2015 writingyourwayontothemba 883x432 1

Writing your way onto the MBA…how to approach the MBA essays

8 October 2015

The article at a glance

The application essays are a golden opportunity to expand the story set out by your CV. So take your time and say …

Category: News Programme news

The application essays are a golden opportunity to expand the story set out by your CV. So take your time and say it right.

Writing your way onto the MBA

For the Cambridge MBA application you will have two questions to complete:

1. The personal statement
2. The “epic failure”

Personal statement

So let’s look at the personal statement first. Here’s how it appears in the application:

1. The personal statement (500 words). To include:

  • What are your short and long term career objectives?
  • What skills/characteristics do you already have that will help you to achieve them?
  • What do you hope to gain from the degree programme and how do you feel it will help you achieve the career objectives you have?

The important thing here is to give some serious thought to your post-MBA career. While you do not need to know exactly want you want to do after the MBA, you should have some clear ideas of what skills you hope to gain and potential career outcomes. It is fine to say you want to try new things, but specify what and how this will help you – whether a project in a certain industry or gaining skills in a particular area such as marketing. Try not to use vague statements such as ‘I want Cambridge on my CV’ or ‘I want to grow my network’. These are far too general to support your case for MBA study and won’t convince the Admissions Committee.

Another important point is to specify why Cambridge in your essay. Show that you have done some in-depth research and reference why Cambridge is the school that will help you achieve your goals. Have you looked into the research centres at the School, the college system, the curriculum and the extracurricular opportunities offered by the university?

Finally do include your prior achievements and how you plan to develop upon these. It’s a good idea to highlight your competencies, while being honest about the aspects of your profile that you want to improve. You do not need to be the ‘finished project’ – we are looking for candidates who are curious and keen to grow.

Example A – good

“The programme will equip me with an entrepreneurial toolkit, allowing me to efficiently evaluate and capitalise on future business opportunities, further bolstering my credibility with future stakeholders.”

Example B – too general

“Upon completion of the MBA programme at Cambridge Judge Business School I want be a decisive and successful business professional.”

Your essays are an opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are and what you aspire to be. Although your tone should be professional, we want to see a little bit of you in there, so be honest and don’t be afraid to inject your personality.

Charlotte Russell, MBA Admissions Coordinator

“Epic failure”

So next you’re onto the “epic failure” – perhaps the most difficult question to approach of the two. Here’s how it appears in the application:

2. What did you learn from your most spectacular failure? (200 words)

We often hear from candidates who say either they simply haven’t failed or that their failures are too small-scale enough for this question. Well we’re not looking for movie-style drama here! We just need you to run us through a failure (or setback) which had consequences for you and those around you. This could be, for example, your failure to complete a process in time, taking a strategy which didn’t work out, or a breakdown in communications with a colleague.
Expand on your failure and explain how you would do things differently next time. What we are looking for is an insight into how you self-reflect to importantly recover from failure. The MBA will itself encompass challenges – you won’t succeed at everything. We want resilient individuals who are future-proof and demonstrate leadership potential in difficult circumstances.

Example C – good

“Professionally, my first independent responsibility was to ensure that a senior client provided key input for our final product. Still a junior team member, I feared that instructing someone senior to me was inappropriate, so, not wanting to overstep any boundaries, I let him ignore me until the deadline passed. Because of my tentativeness, the project’s timeline was pushed back, and our team had to absorb the associated costs. From this experience, I learned two valuable lessons in leadership: (1) leaders ask for help, and (2) leaders are accountable…”

Handy tips applicable to both essays


After planning your content, think about a structure for your essay that will best display this. You want to give your essay a logical sequence to make it clear to the reader.


  • Be concise: the word limit is not just a guide, we are testing that you can convey your message in a succinct manner. You won’t be penalised for an extra sentence but make every word count.
  • Check your English: your essay must be in English, the language in which the programme is itself taught. So be careful with grammar and spelling, checking over these several times.
  • No jargon: don’t slip into technical jargon from your industry – your essays need to be understandable to the admissions staff and faculty who may not specialise in your field.

Not for your eyes only

Ask a work colleague or a friend to check your essay. You may need to revise both essays a few times so anticipate this when planning your application.