A Decision Tree for the Ross 2014-15 Essays

I wanted to try something a bit different today when breaking down the new Ross essays, which is to post the decision tree I am going to be asking my clients to use this year.

Why would I just share this with the public, you might ask?  In part because the real value of our services with Ross (unlike with some other schools) is going to be in implementation rather than in the setting of strategy - so I don't feel I am cheating my clients at all.  Further, we just don't have that many clients select Ross, to be honest.  This is confusing to me, as Ross is an amazing school and a true value pick ... but that's a column for a different time.  Today, I want to present a really simple way to work through Ross' seemingly wide open essays.  I'll be using one part common sense and one part program knowledge, but both are born out of lots of experience just being someone in this world (by "in this world" I mean working in "higher education" and with "people trying to maximize their lives and abilities").  

Let's get into it. 

Essay 1 - What are you most proud of professionally and why?  What did you learn from that experience?  (400 words)

Before the decision tree, please note the use of "that experience" in the second part of the question.  They clearly don't want you listing several things, nor do they want you to describe something vague - they want one specific example.  That is very clear. (Yet I guarantee at least 1/3 of the applicant pool will ignore that basic point.)

Now, how to approach such a question?  Well, it is here that I draw upon years of working with people who are in their 20s (usually) and looking to take a leap professionally.  Typically, that means people going to business school, but it includes people in MBA programs and beyond.  When I work with such individuals, there are certain things I ALWAYS want to know, because they are hugely important in shaping my perception of A) who they are, and B) what their potential is.  If you think about the essence of an application, that's what it's for - to share with the school who you are and what you are capable of.  So this is my advice, based on my own experience and preference: 

Path 1 - If a work experience is the WHY of your long-term career goals, that is the answer to this question. 

Now, this is pretty rare.  I would say 80% of the time, the WHY of someone's career goal is something non-work.  This may seem odd, since we're talking about professional goals, but often people are inspired to pursue Goal X because of a person or experience in their personal life.  It's not that common for there to be a powerful - and believable - work experience that was so influential and personally motivating that it now undergirds your life's pursuit.  HOWEVER, it does happen and if that is the case, you should not pass on the opportunity to share that in this space.  It's hard to imagine something being more resonate and revelatory than sharing with Ross that what you learned from your proudest professional moment is that you want to do that for the rest of your life.  After all, that's what this is all about!  

Two follow-up notes: 

1. An extremely effective answer to Booth Essay 1 last year was a version of this, so there is a strong track record of this tactic working well. 

2. It's so crucial to stress that you should not force the issue here.  Even if such an answer is ideal, that is only the case if it's true and natural.  Trying to force a square peg into a round hole is not the answer.  

Path 2 - If there isn't a good WHY answer and you need *any* reinforcement of leadership, the likely best answer to this question is a "leadership discovery" story. 

I don't want to go into too much detail regarding my process here, but "leadership discovery" is the secret sauce I use with my HBS clients.  It is far better to share the instance where you discovered your own leadership ability than it is to try to describe the apex of that ability.  This is true for a variety of reasons - some psychological, some narrative - and is one of what I call the "magic bullets" of MBA essay construction.  Almost the entire applicant pool will try for the apex, so those that go for the discovery are miles ahead.

Path 3 - If there isn't a good WHY answer and you are just stacked on leadership at the resume level, then that leaves MAP.  (Note: if you land on Path 3 for Essay 1, you will need to adjust your strategy for Essay 2.)

I noted earlier that I was drawing upon life experience to create this first decision tree, but here I am deviating.  Those first two questions are so far and away above anything else I want to know about a high-achieving, high-momentum person in their 20s that I can't think of a third that holds up to them.  "Why do you want to spend you life doing X?" and "When did you realize you could really lead people?" are my top two questions and nothing else is close.  Therefore, it makes sense to dip back into school-specific knowledge to complete the decision tree.  What we know about Ross above all else is that sharing perspectives is everything.  MAP (Multi-Disciplinary Action Project) is the school's pride and joy program (for good reason) and it informs the way they build their class.  You need to A) have a perspective on the world, and B) be ready, willing, and able to share that perspective.  If you don't check those two boxes with Ross, I personally feel you won't get in.  

Therefore, a great third option is to talk about a perspective-shifting or perspective-shaping experience - and then the "pride" is in wanting to share that evolution.  You can pull from all kinds of different multi-cultural experiences here (the most obvious place to go) or it can be more of a personal growth thing - either way, if you can advance a narrative of "I started out here and wound up here, in terms of how I think" you are halfway home. 


Essay 2 - What are you most proud of personally and why?  How does it shape who you are today? 

This one is easier...

Path 1 - If you didn't use MAP earlier, you use it here. 

Picking something that shows a jump in your own personal perspective of the world, is, basically the "right" answer to this question.  And how it shapes who you are today is the second part of the Ross analysis above - the person ready, willing, and able to *share* that evolved perspective.  

Path 2 - If you did use MAP earlier, circle back to the WHY of your goals. 

 Now that we are in the realm of the personal, you have a golden chance to go back to our first point and see if you can articulate your own personal mandate.  If the "proud" part fits, you are well positioned for the "shape who you are part" because that is a natural - you are someone devoting your life to X.  

Path 3 - If you used MAP for Essay 1 and the WHY of your goals just isn't going to fit (and leadership is exceptional on your resume, which it should be if you ever wound up using MAP for Essay 1), you are free to "brainstorm" something interesting. 

It's rare that one of my clients ever engages in traditional "brainstorming."  I loathe that word and find that just throwing things out there to see what sticks is a great way to completely whiff on the DNA of the school to which you are applying.  However, if you reach Path 3 of Essay 2 with no clear mandate based on these parameters, you will have the rare chance to do some good old "brainstorming."  

Good luck out there on Ross.  Final disclaimer: this decision tree is *for Ross* - it is not necessarily going to work anywhere else.  

If you are interested in services on Ross or (more likely, if history is a guide) any other school, please email us at mba@amerasiaconsulting.com.  We think about every single school completely differently, using only those strategies that work for that program's unique DNA.  

Michigan Ross School of Business: What are you most proud of professionally and why?  What did you learn from that experience?  (400 words)  Source: A Decision Tree for the Ross 2014-15 Essays — Amerasia Consulting Group - <http://www.amerasiaconsulting.com/blog/2014/6/7/a-decision-tree-for-the-ross-2014-15-essays>

Michigan Ross School of Business: What are you most proud of professionally and why?  What did you learn from that experience?  (400 words)

Source: A Decision Tree for the Ross 2014-15 Essays — Amerasia Consulting Group - <http://www.amerasiaconsulting.com/blog/2014/6/7/a-decision-tree-for-the-ross-2014-15-essays>