The Four Questions

When applying to business school, there are essentially only four questions you must answer.

MBA applications are tedious.  There are essays, lists, the resume, the recommenders.  The list goes on and on.  When you boil it down to its bare essence, however, there are really only four basic questions the schools are asking:

Why MBA? Why now? Why this School? and Why you?

As they say, the devil is in the details, so while these questions seem very straightforward, how you answer them could make or break the application altogether.  Let’s take them one by one.

Why MBA?

This question is probably the easiest one to answer, yet still has plenty of nuances.  Of course everyone wants to make more money and open up higher levels of responsibility, but these answers will not win you much favor with the admissions committees.  You should use this question to explore why gaining more responsibility is important to you.  Try to think of reasons why an MBA is important to you personally, not reasons that anyone could answer. In fact, if you ask yourself “could someone else say this?” you might want to rethink it.

Why Now?

Timing is everything as they say, so your target schools will want to know why you have chosen this year to go back to school. Note that this question indeed gets this specific. The answer is not just generally speaking, such as, “I’ve been working for a few years and it seemed like a good time to return to grad school.” No—they are asking why this year and not last year or next year.  Each application cycle represents a set of limited seats in their program, so if you can’t come up with specific reasons why this particular cycle is a uniquely optimal time for you to go back, it makes it easy for schools to suggest you come back later, or worse, that you missed your window already.

Why this School?

Crafting a compelling argument for why your target school is a good fit for you is critical.  The answer to this question is what can potentially set you apart from the applicants who are just throwing their names in with a half dozen schools without much thought to why that school is going to uniquely position you for success.  Do you research and make sure you visit in person.

Why You?

This is the most important question of all.  The why you question must address not only why you feel you fit at your target school, but also why you should be getting an MBA at all.  Why you vs. another applicant is what the adcoms wrestle with on a daily basis during application season.  How well you craft your story will either resonate with them or leave them forgetting you altogether.  This is where you must make your personal case for admission and describe what you bring to the table.  Much of the b-school experience draws from the collective contributions of the incoming class.  How will your classmates benefit from your being there?  If you nail any one of the four basic questions down tight, make it this one.

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