development.
question tries to find out about you by asking how you have
grown and developed over the past few years. Making you compare
yourself at two different stages of your life is a clever way to
get you to open up about who you really are. Although you do
want to show that you have matured, remember that the child is
father of the man. Do not overplay what a terrible person you
once were just to make the point of what a great person you are
now. No one changes that much in five years. Do, however,
highlight one or two turning points or significant events, and
show how they have affected you. They need not be dramatic, just
personally meaningful. Also remember to show that you took a
proactive as well as a reactive role in your own development.
How did your growth result from the decisions you made and the
actions you took? Significant events and people can serve as
inspiration, but real change always results from the work,
effort, and initiative you have put into yourself.
In thirty to forty years,
when you reflect back on your life, what criteria will you use
when judging if you have been successful? What are the main
achievements/events that you hope will have taken place?
This question, although worded
creatively, really just asks you what goals you have set for
your personal life. The only difference is that you will talk
about your goals in the past tense, as though they have already
happened. The inevitable question here (especially for women)
becomes, is it OK to say that I want a family? If that truly is
a goal (and it is for most people), then yes, of course you can
write about it. Admissions officers have a grasp on reality and
they understand that, business person or not, most people end up
married and with children. To expect otherwise would be
unrealistic and naive.
Not mentioning marriage and
family is fine, too. If the subject makes you uncomfortable,
leave it out. Because it is expected, it is often left unsaid.
You might want to focus instead on one or two unique goals of
yours. Do you want to have traveled to a certain place, climbed
a specific mountain, or run the Boston Marathon by then? Perhaps
you have smaller goals, like learning to play the piano or cook
a gourmet meal.
Many people look at their goals
from a grander scale by choosing overriding themes like
philanthropy and discussing the ways in which they hope the
theme will have come into fruition. No matter what you choose,
show that you have a realistic goal and not just a pipe dream.
Either outline a game plan or prove that you have already taken
the first steps toward making the goals come true. Most
important of all, do not forget to mention the role that your
business career will have had in helping you attain your goals
and lead a fulfilling personal life. Goals can be personal and
still include your career.
Personal Background and
Please provide us with a
summary of your personal and family background. Include
information about where you grew up, your parents'
occupations, your siblings, and perhaps a highlight or special
memory from your youth. (Anderson)
Each of us has been
influenced by the people, events, and situations occurring in
our lives. How have these influences shaped who you are today?
What seminal influences or
experiences, broadly defined (a book, teacher, friend,
relative, sojourn, hobby, and so forth), have especially
contributed to your personal development? What correlation, if
any, does your personal development have to your professional
Describe yourself and the
significant events that have shaped you. (Michigan)
This type of question is similar
to the role model question. It attempts to learn more about you
through the forces that have shaped you. Many applicants
mistakenly believe that this is an essay about a trip, a person,
or a pastime. They go on at length, describing the influence in
detail, without making a connection between it and themselves.
The school is not interested in learning more about a dear
relative, a memorable holiday, or a motivational book. They are
interested in learning more about you. Demonstrate which
qualities of the person or experience under discussion have
influenced you and in what ways.
What specific aspect(s) of the
book, person, or event made an impression on you and how? What
action did you take to turn this impression into personal
development and change? This is the key. You must make clear
that the influence had an identifiable impact. Did your uncle's
willingness to take risks and ability to bounce back from
failure inspire you to pick up and move on after a personal
setback? Did a trip to a factory in a third-world country cause
you to reconsider your position about child labor laws? This is
the type of information business schools seek when they ask this
A question can be daunting when
it asks you to describe your family background. No family is
ideal. You need not have had 1.5 siblings, a dog, and a white
picket fence in order to write comfortably about your family. In
fact, a unique background will set you apart. Still, this is no
place to air dirty laundry. If this question has you staring
uncomfortably at a blank page, then stop thinking about trying
to describe your entire family history in a few paragraphs. Just
think of two or three defining moments or interesting incidents.
Concentrate on bringing them to life. You will then find that by
focusing on the parts, you have painted an accurate picture of
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had met you five years ago and then met you again today, how
would we say that you have changed? Include specific examples
that characterize your development.
years ago I was twenty years old, just finishing up my first
semester of my sophomore year in school. I had curly blond
hair down to my waist and had never worked a full-time job in
my life. I had only been out of the country two times. I found
the white, preppy uniformity of Georgetown to be familiar and
live in a rowdy, crazy, colorful, slightly shady neighborhood
in Washington, D.C.; I couldn't get out of Georgetown fast
enough after graduation. I love to walk down the street and
see men in dresses or the Rastas who sit in front of Safeway
vending incense and such. I lived and traveled abroad for a
full year. I've had a Real Job for over two and a half years.
And the further I get from school the more I rediscover a
creative spirit that was dormant for four years-I love to
paint and draw and write now, which I didn't do at all during
biggest changes have been in how I relate to my work and the
people around me. In the past five years, I learned that the
most important achievement in life is to be truly happy. And
reaching that goal, for me, required that I try looking at the
world with a new view.
learned how to learn. I was never much of a student-I did the
minimum amount of work required to get good grades, and rarely
more. That lasted until I was studying at the London School of
Economics. The first paper I handed in there came back with a
D and comments that indicated the professor felt actual pity
and concern for a student of my low caliber. I found out
quickly that the study methods I had used throughout my life
were not acceptable at the LSE. Rather than just memorizing
the notes of the professor's lecture, and my highlighted notes
from the textbook, I actually had to use the list of 10-15
books that accompanied each day's lecture, do my own research
on the topic, and genuinely understand the concepts in
question, backwards and forwards. It was exhilarating. I
regretted all the wonderful courses and professors I had
wasted in the past. I began my senior year at Georgetown with
a new enthusiasm, and ended my fall semester with my first
learned to enjoy the small moments of joy that every day
contains. I've learned that it's okay to pass up one party,
because another is sure to come along. Right after my freshman
year in school I spent a summer in Boston caring for my sister
and her two-year-old son after she had surgery. Basically,
every moment I spent in domestic activity was a small hell for
me. I was sure that the city held wonders untold, but I was
chained inside, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, reading
"Once Upon A Potty" over and over and over. This
year, as I visited my sister for Christmas, I was cast into
the Mommy role again when she hurt her knee skiing. This time
I relished every minute of it. I played chess with the
seven-year-old, and tried to teach the two-month-old to say
"Elvis". I delivered cups of tea and bags of ice to
my fallen sister, and whipped up a special pot of soup for
everyone when we all came down with the same cold. I let my
brother-in-law hide in a corner with my nice new laptop. I was
actually glad that I barely left the house. I've mellowed out.
learned to forgive myself. I'm always my own worst critic,
especially when I made mistakes. I could torment myself with a
past failure for weeks. But in my current job I've had the
chance to fall on my face several times, and to see that the
world does not stop turning when I do. One of my bosses has a
motto: "Let's turn this negative into a positive"-in
his world, there is no failure because there is always a
lesson to be learned, at the very least. After a couple of
years of being subjected to this unrelenting optimism, I
finally yielded and accepted it. I learned that time spent
worrying over a mistake is wasted time-instead, I should be
figuring out how to correct the mistake and move on.
learned to be a positive member of the team. Attitude counts.
I will admit that I used to indulge myself in the occasional
prima donna fit. I was aware of my value at the company, that
there were many things that only I knew how to do, and I
played on it to get my way. But this past summer I worked with
a vendor, the owner of a mailhouse, who changed my whole way
of thinking. Though the work that her company did was timely
and basically error-free, dealing with this woman drove me up
a wall. She had no concept of customer service-any error that
her mailhouse made was somehow our fault. She would not take
responsibility for mistakes, she refused to do little things
that would have saved us money or made our job easier, and I
could never get her off the phone before her life story came
out. So even though the mailhouse produced quality work, I
will not be using them again next year because working with
her was so unpleasant. This taught me an important lesson: it
doesn't matter how good your work is-if you're a pain to work
with, that's what people remember and react to. Since then
I've endeavored to present a consistently pleasant face to my
coworkers; whenever I feel a little cranky, I hear the voice
of Melissa and just relax.
years, I've grown more confident, more secure, and more at
ease. I wouldn't say I'm a different person that I was at
twenty, but I'm definitely an improved version. Plus-the
biggest change of all-I'm a brunette now.
ESSAYS THAT WILL GET YOU INTO BUSINESS SCHOOL, by Amy Burnham,
Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan
Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's
Educational Series, Inc.