I Intro & MIT Sloan Deadlines
I like to tell the story of my own MBA interview at MIT Sloan. The conversation was going really well. It felt like more of an exchange than the rapid fire interrogation I’d anticipated. At some point though, I apologetically told the Sloan Adcom member that I wasn’t really sure what I would do after I graduated. He hadn’t even asked – foolishly, I’d offered it up! I assumed my comment would prove detrimental to my candidacy and was surprised when he started to laugh and told me that he wouldn’t believe me even if I told him what I wanted to do. Then he said ‘we know people are still figuring things out at business school’. Did he say that just to make me feel better? No. Had I said the same thing during an HBS interview, I doubt it would have gone over quite so well. So why does Sloan take a different stance on post-MBA career goals and what does that say about what they’re really looking for in applicants?
We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We are as interested in your path to accomplishment as we are in the results that you have attained. We want to know the effect you have on the people with who you engage, and, in turn, how you influence the world around you.
– MIT Sloan Adcom
MIT’s motto is mens et manus (mind and hand). There is a definite line of thinking at Sloan which goes, ‘who you are and how you think is best reflected through your actions’. In past application years, Sloan has shown a great interest in candidates’ past behavior as a means to understanding the way they frame the world around them. That makes good sense because what makes or breaks a person’s potential as a leader or manager begins with the way they think about, and ultimately frame interpersonal relationships, social situations and group/organizational dynamics and culminates in what they say and do. In past years, MIT Sloan’s MBA & LGO essays always seemed to place more importance on the intermediary part of a story, probing into why and how something was accomplished, rather than emphasizing what was actually accomplished. MIT Sloan is still interested in the way you think, in the why and how more than in the result. Leveraging a very short cover letter and the optional essay you’ll need to be creative about how you convey those aspects of yourself and your work to the adcom in the 2016 – 2017 application year.
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Back to top: Outline
II How have MIT Sloan’s MBA & LGO essays changed this year?
Looking to start writing your 2017-18 MBA essays before Sloan’s official essay release date in the summer 2017? Based on fxMBAConsulting’s analysis there is a 70% PROBABILITY that Sloan’s MBA essays remain the unchanged from year to year.
Reviewing past essay prompts you’ll notice that Sloan’s Adcom has always shown an interest in how candidates ‘overcome’ in their professional lives: defying norms, convincing others, making decisions with imperfect information, handling setbacks and moving outside one’s comfort zone. Beyond that, Sloan has a longstanding tradition of asking applicants to either write a cover letter seeking admission or to respond to the school’s mission statement. While Sloan’s cover letter has traditionally allowed for 500 words, this year Sloan is limiting students to just 250.
With such a tight word limit, I can’t stress enough how important it will be for you to carefully organizing your thoughts and determine what information is truly critical before writing your cover letter in the most succinct way possible. In that sense, the new cover letter’s restrictive format provides a means for the admissions committee to identify candidates with strong communication skills – which is a characteristic common to MBA graduates from top programs.
Class of 2014: Cover Letter: Prepare a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Describe your accomplishments and include an example of how you had an impact on a group or organization. Your letter should conform to standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Director of MBA Admissions. (500 words); 1. Please describe a time when you went beyond what was defined, expected, established, or popular. (500 words); 2. Please describe a time when you convinced an individual or group to accept one of your ideas. (500 words); 3. Please describe a time when you had to make a decision without having all the information you needed. (500 words)
Class of 2015: Cover Letter: Please prepare a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should describe your accomplishments, address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application, and conform to standard business correspondence. Your letter should be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (Up to 500 words); 1. Please describe a time when you had to convince a person or a group of your idea. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page); 2. Please describe a time when you overcame a personal setback. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
Class of 2016: 1. The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page); 2. Describe a time when you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
Class of 2017: 1. The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words); 2. Write a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of yourself. Answer the following questions as if you were your most recent supervisor recommending yourself for admission to the MIT Sloan MBA Program. (750 words)
Class of 2018: 1. Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer); 2. (only for applicants interviewed) The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer)
Class of 2019: 1. Cover Letter: Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words or fewer); 2. Additional Information (optional): The Admissions Committee invites you to share additional information about yourself, in any format. If you choose a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us with the URL.
Common MBA and LGO essay themes that emerge over the years at MIT Sloan include:
- Describe a success or accomplishment by detailing what you thought, felt, said, and did. The goal is to give MIT Sloan’s Adcom insight into how you work, think and act.
- Discuss how Sloan’s mission statement resonates with your own ideas or something you’ve done in the past (MIT Sloan Mission Statement: to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice).
- Behavioral questions: Describe a time when you convinced someone, overcame a setback, challenged norms etc.
III 2016 – 2017 MIT Sloan MBA & LGO Essay Analysis
Essay 1) We have one required essay at the time of submission: Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer)
This essay looks like it’s a quintessential accomplishment essay, but it is not. Let me explain.
I need to convince you that MIT Sloan’s Adcom is not really interested in your accomplishment. Instead, they’re interested in the accomplishment as a means to learning more about the way that you think, work and act. In other words, this essay is not about the accomplishment but the how you accomplished it. See the difference? The accomplishment is the grand finale…..how you accomplished it was everything leading up to that.
The reason MIT Sloan’s Adcom doesn’t care about your ‘big’ accomplishment is that most likely, in the grand scheme of things, it is small potatoes. In fact I’m almost certain it is small potatoes because by definition people who are applying to business school are at the beginning stage of their career which means they’re still germinating. Here’s the thing: Sloan’s Adcom is going to read 5,000 applications this year. Nobody honestly thinks they’re going to admit Tom who did a $2M M&A deal over Kate who did a $1M deal simply because Tom’s deal was worth twice as much as Kate’s. Then they’ll be candidates who discuss an accomplishment which isn’t easily quantified. What about Nick who helped organize a company-wide fitness program….which contributed $0 to the bottom line.
Most applicants will obsess over the magnitude of the accomplishment they chose to discuss. Instead, you should pick an accomplishment and dedicate all your energy to effectively telling the story of the accomplishment.
Remember what I wrote in the Intro of the analysis?
Sloan is interested in the minutiae of candidates’ past behavior, I’d wager that’s because one’s behavior speaks to the inner workings of the mind, revealing one’s MO. What makes or breaks a person’s potential as a leader or manager begins with the way they think about, and ultimately frame interpersonal relationships, social situations and group/organizational dynamics and culminates in what they say and do. MIT Sloan’s MBA & LGO essays always seem to place more importance on the intermediary part of a story, probing into why and how something was accomplished, rather than emphasizing what was actually accomplished.
So if we can agree that nobody will be unduly impressed with what you actually did then how should you approach MIT Sloan’s MBA & LGO Essay 1?
You definitely need to probide enough information and contextualization to answer the first part of the question (What did you accomplish?). You do want Sloan’s Adcom to appreciate what you did and how much of an impact you made. But a great MBA or LGO essay will delve into the hurdle(s) you encountered and will highlight your thought process, interactions/conversations with others, understanding of human motivation, social situations, the vested interests of others and/or your soft skills in overcoming that challenge.
The STAR model for behavioral interviews has long been a favorite over at Sloan. The SHARE model is very similar. I’d start structuring this essay by using each of the model’s five points as a series of questions. Try to write a paragraph about the Situation…then the Hindrances etc. That will give you some material to begin working with. I’d suggest filling out the SHARE model for multiple accomplishments and then decide which one you feel most comfortable moving forward with.
10% S – Situation; describe a specific situation (Tell us about a recent success.)
20% H – Hindrances; identify any hindrances or challenges faced (What hurdles did you encounter? Who else was involved?)
40% A – Action; explain the action(s) you took in response (How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved?)
10% R – Results; discuss the results or outcomes from your action(s) (What type of impact did this have on the outside world?)
20% E – Evaluate; explain and evaluate what you learned from the experience (What type of impact did this have on you?)
I’ve included some percentages to give you a sense of how you might weight each section of essay 1. You might feel compelled to dedicate a big chunk of essay 1 to describing the impact your achievement had on the wider organization or group – because when most people hear the word ‘impact’ they automatically think ‘big picture’. Instead, I’d allocate that space to discussing 1) what the hurdles were and how you identified and navigated them and 2) What type of impact this experience had on you personally.
The main mistake candidates make is giving a very mechanical explanation of how they accomplished something. I find that people who were STEM majors at university are especially prone to this. The two passages below discuss how a candidate dealt with a team in another country that wasn’t complying with company procedure. Imagine that the First and Final Drafts are actually two different people. Which one is more interesting? Which one gives you insight into what sort of manager this candidate might be? Which one would you feel more comfortable hiring without having met him first?
First Draft: More samples weren’t necessarily better. I discussed the process with the Chinese team. They have 10 plants, and each plant was doing the spot audit separately. I suggested that we’d be able to identify problem areas if the team sourced samples from across China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I added that the team should focus on sourcing samples from high risk regions. After our discussion, we reduced the number of faulty shipments from 300 to just 120 per quarter.
Final Draft: I’d always trusted our partners and maintained a friendly rapport with them, but frustration colored my thinking: Should I get on the phone and demand her team comply, remind them that we were paying them good money only to risk millions in fines? Clearly that was not a solution. The truth was I felt betrayed by J and needed to approach the situation with diplomacy.
Essay 2) A second, short-answer question will be asked only of those invited to interview: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer)
Notice that the essay 2 prompt does not ask you to share an achievement or outcome from your past that aligns with the mission. MIT Sloan asks LGO and MBA candidates for ‘something’. That means you could just as well share an intrinsic quality about yourself or personal value set as an accomplishment.
MIT Sloan’s Adcom wants to make sure they are selecting people who have the necessary inner workings in place such that the school can then help then ‘develop (into) principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice’ (MIT Sloan’s mission statement). At Sloan, the best way to ascertain a candidate’s inner workings is by looking at his outer or manifest behavior. At Sloan, the best predictor of future behavior becomes past behavior. When you understand that, it becomes clear why their essay questions ask candidates to give practical examples of a past success or past experiences that exemplify the core values of the school.
I think a lot of people are going to start off by asking themselves, ‘When did I have an innovative idea that in some small way improved the world?’ You might freak out a little when you start running through your accomplishments and realize that you haven’t done anything that ‘seems’ innovative enough. The way to deal with this essay is the same way you would approach an essay commenting on a philosophical statement. You’d look at the individual terminology and then define the operative term so that you are able to construct a response to it.
Here’s an example of the technique applied to a philosophical question: Is violence always an integral part of power? I would need to define what violence meant, what power meant and then construct my argument around whether the two were always/never intertwined or only under certain circumstances. My answer depends largely on how I defined the terms. Power doesn’t necessarily refer to political power. For example, I could argue that power is an intrinsic part of what Thomas Hobbes called the social contract (a tacit agreement of nonviolence on which all human society is founded). But that agreement hinges on the ever present risk of violence – so from a symbolic perspective violence is present (i.e. the risk of violence) but from a practical perspective we don’t act on that violence.
Start out by really thinking about one or more terms in the prompt: What does it mean to be principled? What is innovation really and how does it manifest itself in the real world? Does innovation always mean an innovative outcome, or can the outcome be banal? Can innovation be found in an attitude or in the journey to a banal outcome? What constitutes good management? Is good management always synonymous with a ‘good’ outcome? etc.
Next question whether your definition is always the case or if there are other possible definitions. You can even define a term in your essay through negation. Here is an example:
My decision, at the age of eighteen, to undertake my studies in Europe, under less than ideal circumstances, was neither convenient nor conventional. Yet that choice has proved to be far more interesting and rewarding, both on an intellectual and human level, then any alternative I can imagine. If leadership is not the sole monopoly of those who lead others but also a virtue of those who first lead themselves, then I believe that I possess the potential to fulfill one of my long-term ambitions….
– Sloan Essay 2 Example from past fxMBAConsulting Client
The writer was able to redefine leadership as a personal journey instead of a more traditional definition of leadership (leading others).
Analysis of Essay 1) Cover Letter: Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words or fewer)
Your cover letter is an opportunity to introduce yourself, describe your past successes, and explain why MIT Sloan’s MBA Program is the right place for you. The optional essay remains available, and you can share additional information about yourself in any format. https://mitsloanadmissions.com/2016/06/24/new-deadlines-and-application-updates-for-mit-sloan/
DAWNA LEVENSON, DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS
Examples of Essay 1) Cover Letter: Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words or fewer)
Dear Mr. Garcia,
Living abroad I’ve noticed how the Western notion that a well-chosen career path is central to a an individual’s self-realization is as alien a notion to Indians as the Indian worldview, which sets being a doctor or engineer as the prototype of success, must be to Westerners. Identifying my true talents later in life was not as difficult as the process of coming to terms with them. As a people person, with an interest in entrepreneurship, I found I no longer conformed to the model of success held by my Indian professors, friends and family. An MBA has a two-fold significance for me. Firstly, as both a natural continuation of my work experience as Demand Modeler and a necessary preparation for my future plans to become a consultant within the infrastructure sector and secondly it is the outward symbol of my inward resolve to pursue what I love and what I am good at: entrepreneurship.
At IIT Mumbai, I had already begun breaking the mold when my team placed runner up in the prestigious Eureka business plan competition. I felt incredibly comfortable in a more public facing role: pitching the idea to potential investors and developing a marketing strategy.
As I began to build my own franchising business in the US, growing it to over 60 affiliates, my interest in business solidified. Earning a Masters in Transportation from MIT and then working with the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization for six years allowed me to directly improve the everyday lives of millions of citizens. In the last twelve months I’ve had the opportunity to work on the capitalization of various infrastructure projects in emerging markets at Cedar Street Capital, a boutique investment bank, where I impacted the work culture of the organization. When I joined Cedar, most of the analysts left early in the evening, but I wanted to learn as much as possible and hence started staying at work until late, leaving around 1:00am. Slowly, without being prompted to by management, Analysts and Associates began staying until midnight. One morning the CEO commented that he was delighted to see the shift in company culture and thanked me for my hard work and dedication. I realize more than ever that people react more to an example set than anything that learn could have been said.
My goal immediately after completing my MBA is to join a top consulting firm, either in India or the US, in order to gain in-depth insight into the best practices in transportation industry. Within four years post MBA I will return to India to once again pursue entrepreneurship as I establish a cutting edge consulting firm. By that time I will have had the chance to explore business theory at Sloan, its application under the guidance of seasoned consultants before finally building a team of dedicated consultants.
I truly believe that two years at MIT Sloan would mean fulfilling a longstanding interest in and penchant for business and entrepreneurship as well as an opportunity to master the fundamental tools necessary to build a strong sustainable enterprise from scratch. Finally I believe that my mix of public sector and financial services experience can only help to increase the collective level of diversity within the student body at MIT Sloan. The unparalleled leadership opportunities at Sloan, both in the classroom and through the Innovative Leader Series will add to my leadership knowledge base.
A Sloan MBA will ensure that I succeed in fulfilling my dream to help India continue her growth into a global superpower. I hope to have given you a feel for why attending Sloan means so much to me, and I hope I have the opportunity to join your program.
Optional Essay) The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format. If you choose to use a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us the URL.
Please keep all videos and media limited to 2:00 minutes total in length.
Please keep all written essays to 500 words or less.
If hosting your submission on a website, please ensure you provide an unprotected link (no password required).
I think this essay really is optional and probably doesn’t weigh very heavily on the Adcom’s decision to admit or not admit an MBA candidate to MIT Sloan. Don’t just submit this essay because you think you have to. Only submit it if it is truly adding something to your application. Remember that it takes about 20 minutes for the Adcom to review your application. By submitting this essay you’re shifting time away from other aspects of your application. Whatever you decide to do, assume that the Adcom member reviewing your application will spend 1-2 minutes looking over the optional essay. If you’re unsure, ask a friend to review your material and time them to see how long it takes.
Avoid (where possible) submitting the same PowerPoint presentation that you submitted to Chicago Booth. Nobody wants to feel second best and I think in some cases it could be obvious to the Sloan Adcom when you’ve recycled your Booth presentation for their viewing pleasure. That said – you can probably recycle parts of your Booth presentation.
Sloan doesn’t specify a format so keep in mind that you can submit an essay or multi-media presentation (or a combination of the two). Most of my clients opt for a PDF presentation simply because for most people its a lot easier to put together than a video. I’ve had clients highlight different phases or themes from their lives (living abroad, passtimes, community service, work life). I’ve worked with other clients who’ve wanted to highlight a theme from their early life right on through to the present such as growing up in an entrepreneurial family, founding a small company in college and then moving into VC. I helped a client applying to LGO submit a really cool video about the processing facility he ran.
Applicants to MIT Sloan’s LGO program need to write two additional short essays.
For essays 3 and 4, please tell us about your goals for LGO and your interest in and commitment to the engineering field of your choice.
Back to top: Outline
IV 2016 – 2017 LGO Essay Analysis
In order to best craft your LGO essays, it’s important to know who at MIT will focus on each of your essays:
- MIT Sloan Adcom Essay 1) We have one required essay at the time of submission: Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer)
- MIT Sloan Adcom Essay 2) A second, short-answer question will be asked only of those invited to interview: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer)
- MIT Sloan Adcom + LGO Team Optional Essay) The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format. If you choose to use a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us the URL.
- LGO Team Essay 3) Why do you wish to pursue the LGO Program? What are the goals that you hope to accomplish both as a student and as a graduate of the program? Be sure to include a description of your post-LGO career plans. (250 words or fewer)
- MS Department + LGO Team Essay 4) Why do you wish to pursue the engineering field and specialty area you have selected? (250 words or fewer)
LGO Essay 3) Why do you wish to pursue the LGO Program? What are the goals that you hope to accomplish both as a student and as a graduate of the program? Be sure to include a description of your post-LGO career plans. (250 words or fewer)
This essay can be challenging because applicants are expected to pack a lot of information into just 250 words. In the Intro at the top of the page I mentioned that MIT Sloan’s Adcom is much more interested in your past behavior than in your career goals. You’re getting career goal questions here because the LGO program has corporate sponsors and therefore the LGO team needs to make sure they admit candidates that will prove good fits for internships (and potentially full-time positions) at its sponsors.
Part 1) Why do you wish to pursue the LGO Program?
Your Past: Think about the main drivers that have influenced your decisions to date. Is there a common theme, interest, preference or passion that underlies any of the following: a) your decision to major in X at university? b) your decision to live in a particular area? c) the thought process behind choosing your first few professional roles or employers? d) personal qualities or interests that have been the driving force behind promotions or achievements at work?
Why LGO?: Remember that the LGO program is a MS and an MBA. How will the combination of both of those degrees (and not just the MS) help you succeed in your chosen field? Is there an increasing demand for people with a multi-faceted skill-set in your industry?
What drew me to structural engineering when I entered college was how it’s framework and internal logic helped me take a systemic look at complex problems. For example, you can’t do X if you don’t consider Y. As my career transitioned towards the operations side of Company X’s business I’ve continued to apply those early lessons. Over the last two years I see more and more how what my team does in operations is highly interconnected with the wider organization. Completing a MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering combined with a MBA would be a unique opportunity for me to grow as an operations specialist, critical thinker and leader within the retail and consumer products sector.
– from past fxMBAConsulting Client
Part 2) What are the goals that you hope to accomplish both as a student and as a graduate of the program?
What will you accomplish while at MIT?: Have a good think about what might be keeping you from advancing to your short-term goal. You undoubtedly have a strong skill-set in certain areas…and perhaps a less developed skill-set in others. Or you may have niche knowledge of a particular function/industry, but lack a more global exposure (within your industry/role or possibly across industries/roles). You might also want to discuss which LGO sponsors you might be interested in doing an internship with or in which functional areas (irregardless of employer) you’d like to pursue an internship.
Your Short-term Goal: What would you like to be doing professionally post-LGO? What about that role/industry genuinely excites you or appeals to you? What would make you a valuable asset to your future employer compared to other LGOs? Think about how your background or past experience set you apart and how you might bring those to bear on your new role. In other words – given your unique background right now – what will make you an asset to that employer following the LGO program? You want to come right out and give an example of a specific role at a specific employer that meet your criteria. It’s not enough to say I want to have a senior operations role in an E-commerce.
Your Long-term Goal: What do you see yourself doing in the long term? It’s best if your able to show an internal logic and continuity between your short and long-term goals in particular. You want to make this statement ambitious but not off-the-wall unrealistic. The LGO team won’t put much weight in this statement since they realize that no matter what a person predicts he’ll be doing 10+ years down the line – the reality is almost always otherwise.
MIT Sloan LGO Program Essay 4) Why do you wish to pursue the engineering field and specialty area you have selected? (250 words or fewer)
In this essay you’ll be addressing yourself directly to the LGO Team but more importantly to the department you’re applying to for a MS. This is a straightforward question. You might even be able to sum it up in one or two sentences at first glance. Unfortunately you’re going to have to spread your explanation out to 250 words.
The most important thing to do in this essay is to demonstrate a real interest or passion for the department’s area of study. If you’re interested in a MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a focus on Transportation you should try to tie that in with work you’ve done in the past. Perhaps you worked on a transportation project with material constraints – what was something you would do better or be able to solve for in the future with the benefit of the MS degree?
Think about which topics or classes you’re most interested in and why. How will the knowledge you gain during the MS program help you fulfill not only your future role? How will you contribute back to industry through the expertise you’ll have gained?