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What to write in your Essays: Setbacks vs. Failures vs. Catastrophic Failures

As you might have experienced by now, switching styles is not easy in MBA Application Essays. We tend to overdo the blog part with self-references, slangs, or try our hand at humor. Essays have no place for any. But with recent edits in our review service, one part that has helped my clients is the Art of Pillaring. I have included a chapter on it in Winning MBA Essay Guide. The idea is to break the expected series of events. Do parallel storytelling or jumble the sequence to such a degree that you find the perfect balance in narrative and a standard essay.

Example: Project Manager Assigns a task --> I find the task challenging --> Spot talent --> Assembles a team --> Communicates the Goal --> Setbacks --> Eventually a Winning Team


Anyone who is reading a narrative about team building is expecting this sequence. Don't go crazy and do a Nolan, starting with the end or go deep into a sequence that is tough to interpret. Processing fluency impacts the first impression. The tougher it is to read your sentence or interpret the event, the harder it is to influence the admission team. The attention allocated for each candidate is limited (10 minutes). So don't force the reviewer to abandon your essay. Instead, start with an acknowledgment of your weakness.

I have found this to be the most difficult part of my job as an Editor and a Reviewer - bringing out true weaknesses from the applicants. Even those brilliant candidates you see on Class profile pages in HBS, Columbia, or Stern initially hesitated to write about their weaknesses. Our society has magnified the stigma so much that I see tweets from motivational speakers and champion athletes using "L" to represent the loss. They are not even acknowledging the word. Understandably so. It is painful. No one wants to relive those terrible moments.

You truly have one shot at admissions. If I were you, I would have hesitated too, and tried to put a positive spin to my failures.

But I have one question.

Without failures, how did you recognize your weaknesses?

Setbacks vs. Failures vs. Catastrophic Failures

Setbacks are speed breakers in your 5-day cross-country trip. They are inconvenient, but you eventually reached your destination. Failures are flat tires. You changed the tires perfectly or swallowed your pride and sought the help of AAA. Catastrophic failures are when your car catches fire, taking one side of your ass cheek and you barely escaped in one piece. Most applicants are ready with the speed breakers, but the admission team is expecting how after fixing one flat tire, you faced another one a mile away, but your determination to reach the destination, made you calm instead of shouting obscenities at the car.

Catastrophic failure is when your company goes bankrupt, a product triggers a Global Financial meltdown, or your strategy nearly cost a town its last penny. Entrepreneurial applicants choose an MBA when they find that their initial swing at owning their Business didn't quite pan out as they had expected. They have no other option but to mention catastrophic failures. Traditional applicants should avoid mentioning them.

Rest of the failures are life lessons that have taken you so far - to be among some of the best competitors in the world from Finance, Consulting, Technology, Marketing, and Strategy. You are going to win, but before that, list all your failures and setbacks.

Now use pillaring like this:


Traditional Example: Project Manager Assigns a task --> I find the task challenging --> Spot talent --> Assembles a team --> Communicates the Goal --> Setbacks --> Eventually a Winning Team

After Pillaring: I find the task challenging --> Project Manager Assigned a task --> Spot talent --> Setbacks --> Assembles a team --> Communicates the Goal --> Setbacks --> Eventually a Winning Team

Without setbacks and failures, your narrative will lack the authenticity and hook required to create a Winning Essay.

I have shared an extensive list of storytelling, writing and editing tips in Winning MBA Essay Guide (Includes 14 School Specific Essay Tips)

Download Winning MBA Essay Guide

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80+ Sample Essays + Essay Writing, Review & Editing Tips + 15 School-Specific Tips = Winning MBA Essay Guide

"Pressed against the deadline, I ordered F1GMAT's Winning MBA Essay Guide as their blogs always had something interesting to say. It was by far one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Going through the Essay Guide, I learned the art of storytelling, using various ploys mentioned in the book. Most important one being the “W pattern,” a strategy of information sharing that creates a sense of excitement in the mind of the reader." - MIT Sloan MBA Candidate


Only 1 in 900 gains admission to Harvard MBA program. If you write your essay focused only on your achievements, post-MBA goals, and your pre-MBA experience, you will be among the 899 rejected applicants.

ATTENTION is the secret ingredient. How will you get the attention of the essay reviewer?

You know why parables shared 1000 years ago are still shared among us?

Storytelling!

Yes, the art of storytelling has won presidency for Obama, transformed Apple from an unknown start-up to a brand synonymous with Quality, and gained admission for the average MBA Applicant.

F1GMAT's Winning MBA Essay guide will teach you how to transform your essay to an epic life journey with trials and tribulations that will move the admission team.

Who Should Buy The Winning MBA Essay Guide?

If your essay looks too bland, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will show you, with examples, on how to use the elements of Storytelling like Incorporating "The Struggle", Using Emotional connectors, narrating the Journey and the use of Chronology, Vividness and Active Verbs to transform your essays.

If you are stuck in the Writing process, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will show you how to silence the Analytic Mind and overcome mental blocks.

If you feel that the essays are not persuasive, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will teach you how to use the W-Pattern narrative, Contexts, Turning Points and "The Show Don't Tell Approach" to write a Winning MBA Essay.

If you don't have enough leadership experience, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will show you how to highlight non-obvious qualities like Trust, Focus, Listening Skills, Personal Responsibility, Humility, Self-Knowledge, and other secondary traits to prove your leadership.

If you don't know how to review your essays, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will demonstrate how to improve readability with the power of iteration, and maintain your original voice by removing review biases.

Pages: 787

Winning MBA Essay Guide Includes

+Harvard MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)

   Sample Harvard MBA Essay – Gratitude & Giving Back (318 Words)
   Sample Harvard MBA Essay – Entrepreneurship (Influence of Childhood) (667 Words)
   Sample Harvard MBA Essay - Volunteering (Mental Health Awareness)  (776 Words)

+ Columbia MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)

   Sample Goals Essay 1: Enterprise Technology to Consumer Marketing (496 Words)   
   Sample Goals Essay 2: Healthcare (Finance to Consulting) (499 Words)   
   Sample Goals Essay 3: FinTech (Product Manager to Strategy) (482 Words)   
   Sample Columbia Good Fit Essay 1: Value from NYC (237 Words)   
   Sample Columbia Good Fit Essay 2: Entrepreneur Mindset (237 Words)   
   Sample Columbia Good Fit Essay 3: Teamwork and Learning (242 Words)   
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #1 (Elon Musk) (250 Words)   
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #2 (Father) (244 Words)   
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #3 (Mother) (243 Words)   
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #4 (Math Teacher) (242 Words)   
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #5 (Co-Founder) (250 Words)    

+ Wharton MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)
   Sample Wharton MBA Essay:Gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (473 words)  (Consulting to Finance)
   Sample Wharton MBA Essay:Gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (482 Words) (VC to Consulting (Healthcare))
   Sample Wharton MBA Essay:Gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (497 Words) (Business Development to Finance (Non-Profit in Energy))
   Sample Essay #2: Math Tutoring and Experimental music’s (388 Words)  
   Sample Essay #2: Non-Profit – Obesity Epidemic and Healthy Lifestyle (399 Words)  
   Sample Essay #2: Non-Profit – Energy Efficient Offices (395 Words)   
+ Stanford MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)

    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Consulting)(400 words)    
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Tech Entrepreneur) (390 words)    
    Sample Why Stanford MBA: Finance to Green Energy Consulting (389 Words)
    Sample Why Stanford MBA: Private Equity to Operations(399 Words)    
    Sample Essay A: What matters most and why? (740 Words)(Balance in Life)    
    Sample Essay A: What matters most and why? (750 Words)(Vulnerability and Learning)    
    Sample Essay A: What matters most and why? (748 Words)(Freedom and Commitment)

+ Chicago Booth MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)   

   Sample Goals Essay #1: Oil & Gas to Consulting (475 Words)
   Sample Goals Essay #2: Social IMPACT to Marketing (Non-Profit) (472 Words)
   Sample Goals Essay #3: Accounting to Entrepreneurship (Fashion)(495 Words)
   Sample Goals Essay #4: Technology (Programming to Product Development) (493 Words)
   Sample Leadership Experience & Choices Essay #1 (492 Words)(Father’s Restaurant Business and Leadership)
   Sample Leadership Experience & Choices Essay #2 (639 Words) (Teach for America and Leadership)
   Sample Leadership Experience & Choices Essay #3 (496 Words)(Opioid Crisis and Healthcare Innovation)  
   Sample Leadership Experience & Choices Essay #4 (500 Words) (Disrupting the Food Supply Chain)

+ INSEAD MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)

    Sample Essay: Candid Description, Strengths & Weaknesses (Marketing Lead) (499 Words)  
    Sample Essay: Candid Description, Strengths & Weaknesses (Consulting to Product Development) (492 Words)  
    Sample Essay: Achievements and Failures (398 Words) (Technology Consultant)
    Sample Essay: Achievements and Failures (395 Words) (International Relations) (Negotiations)
    Sample Essay: Extra-Curricular and How enriched you are (272 Words) (Hiking and Vlogging)
    Sample Essay: Extra-Curricular and How enriched you are (298 Words) (Improv Acting)

+ Haas MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)
     Sample Haas What Makes you feel Alive (Start-up in Cryptocurrency) (294 Words)
     Sample Haas What Makes you feel Alive (Design as a tool for Change) (294 Words)
     Sample Haas What Makes you feel Alive (Flying and AI in Healthcare)(299 Words)
     Sample Haas MBA Enhance Leadership Profile (Trust-Based Leadership)(Team Building – Technology) (292 Words)    
     Sample Haas MBA Enhance Leadership Profile (Need-based Leadership) (Non-Profit for working Mothers) (300 Words)
     Sample Haas MBA Enhance Leadership Profile (Perspective-based Leadership) (Leadership by Trial and Error) (299 Words)       
+ Yale SOM MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)      

     Sample Yale Committment Essay: Business Development (Mobile Phone Start-Up)(485 Words)  
     Sample Yale Committment Essay: Investment Banking (IB)(404 Words)
     Sample Yale Committment Essay: Consulting (447 Words)
     Sample Yale Committment Essay: Technology (448 Words)
     Sample Yale Committment Essay: Marketing (491 Words)
     Sample Yale Committment Essay: Entrepreneurship (496 Words)
     Sample Yale Committment Essay: IMPACT Investing (495 Words)
     Sample Yale Committment Essay: Oil & Gas to Clean Energy (Consulting) (464 Words)

+ Ross MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)      
    Sample MBA Essay: Finance Professional & a former member of a rock band (96 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Marketing Professional with a talent to do Impression (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Life Philosophy through an Entrepreneurial failure (94 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Consulting for a Pharma Giant (Made a Difference) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Three-Level Sanitation Campaign (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Water Conservation Kit (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Losing client (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Misreading Market Conditions (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Strategic Planning vs. Tactical Dominance in Chess (97 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone(extra-curricular) (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone (Daily Science Show) (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Simplifying Operations (extra-curricular) (90 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Leadership and Culture) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Technology Project) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Making Business metrics relevant to a Creative team) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Timidity)(98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I was challenged when (Change in Scope) (99 Words)  
   Sample MBA Essay: I was challenged when (Team Failed) (100 Words)  
   Sample Essay – Short-term Goals and why the goal is the right choice for you (Private Investment as a Tool for Change) (294 Words)
   Sample Essay – Short-term Goals and why the goal is the right choice for you (Education to Consulting) (299 Words)

   Sample Essay – Short-term Goals and why the goal is the right choice for you (Software Development to Sales to Marketing) (293 Words)
+ Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)
    Sample Why MBA Right Next Step for you (100 Words) (Gap in Knowledge in Strategy and Finance)   
    Sample Post-MBA Career Goals (99 Words)(Marketing for FinTech)   
    Sample Why MBA Right Next Step for you (98 Words)(Engineering to Marketing)   
    Sample Post-MBA Career Goals (94 Words)(Marketing Consulting firm and Product Marketing)   
    Sample Why MBA Right Next Step for you (100 Words) (Hobby to Business)   
    Sample Post-MBA Career Goals (99 Words) (Interior Design Business with AR)   
    Framework and Examples for Answering Duke Fuqua 25 Random Things with 5 Samples
    Sample Duke Fuqua Essay: The Fuqua community and you (784 Words)  
+ NYU Stern MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (500 Words) (Finance)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (495 Words)(Consulting)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (500 Words)(Product Management)
     Essay 3:  Personal Expression (a.k.a. "Pick Six")    
     5 Examples with Images

+ Darden MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)   

     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Meaningful IMPACT (Fear-based to team-based culture) (199 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Different Perspective and IMPACT on worldview (Life Experience) (191 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Different Perspective and IMPACT on worldview (Courage)(199 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Different Perspective and IMPACT on worldview (Team Diversity) (193 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself Personal, Professional or Both (100 Words) (Near Death Experience)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself Personal, Professional or Both (99 Words) (Networking)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself Personal, Professional or Both (100 Words) (Mountaineering)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay: Short-term Post-MBA career goal (150 words) (Technology to Consulting)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay: Short-term Post-MBA career goal (150 words) (Product Management)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay: Short-term Post-MBA career goal (149 words) (Investment Banking to Private Equity)
     Sample Essay – Where you want to go with Darden (47 Words) (Uganda)
     Sample Essay – Where you want to go with Darden (49 Words) (Sweden)
     Sample Essay – Where you want to go with Darden (48 Words) (China)

+ MIT Sloan MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)   
    Personality Type (Accepted MIT Sloan Students)   

    Cover Letter Checklist   
    Sample Cover Letter – Technology to Consulting (284 Words)    
    Sample Cover Letter – Healthcare Entrepreneurship (297 Words)    
    Sample Cover Letter – Consulting to Technology (298 Words)    
    Sample Cover Letter – Wealth Management to FinTech (299 Words)    
   Sample Cover Letter – Manufacturing to Consulting (Retail) (299 Words)    
   Sample Cover Letter – Strategy to Consulting (297 Words)   

+ Kellogg MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class)(NEW)  
   Sample Essay: Demonstrated Leadership, the challenges you faced and what you learned (Marketing) (449 Words)   
    Sample Essay: Demonstrated Leadership, the challenges you faced and what you learned (Technology) (447 Words)   
    Sample Essay: Demonstrated Leadership, the challenges you faced and what you learned (Non-Profit) (441 Words)   
    Sample Essay: Values important to you and how have they influenced you? (Changing the Traditional Recruitment Formula)(443 Words)
    Sample Essay: Values important to you and how have they influenced you?(Seniority-Based to Performance-based Culture)(444 Words)
    Sample Essay: Values important to you and how have they influenced you?(From machine-centric to Human-centric customer support)(446 Words)
+ London Business School MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)   
    London as the Financial Hub   
    London as the Technology Hub   
    London as the Consulting Hub   
    How to Cite the Curriculum (Example)   
    Sample LBS MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goals  (489 Words)(Technology to Consulting)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goals (493 Words)(Hospitality to Consulting)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goals  (500 Words)(Government/Non-Profit to Technology)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goals  (495 Words)(Medical Doctor to Investment Banking)

+ Sample Essays

+ The Art of Storytelling 
+ Leadership Narratives
+ Review Tips
+ Persuasion Strategies
+ The Secret to "unleashing" your unique voice
+ How to write about your Strengths

+ How to write about your Weaknesses

Pages: 787
Sample Essays: 80+
Version: 2020 Entering Class


Download Winning MBA Essay Guide (2020 Entering Class)




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