The honest answer you will never give to all your essay questions is “I don’t know, but will figure out over time”
Here are my answers from a successful application to an Ivy League college.
Essay #1: Tell us about who you are (rather than what you have done). What motivates and drives you?
“Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape” – The Janson Directive, Robert Ludlum.
This quote summarizes my approach to life. Having studied in two of the best institutes in India and worked in consulting, I realize that non-linearity is an inherent nature of most careers, but being flexible, patient and focused on your goals helps you reach them. I have changed jobs across industries – many a times in situations where I started from scratch, because I felt that they would be great learning experiences and have not been disappointed so far.
I have sincerely believed that choosing what I want to do, forgoing short term gains at times, will help me make money that I need to contribute to society by funding profit making enterprises targeted at the bottom of the pyramid.
I love to travel and interact with the local populace. I have had an opportunity to travel to China in 2000 and France in 2003 as part of my course work. On other occasions, I have travelled extensively in Europe, the UK, South East Asia, New Zealand and Egypt as well. All these places are very different in terms of variety of ideas, ways of life and the stage of development. This is good fodder for mind and has helped me develop ideas around opportunities that can be explored within my chosen area of work. This is extremely energizing and developmental.
Follow-up: I work with young adults as well as entrepreneurs, and find it greatly enriching. This is something that I picked up when I was studying and realized that I enjoyed it more than my stated goal. The point I want to make here is that our lives typically turn out differently than we envision it to, primarily because we are limited by what we know before we know more. Therefore, whatever you write here, the reality (most likely) will be different 2 years/5 years/10 years later.
Essay #2: Why this program now? What are your personal and professional objectives and how will the MS Program help you achieve them?
I have spent many years in consulting to small and medium enterprises, taking and supporting strategic corporate decisions through business cycles across very dynamic sectors in India that have seen a lot of policy actions. I am now keenly looking at supplementing the lessons learnt during this experience with learning from various thought and business leaders, to evolve from a good manager to a better leader.
I have worked alongside entrepreneurs and senior management in many companies and have had a ringside view of managing change and growth. I have enjoyed the process of quickly learning about an industry, interacting with leaders and directors to develop strategies and then following-up with the people who handle the operations to check the robustness of such strategies, eventually leading investment transactions in these companies. However, this learning has mostly been contextual, and I desire to understand these aspects of management in a more holistic manner. I am keen to understand the cross-border and cross-sector application of my experiences that a multi-cultural multi-disciplinary well-experienced group of peers would facilitate. Interactions with business stalwarts who have faced similar challenges can help me explore alternative paths that can be effective when faced with similar situations in the future.
A shortcoming that I have faced at times is a lack of structured thinking and this has resulted in me proposing good ideas but needing help in developing them further. At my current organization, I have often suggested new ways of looking at a business proposal or structuring a deal but have needed help from my supervisor in presenting the same to my peers or external parties in a structured manner.
Through this advanced course that allows me to meet with intelligent, committed classmates, and learn from their experiences and the School’s knowledgeable faculty in an exploratory and collaborative environment, I wish to prepare for the next level of leadership responsibility, so that I can add value to businesses either in an executive or advisory capacity across different international geographies.
Follow-up: This degree has given me the tools and processes to better communicate my thoughts. And I read through a lot of case studies in class, but what I face regularly in the marketplace through the entrepreneurs I consult, is quite different. My biggest learning has been that context matters far more than anything else in life (a learning I had before I went, and nothing changed that conclusion), and nobody can really prepare you for all that life throws at you.
As these two answers and the subsequent reality show, we figure out the value that we get from these top programs later on. At the time of application, we assume and certainly extrapolate what we have already known about the world or what we think would impress the admissions officer. In such a scenario, the honest answer to all these questions should usually be “I don’t know”, but that is a sure-shot recipe for disaster for most applications!
Therefore, answering these questions is essentially similar to writing fiction (somewhat). Thus, it follows that we can improve our chances by improving our communication skills, tailoring the message to match the University’s personality and being authentic on the factual side, so as to ensure that the fiction becomes more palatable.
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