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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
How to Master the MBA Setback Essay
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. - Steve Jobs

In this excerpt from his now-famous Stanford Commencement Address, Jobs dispenses more than simple advice on life. He gives prospective MBA candidates a stellar example of how to tackle the classic 'setback' admission essay, so prevalent on business school applications. You know the one. The admission essay that asks students to evaluate a hardship or failure and discuss what they've learned from it. Students have a terrible time with this admission essay for several reasons. First, who wants to talk about failures when they're trying so desperately to prove how wonderful they are? Second, many young business school candidates simply don't have broad enough catalogue of experiences to draw from. So in a week where much of the world has paused to remember the poignant wisdom of this cultural icon, I ask you to consider this passage from Jobs for guidance on how to truly evaluate a setback, and how to write about it masterfully in your admission essay. Acknowledge the obstacle or failure. Don't dwell on it. Don't be melodramatic about it. Don't make light of it. It happened to you, and you dealt with it. Period.

What the setback admission essay measures is not your fallibility but your maturity and your level of self-reflection. A younger business school candidate may struggle to unearth something tumultuous enough to rank as a setback, but they shouldn't agonize over the rating of their obstacle. Instead, evaluate it as you would any other significant occurrence in life, and write about how it changed you. It sounds nice if--as Jobs notes-- it changes you for the better, but it needn't come with a silver lining. It must simply be what any good admission essay should be-illustrative and honest.


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