GN Focus | Business Education

Make a bold statement

A powerful statement of purpose is a pivotal — and 
often intimidating — part of gaining admission to business schools. Find out how to make the process easier

  • By Iona Stanley | Special to GN Focus
  • Published: 01:00 January 31, 2013
  • GN Focus

  • Image Credit: Supplied
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If you have already figured out why you need a business degree, what you wish to specialise in, and what you intend doing after you complete your studies, you will know without a doubt that your starting point is a statement of purpose. And these very answers form the foundation of writing an interesting and impressive application to the college of your choice.

An understanding of your interests and your goals is inextricably linked to your application and the admission process, and the resulting document has the potential to set you apart from hundreds of other business school applicants.

Many names, one end

The terminology may differ — the statement of purpose is sometimes known as personal statement, personal narrative, or letter of intent — but the purpose remains the same. The college wants to know who you are, why you intend pursuing graduate or postgraduate study and how best you will fit into their milieu.

Some statements require very specific information, focusing on your intended area of specialisation, while others are much broader in scope. Many institutions ask for unstructured statements, leaving you free to address a wide range of matters. Some colleges ask for a single comprehensive document, while others require responses to a series of six or more questions, ranging from 250 to 750 words each. For instance, one of the 500-word essays required of applicants at the Wharton Business School poses the question: Describe an impact you have had on an individual, group or an organisation. What did you do? How has this experience been valuable to you or others?

When writing a statement of purpose, you are addressing admissions officials. Your statement should include details of your interests, purpose, goals, experience, and how well you are prepared for the many challenges of business school. MBA programmes, in particular, take great pride in maintaining statistics and rankings, and the collective accomplishments of an incoming class matter greatly.

As a result, admissions committees often go to great lengths to get to know prospective students. Applicants to Stanford’s MBA programme, for instance, are asked to write about their values: What do you believe in? Talk about your beliefs and how this can help you become a better person. Elaborate as to how these values can assist you in your educational and career goals, and how this can assist you in obtaining your MBA.

Volunteering and community or charity work are considered positive qualities for business school applicants. Selfless and compassionate acts are deemed as accomplishments, and almost noble in nature.

But by no means is the statement a forum to praise yourself. The University of California Berkeley’s Claremont Graduate University advises applicants to report any problems or inconsistencies in records or scores, such as a bad semester. ‘Be sure to explain in a positive manner and justify the explanation. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed by a positive statement of your abilities.’

Your personal statement should also include details of how you have overcome difficulties since facing them. A case in example is Oxford’s Saïd Business School. All new students are expected to submit two essays, including a 750-word composition on what should Oxford expect from you. However, it is worth noting that re-applicants are required to submit an additional third essay on the topic: What improvements have you made in your candidacy since you last applied to the Oxford MBA.

If you studied under unusual circumstances or had to overcome major obstacles to achieve your current level of success — such as working part-time to fund your studies — mention it in your statement.

Direct vs open-ended

As a rule of thumb, answering direct questions is easier than open-ended formats. Harvard Business School asks for two 400-word essays: Tell us about something you did well, and Tell us about something you wish you had done better.

But some of the questions need to be analysed and answered appropriately. For instance, the sample question, what are the strengths and weaknesses in setting and achieving goals while working with a team is best addressed in four distinct parts.

Make sure that your personal narrative is unique and relevant to each school. Admissions officials don’t take kindly to generic letters that read like they could have been sent to just about any school anywhere in the world. Your aim must 
be to convince them that you are a serious applicant, and one that they should not ignore. You will need to show them that you have the ability and motivation to succeed, or based on your earlier work experience, that you are the kind of applicant who will excel at their institution.

Above all, you must provide relevant and pertinent information about yourself; universities will only know what you tell them.

After all, you are the subject of your statement.

GN Focus