How to Write a Statement of Purpose for an MBA

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 24, 2021

Your personal statement is an opportunity to formally introduce yourself to an MBA admissions committee. Here's how to make your personality shine.

Prospective MBA student sitting at a small wood-topped table in her light-filled apartment smiling while editing her statement of purpose on her laptop.

Your Master of Business Administration (MBA) application should tell the story of who you are as a student and professional teammate. Some materials, such as your GPA and GMAT or GRE score, are intended as data points that demonstrate gained knowledge. Other, more creative components can illuminate your personality and illustrate how you move within the business world.

The MBA statement of purpose (SOP), also called a personal statement, serves the latter purpose. Often guided by broad prompts as determined by each school you’re applying to, these open-ended essays are your opportunity to directly tell the admissions committee why you want to join their program, how you’ll contribute to your cohort, and what you hope to gain from the experience of getting your MBA.

In this article, we’ll offer tips on writing an effective MBA statement of purpose, and provide an example that may help enhance your business school application.

How to write an MBA statement of purpose

With your SOP, you are in complete control of your narrative. This is your chance to tell the aspects of your story that you think the admissions committee needs to know in order to make their most informed decision about your potential admissions offer.

This opportunity comes with a strong element of creative freedom. The only parameters you’re tied to are the ones set by the admissions committee in their essay prompts. Beyond the questions themselves, these often include total word or character count, and sometimes they include formatting preferences, such as double spacing.

How to plan your SOP

SOP prompts tend to be somewhat vague. You can react to questions like, “What matters most to you?” (from Stanford Graduate School of Business) and, “Tell us your story,” (from University of Illinois Gies College of Business) in a lot of different ways. Begin with what you know: the word count limit and the prompt.

Use the word limit to guide the way you tell your story. Some schools will separate prompts into a series of shorter responses, while others will expect one longer narrative. A maximum of 350 words will be a quicker version, whereas a maximum of 1,000 words will offer you space for more in-depth telling.

Next, turn to the prompt itself. Think about what’s at the heart of the question, and let that sink in. Pay attention to your initial reactions: your immediate answer, jogged memories, or any notable emotions that surface. 

Continue brainstorming around those initial reactions by asking yourself questions like:

  • Why did these reactions surface?

  • What values are behind them?

  • When have I incorporated those values into my career?

  • How does my goal of attending business school align with and enhance my expression of those values?

  • Specifically, how does this MBA program offer the further opportunity to pursue those values?

When you’re ready, begin writing your story at whatever point feels natural to you given the parameters. As long as your story follows a sensible flow and reaches your goal destination, there’s no right or wrong place to start. Remember: this is your narrative.

Tips for writing a successful MBA statement of purpose

As you write your SOP, here are a few things to keep in mind that can help your writing stand out:

  • Clearly state your goals: Openly communicate your short-term and long-term goals in earning your MBA. Clear statements around this crucial element of your SOP can help you avoid any potential confusion.

  • Express your interest: Be forthcoming about your interest in this particular MBA program. Show that you’ve researched their offerings and call out the aspects you are most excited about, and how those aspects align with your goals.

  • Demonstrate mutual fit: The institution plays a huge role in shaping the MBA experience, however it wouldn’t be complete without a student body. Show what you, and you alone, will bring to your MBA community.

  • Detail your action plan: How will you make your goals a reality? Use details from your past triumphs to show how you can be successful in the future.

Determining your strengths

Everyone has strengths. If you need help figuring out what yours are, the following questions may help:

*What’s something you’ve done that you are proud of, and how did you do it? This question can help you hone in on the skills you already possess and how you implement them in ways that align with your values.

*What do people frequently ask you for? Whether it’s logical, emotional, or physical, this question may reveal the types of problems you’re often prepared to solve.

*How do your friends, family, and colleagues describe you? Sometimes the quickest way to identify your positive attributes is to ask the people you trust. They may reveal an aspect of your personality that you wouldn’t have thought to highlight.

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What are admissions officers looking for in an SOP?

Admissions officers use the SOP as a chance to learn about each prospective student from their own perspective. Some ways you can help them get to know you include:

  • Providing concrete examples: Rather than tell the admissions officer who you are, show them. If you are a problem solver, explain a difficult problem you solved; if you are compassionate, demonstrate a time your compassion led to a success.

  • Being honest: It can feel a little uncomfortable to tap into your vulnerability as you write, however your openness can have a huge impact on the reader. Honesty can help build connection and demonstrate self-confidence, and it can give you an opportunity to show how you’ve turned a perceived negative into an actionable positive.

  • Highlighting impact: Take your credentials one step further by expressing their potential impact. Staying impact focused can be particularly useful for applicants with less traditional backgrounds. How is your unique background actually an asset?

  • Being concise: Say what you need to say—and nothing more. Admissions officers don’t always have time to savor prose. Often, they’ll appreciate a concise essay with proper grammar and an easy flow.

Writing tip: Read out loud

As you begin the editing process, reading your writing out loud may help you determine whether you are writing in a natural tone of voice and if the essay really sounds like you. It can also help you notice areas that might need additional clarification and catch typos that you may have missed during skimming. For added assurance, follow up your independent editing process by asking a trusted friend or advisor to review your SOP.

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MBA statement of purpose example analysis

Reading examples of successful MBA SOPs can help you understand how to implement the above tips. However, keep in mind that you are telling your story, and so your final essay should look different from the samples you read.

US News & World Report published two examples of successful personal statements from accepted applicants to Temple University Fox School of Business and Yale School of Management. Read the full essays here.

What the Fox applicant does well: This applicant shares their unique path toward an MBA by recognizing that it’s atypical. Ultimately, they turn the narrative around by detailing how their background will be an asset to their career goals, and how Fox’s MBA program can help them succeed. This applicant remained open and honest about who they are, where they came from, and where they’re going.

What the Yale applicant does well: This applicant shows their proven ability to work toward their goals. They corroborate their vision of success with specific facts and details, and incorporate key business skills in their narrative, such as fundraising, long-term planning, and strategic thinking. This applicant expresses their values through their actions, while still maintaining an informative and authoritative tone.

Getting your MBA degree

Before you can start your MBA application process, you’ll need to narrow down the programs that meet your needs. Work on your degree from anywhere with an internet connection with the iMBA from University of Illinois Gies College of Business. If you’re looking for flexible learning at a breakthrough price, this could be one option for you.

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Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 24, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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