Breaking Down Michigan Ross' Essays for 2011-2012

If a tree falls in a forrest and there's no one there to hear it ... does it make a sound? 

That old riddle is in our mind tonight because apparently the Ross 2012 Essays have been released ... and just about nobody seems to have noticed. 

This is probably in part because the essays look quite a bit like last year's (certainly in terms of composition, if not identical content), but also because the Michigan Apply Now page (which looks like it is from 1997 - no offense, Ross) states that the new application won't go live until August. 

Yet when you click through to the PDF, there they are: the 2012 essays.  (And just in case you doubt our powers of deduction, we have had it confirmed from the school that the new essays are indeed up.) 

So, since they are released and since we really do love Ross, we figured we'd break down the essays.  We have no intention of getting into the "break down every set of essays" game in this space, but tonight it seems like a good idea.  

Off we go...

Essay 1 - Introduce yourself to your classmates in 100 words or less 

This is one place where we can see that the essays are different from last year, as the introduction assignment is now focused on "classmates" rather than an ambiguous audience.  In what is becoming a theme (see: Columbia), we were one step ahead of Ross on this one, as we insisted last year that our clients not write about work or career goals or anything else that they might have thought an admissions officer might want to read.  Instead, we pushed them towards the place that you should always default to when you are thinking about Ross: MAP.  Multi-disciplinary Action Project. This is Ross' pride and joy and for good reason as it puts most other action-based learning models to shame.  They love MAP, they love action-based learning, and they believe that the classroom is a place where everyone teaches (and learns from) each other.  So when you apply there, your through-line has to be "what perspective have I gained that I can come share with everyone?"  That's your hook with Ross.  And this introduction is the place to state that right off the top.  

Furthermore, while it is okay to think of this as an elevator pitch (this is commonly forwarded advice for this essay and others like it), we would say go one step further and think of it as a pitch to a Hollywood producer who is thinking about buying the rights to your life story.  Forget pitching yourself to an employer or even an admissions officer ... what is the pitch that gets Spielberg out of his seat?  

Essay 2 - Describe your career goals.  How will an MBA from Ross help you achieve those goals?  What is your vision for how you can make a unique contribution to the Ross community? (500 words)

There's not a lot to say here that we haven't said dozens of times about career goals, but you basically want to nail the WHAT of your career goals (stating them clearly), the HOW (offering proof of your transferable skills), and the WHERE (Why Ross, your contribution to Ross).  The "contribution" angle is a new one this year and, quite frankly, one heck of a challenge since the word count didn't change.  Our initial feeling is that it just means hammering more of the MAP program and making sure to remember that "teaching others from your unique perspective" is the ideal way to "contribute" in the Ross universe.  And since you won't really hit that on the nose in Essay 1 (rather it is just informing your approach), you can lay it on pretty thick here without getting overly repetitive.  

Essay 3 -  Describe a time in your career when you were frustrated or disappointed.  What did you learn from that experience?  (500 word maximum)

This is exactly the same Essay 3 from last year.  That said, we still want to talk about this one for a minute.  Consider it a Public Service Announcement, but we'd like to see people far better on this question (and others like it).  Everyone seems to make the same mistake, which is to "go negative."  They arrive at a bad experience - a mistake, a failure, a crushing setback - and then they never flip it.  So it just winds up being this big downer and a missed opportunity to write about an accomplishment.  The key here is to take the negative experience or the disappointment and flip it on its head.  It goes: 


Crushing Disappointment

Lesson Learned

The Way You Turned It Around 

Without that forth prong, it just becomes a sad story.  Sure, you can share a lesson and show some introspection, but why not prove that you learned the lesson by then showing it in action?  This one is a whiff for so many people that we had to rant about it a bit.  

Essay 4 - Two Choices:

 What are you most passionate about?  (300 word maximum) 

 Describe a personal challenge or obstacle and why you view it as such.  How have you dealt with it?  What have you learned from it?  (300 word maximum)

Ah, the dreaded choice essay scenario.  What is interesting here is that Ross lost the "be an effective teacher to your classmates" question that apparently was too on the nose given what we know about the overall tone and objective of this application.  So that leaves the relatively broad "what are you passionate about" question (always a good one) or the stepsister of Essay 3, which is a more personal challenge or obstacle.  Which one to write about probably goes like this: 

- If you have something that you were planning on writing about in an optional essay, find a way to make it work for 4B and turn it into an actual, powerful essay rather than a tacked-on mea culpa in the optional. 

- Otherwise, bring the passion to the table and end this thing on a huge, positive note.  Share the thing that makes you tick.  Ideally (as with Stanford's famous What Matters Most to You and Why essay) the thing that makes you tick will connect with your long-term goal from Essay 2.  In many ways, 4A is your chance to write about the WHY of your career goals (usually an anchor of career goals essays, but there's no room for it on Ross 2).  So take full advantage. 

We hope this helps many of you out there.  Good luck!

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