What is a Statement of Purpose?
The Statement of Purpose (SoP) is a type of essay question that helps put the other pieces of your MBA application into context. It shows why you want to enroll in an MBA program and what role it will play in your business career.
The SoP for an MBA program is typically more in-depth than SoPs for other master’s degrees. That’s because MBA applicants are generally a few years older and have several years of work experience already. There’s more history for them to draw from, so admissions departments expect a more thorough, insightful mission statement.
Also, the SoP is a forward-thinking question. The admissions committee can look at your resume and GMAT scores to get a good sense of your ability and life story. So what does your SoP add to that picture? The key is to put it altogether and show what you want to do with your degree. How does it fit into your overall career plan and why are you pursuing it at this stage in your life?
You’ll have a chance to share some of these ideas in your personal interview, but the first stage would be to communicate that in your SoP. These essays are likely the most important piece of your admissions packet. After all, your school may receive thousands of applicants each year, so you need to find a way to be unique, authentic, and memorable.
Examples of MBA Statement of Purpose Questions
The precise wording of the statement of purpose question varies from school to school. Most schools do not ask for an SoP directly, but may have one or more essay questions that draw out the same basic ideas. Here’s how several business schools in the U.S. and India ask for a statement of purpose in their application:
Harvard Business School MBA SoP essay (2018)
As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?
Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA SoP essay (2018)
Why Stanford? Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions. Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management. Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.
Indian School of Business (ISB) MBA SoP essays (2018)
Essay 1: At ISB we value diversity as it enhances both the in-class and out of class learning experience. Tell us how would you contribute to the same?
Essay 2: Enrolling in a Business School is an important career decision. Critically look at your career to date, the choices you have made, the key influences behind those choices, your goals for the future and how do you think ISB’s PGP can help you in achieving your goals?
As you can see from these examples, the Statement of Purpose question may be asked in several different ways, and may take the form of one or more questions. Now, you’ll need to find a way to take the prompt and turn it into a compelling essay.
What to Include when Writing an MBA Statement of Purpose
Let’s start-off by considering what to include in your essay. While there’s no set formula to adhere to, and you want your essay to feel authentic and unique, there are several points that the admissions committee will be looking for you to address:
Showcase your interest
It’s important to convey why you want to enrol in this program. An MBA isn’t for everyone, and most programs want to avoid admitting students who aren’t likely to succeed. It’s often less of a question of whether or not you can do it, but one of whether or not you’ll thrive in an MBA program.
I’m also guessing you’re not applying to business school on a whim. No doubt you’ve put more thought into it than just “this will be good for my career goals.” Show the committee why you want this.
Not only that, but why now?
Why is it better to do an MBA this year rather than waiting until you have a few more years of work experience? Are you switching career paths? Are you really committed to two years of business school, or are you just feeling lost and looking for direction? Don’t leave the committee guessing about your motives. Show how this fits your life path at this particular point in time.
Specify your goals
MBA programs want to admit candidates who have thought seriously about where they’ll end up after they complete the course.
Remember: the success of alumni adds to the prestige (not to mention the rankings, admission rates, and tuition prices in subsequent years) of the school.
You know your star is rising; you just need to tell them where it’s going.
More importantly, you’ll want to answer how an MBA will help you achieve those goals. Are you looking to leverage what you learn in an MBA program to springboard into a leadership position at your current job? Or, maybe you’re looking to launch your own company and want to learn about entrepreneurship.
Include both your short- and long-term goals. Show the admissions team what you plan to do immediately after you graduate, as well as where you see yourself decades from now.
When discussing goals, it’s important to balance ambition and realism: starting your own company or growing up the ranks of a large company are great goals, but becoming the CEO of Apple may be a tad far-fetched.
Show your research
Each MBA program is different and will impact your career path in different ways. Even if you’re applying to more than one school, don’t just copy and paste your SoP for every application.
Write an SoP essay that’s unique to each program. More importantly, write a statement of purpose that demonstrates you understand what the school is all about.
What is it about the school that draws you to it? Show that you’ve done the research and know how this specific program is likely to be a good fit.
If you’ve visited the school or spoken with current students or alumni, include that too. Show that you’re already putting in an effort to get involved in the community. Are there any professors or classes that you’re particularly excited about? The more specific details you include about this particular MBA program, the more it will look like you’ve done your homework.
No one is guaranteed admission to an MBA program, even if you achieved a perfect score on the GMAT. The admissions team wants to know what you specifically can bring to the table. How do you align with the school’s values and culture?
An MBA program that prioritizes social impact, such as the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley might be best for people who want to create socially responsible businesses or work at NGOs, for example.
Your statement of purpose should demonstrate that your personality and career goals are in line with what the school has to offer.
If a school turns you down because your goals aren’t in line with their program, that’s a good thing! Liz Hargrove, an admissions officer at Duke Fuqua, indicated that the school will decline prospective applicants if they failed to communicate “the academic ability as well as overall fit with our culture and community”
Show your plan of action and your track record
Be specific about your game plan. Don’t just assume that you’ll have your career path handed to you. Show the admissions team the steps you’ll take to reach your goals. How will you take an active role in your education and adapt to changes along the way?
Not only that, but think about what will you bring to the school and other students. How will you contribute to the experience of the students in the school? Will you participate in clubs at school, and do you have a track record of doing so during your undergraduate degree?
Will you work as a team and contribute to their education and career goals as well? What mark will you leave on the school when you graduate? Will you be an alumni they can be proud of?
Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean of admissions at Yale, looks for “students whom [he] identifies as unselfish leaders – those who simultaneously strive to improve the circumstances of others and help themselves rather than those who exploit others for personal gain.”
It may seem too early to be thinking about some of these questions. But if you don’t have a clear plan, the admissions team may think that you aren’t ready for an MBA program yet.
Mistakes to Avoid when Writing an MBA Statement of Purpose
Since the SoP is an open-ended question, you have some freedom in how to structure your essay and what to include. There generally isn’t a word limit (or a minimum, for that matter), so you’ll have to use your best judgement in deciding what to cut out and when to wrap it up.
That said, there are some simple mistakes you can avoid by following these guidelines:
Don’t tell, show instead
This is your chance to tell your story. Use real examples and go into some detail. One example in great detail is more effective than many examples with very little substance. Show the admissions team how you’ve applied your skills to your career and how you’ll continue to do so in their MBA program.
Lots of students don’t do this: they just list facts, such as “I studied at university X and then I worked at company Y for Z years.” Don’t make this mistake. Be an active narrator of your own life, and get the admissions committee invested in your story.
Show with examples, rather than telling with facts.
Quick side note: if you’ve been rejected from MBA programs, sign up for a free DING analysis here.
Don’t make it a chronology
Don’t repeat everything that’s on your resume. The admission team has already looked at it, and you don’t need to spend time going over it again.
Along the same lines, don’t treat your SoP as a chronology of events. Your life didn’t just happen to you. You had feelings about things — successes and disappointments. Don’t be afraid to show your personality here. What are you passionate about? What makes you proud or angry?
If you became frustrated with how poorly an NGO was run, and you’re pursuing an MBA so you can learn how to improve that industry, tell that story.
Show how one event led to another. Or tell the story out of order if it makes more sense that way. This is your chance to highlight the key events in your life, and leave out what’s irrelevant.
Whatever you do, don’t lie or plagiarize in your SoP. The admissions committee will see through it. After all, your work and educational history are verifiable, and any lines that you’ve lifted from someone else’s essay will be obvious.
If you suffered a setback or adversity in your personal life, share it, but don’t embellish it. The goal isn’t to trick or guilt the admissions team into accepting your application. Let your story speak for itself, and if it pulls at their heartstrings, it should do so naturally.
And please, don’t forget to mention what you learnt from the setback and how you wear it as a badge of honor.
Don’t make it all about you
Business schools want team players, and a SoP that is all about you is likely to come across as self-centered or egotistical. Be sure to credit the supporting players in your life: the teachers who inspired you or your co-workers at your company.
Many applicants make the mistake of confusing leadership with authority. Instead of telling a story about a time they worked together, they tell a story of a time they got their way. Be proud of your accomplishments, but be humble too. If you have a history of good teamwork and of honoring others’ contributions, you’ll likely bring that attitude to school with you.
Don’t ramble, be concise
Finally, keep it to the point. Most schools will dictate a word limit. Make sure to stick to it. Even if there isn’t a specific word limit, a general rule is to keep the essay between 500-1000 words. That’s enough to cover the important points and give the team a good sense of your personality. Anything more and you’ll risk rambling.
Don’t be vague, either. A short essay that includes specific details is more persuasive than one that’s all about your hopes and dreams without any concrete examples.
Sample SoP Essays Analyzed
Now that you know what makes a good SoP essay and what mistakes to avoid, let’s take a closer look at a few examples – both good and average – to see what an SoP looks like. (These are just excerpts, so be sure to click the links if you want to read the entire essay.) Also note that, in order to fully examine the strengths and weaknesses of the essay, it’s important to look at the application (and all the essays) in its entirety. The below analysis should serve as a simplistic analysis of what has worked and what can be improved.
“In May 2010, I graduated from ___ with a degree in English and Creative Writing. I had always wanted to be a writer. I was good at it. I liked it. I thought that was all I needed to know to choose a career path. In September 2010, I began working for ___ Publishing Company, thus starting a four year arc managing the production of the monthly magazine….[essay truncated] I landed my first sale and discovered a hidden talent…. I no longer write for my job — and I love it. Now, when I think of what I want to be in 15 years, it is not a writer. It is the president of media conglomerate Conde Nast.”(Read full essay here: source)
What the author did well: This essay touches on several of the key points we looked at earlier. It explains a career shift (from creative writing to business) by showing how the applicant got from Point A to Point B. They demonstrate adaptability and ambition, and explain why they want to further their skills on this particular career path – because they love it.
What the author of this essay also does well is goes into specifics of how they plan to achieve the goal.
And, they show that they’ve given some thought to where they see themselves in the future by including an ambitious, but specific, long-term goal. Saying you want to be CEO of a particular company is more memorable than saying you just want to be a CEO at any company.
“My career path has led me from the rapidly developing markets of my native country in Asia to the rolling hills of England and back again. Now, I feel that the next logical destination on my path is your MBA program. The curriculum of your MBA program is similar to that which I studied previously, yet it is much more challenging and will allow me to develop my abilities further. I already have a strong background in various aspects of business, from marketing and management to accounting and sales. Because of this, I feel I am uniquely qualified to attend your MBA program. After completion of my studies, I plan to return to Makebest Textile Company and apply what I learn in your program to the benefit of the company.”(Read full essay here: source)
What the author did well: This applicant does a good job of showing how the MBA program fits into their career path. They demonstrate a solid foundation in business management, and they have work experience in an international setting. They’re familiar with the curriculum and know exactly how it will expand on their previous academic experience.
What could have been better: The candidate says they’re “uniquely qualified” but doesn’t really show us what sets them apart from other applicants. After all, many candidates will have studied abroad and have a background in sales or management. What makes them different? Also, saying an MBA is the “next logical step” could make it sound like you can’t think of any other options. Explain why you chose this over, say, a promotion, or a new job elsewhere.
“Ever since I was young, I have been constantly exposed to the business world. Both my parents are in the business industry and as a result, despite my young age, I have found myself having the call for business…. After college, I worked with Kicks, a shoe company, in their marketing department. I failed my colleagues at time, being the novice that I am. Yet, I managed to transform those failures into lessons and inspirations and eventually got my success. I was part of the team that marketed the best-selling athletic shoe of Kicks.”(Read full essay here: source)
What the author did well: This applicant starts off by putting his story into context and showing how his path to business school started in his childhood. Since he references his “young age,” he may be younger than typical MBA applicants, so he makes sure to address this in his essay.
What could have been better: The story from the applicant’s workplace is pretty vague. He “managed to transform those failures into lessons and inspirations” but doesn’t really show how. He doesn’t say what his role was on the team that had success. Was he a leader or a bystander? This isn’t a bad essay, but it could include more detail to flesh out its points.
“As someone who has traveled around the world, I am no stranger to respecting and understanding new aspects of culture. I was born to a military family, and have lived at least four years in almost every continent except Antarctica. I studied abroad in India where I learned about the customs there regarding management seniority…. Such cultural differences play a great part in determining management strategies when expanding globally, and it is a very tricky concept to grasp. An MBA in International Management will give me the knowledge of general management techniques that I need to know for successful management, but will also teach me how to tailor these strategies for different markets.”(Read full essay here: source)
What the author did well: Since this candidate is applying for an International Management MBA, he makes sure to emphasize his experience living in a variety of places. His time traveling and studying abroad suggests he will work well together with a diverse class of students. He uses a specific example – management seniority – to show that he has put some thought into how local customs impact business in specific markets, and he has a clear rationale for this course of study.
What could have been better: This candidate has not customized the essay for the school they are applying to. What’s also missing is the fit with the school, and exactly why the candidate thinks that that particular school is the right school to study an International Management MBA.
“My strong desire to give back to my community coupled with my experience in the telecommunication sector has inspired within me the desire to set up a Telecom company specific to the rural sector in the state of Bihar…. With 85 percent population of the state still in villages and dependent on agriculture, I wish to use the technology to bring innovation to the agricultural sector. In order to achieve this long-term aspiration, I now need to further enhance my understanding of the functional aspects of management. I envision myself joining a Telecom major like Telefonica in order to process the ways and project execution methods before setting up my own Telecom Consultancy in the State of Bihar.”(Read full story here: source)
What the author did well: This candidate gets right to the point. He opens his essay with a focus on his mission, and uses population data to support his reason for pursuing it. He has a very specific long-term goal and a clearly defined path for getting there. Later in the essay, this candidate explains how his education and job history sets him up for success in this field.
One last thing before you go…
If you’ve been rejected by an MBA program, we specialize in helping people reapply. The first thing we do is a DING analysis to help you figure out what you can do better next time. If that’s you, get in touch with me here.