The Questions Asked Of EMBA Applicants


Size does matter, and at top full-time MBA programs the size that matters most for application essays is small–as in Wharton’s single 500-word essay or Kellogg’s two 450-word essays for the 2014-15 cycle.

Compare this with the three to five and seven pages that Wharton and Stanford, respectively, allowed for their goals essay in the late 1990s, and you see how far we’ve come. The factors driving this trend range from skepticism over written essays’ capacity to capture applicants authentically to rising application volumes colliding with top schools’ limited admissions budgets to simple bandwagon-ism.

Some of this “small is beautiful” mania seems to be filtering down (or up) to the executive MBA programs, where top EMBA programs like Columbia Business School and Michigan Ross now sport essay sets identical to their full-time programs. At other top programs, such as New York University, Cornell, and USC, the EMBA and MBA essays differ in content but not significantly in length. Whereas Stern’s full-time program, for example, requires two essays totaling 1,250 words (or a non-written submission for its iconic Personal Expression essay), its Executive MBA program requires two essays ranging from 1,000 words to 1,500 words (both programs also allow short optional essays).


Several top programs are much more schizophrenic, however. Take Wharton:

  • What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
  • (Optional): Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy (400 words)

The tight 900-word limit for these full-time essays opens out to a positively plush 2,250 words for its executive program:

  • What is your career objective and how will the Wharton MBA Program for Executives contribute to your attainment of these objectives? (750 words)
  • In his book, Winners Never Cheat: Even in Difficult Times, Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. (W’59), writes: “A crisis creates the opportunity to dip deep into the reservoirs of our very being, to rise to levels of confidence, strength, and resolve that otherwise we didn’t think we possessed.”Describe a time when you were faced with a challenge and how you responded. (500 words)
  • Given your already demanding job and the desire to remain committed to important family and personal obligations, how do you plan to handle the additional demands on your time once you enroll? (500 words)
  • Optional: Please explain any extenuating circumstances of which the Admissions Committee should be aware (e.g., unexplained gaps in your work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent academic performance). You may also take this opportunity to share other defining aspects of your life that the Admissions Committee would not otherwise have learned from your application or resume. (500 words)


Even more schizophrenically, Kellogg’s dual 450-word mini-essays for the full-time program become a sprawling canvas of four required essays, one job description, and three optional essays for the EMBA:

  • Describe the unit for which you are responsible and relate it to the total organization in terms of size, scope, and autonomy of responsibility. What human resources, budget, and capital investment are you responsible for? Please describe your position.
  • Why have you elected to apply to the Kellogg School Executive MBA Program?
  • What are your goals and objectives and how will a Kellogg Executive MBA help you achieve these? Please feel free to discuss both personal and professional goals.
  • Discuss a professional situation that did not end successfully. Why did you or your peers consider the situation to have negative results? How did you resolve the situation? Did it change your management style? If so, how?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest skills and talents? How will you use these to contribute to an Executive MBA class as well as to a study group?
  • Describe how your relevant global experiences have influenced you professionally. (Optional)
  • Is there anything else that you would like to add to help us in evaluating your candidacy? (Optional)
  • Describe any major reports, instructional materials, or manuals that you have prepared or any research, inventions, or other creative work. (Optional)

With a 400-to-750 suggested word count for each essay (potentially 6,000 words total), Kellogg–so eager to rein in its full-time MBA applicants–seems to be almost encouraging logorrhea among executives.

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