Carnegie Mellon Tepper Mba Essays

CMU Tepper Essay Topic Analysis 2017-2018

Following up on the announcement of this year’s Tepper essay topics for the 2017-2018 admissions season, we wanted to offer some guidance on how to approach these prompts for candidates targeting the Carnegie Mellon University MBA Class of 2020.

The Tepper adcom this year has once again opened up the essay to a general introduction. Meanwhile, the optional essay allows candidates to cover any extenuating circumstances, and re-applicants to reflect on their growth.


2017-2018 CMU Tepper Essay Topic Analysis

Let’s take a look at each of this year’s Tepper essay prompts:

Required Essay
Imagine that you meet up with a member of the admission committee at an airport while on a layover. You have an opportunity to make a memorable impression. Use this essay to introduce yourself. Include any information that you believe is important for the committee member to know about you both professionally and personally. (Maximum 300-350 words, 12-point font, double-spaced)
While seemingly a blank canvas—albeit a small one at 300-350 words—this prompt can feel a bit daunting at first. The key is to impose a structure by determining which elements of your candidacy are most worthy of space. One approach could be to decide what theme or themes you wish to highlight and how those are evident in your professional and personal life. For instance, perhaps you are in brand management and not only turned around one of your client’s campaigns, but also supported a local organization in their fundraising efforts.

Another approach could cover the standard content of an admissions essay, including one’s career goals, professional history, interest in an MBA and personal interests or leadership. Because the adcom asks about you both professionally and personally, it would make sense to balance the content accordingly. Given the short length, you may only have the chance to summarize your career with an additional 1-2 sentences about a particularly meaningful or impressive professional achievement. Business leaders are also expected to have vision, so conveying your career plans and how an MBA from Tepper fits into that plan would also be wise to touch on. Then, an example of leadership in your community or your other personal interests could allow you to wrap this essay up with a connection to how you hope to continue pursuing those interests as a b-school student at Tepper.

The framing of the question—waiting in an airport—can invite a somewhat creative gateway to revealing more information about oneself. For instance, if you’ve been leading a project that’s involved international travel, the destination of your “flight” could allow you to introduce your cross-cultural business experiences. That said, given the short length of the essay, such creative flair should be kept to a minimum, as the adcom will be most interested in getting to know you on a personal and professional level.

Optional Essay

  • Use this essay to convey important information that you may not have been otherwise able to convey. This may include unexplained resume gaps, context for recommender selection, etc.
  • If you are a re-applicant, explain how your candidacy has strengthened since your last application.

While there is no set word limit for this essay, it would be wise to keep this under 350 words, given the length of the required essay. Optional materials also create more work for the reader, so it’s important to keep that in consideration while being concise in one’s explanations.

For first-time applicants, this optional essay should be reserved for addressing potential liabilities in one’s application. Such discussions should be direct and to the point, providing an explanation and pointing to mitigating factors without being defensive or making excuses. This essay is optional, so should not be used if there are no issues to explain.

Meanwhile, reapplicants should detail the steps they have taken to become a stronger applicant and learn more about the Tepper MBA program since their last application. Candidates in this situation should comment on how they have spent the past year, taking particular care to highlight improved quantitative records, new professional skills and responsibilities, progress toward their ultimate career goals, and/or increased community involvement.

Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Tepper essay topics! As you work on your Carnegie Mellon MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s CMU / Tepper offerings:

Posted in: Admissions Tips, Essay Topic Analysis, Essays

Schools: CMU / Tepper


CMU Tepper MBA Essay


Tell us about yourself! There are no right or wrong answers. Be authentic and tell us what we won’t learn about you in the rest of your application.

Imagine that you meet up with a member of the admission committee at an airport while on a layover. You have an opportunity to make a memorable impression. Use this essay to introduce yourself. Include any information that you believe is important for the committee member to know about you both professionally and personally. (Maximum 300-350 words, 12-point font, double-spaced)

Many B-Schools have slimmed their required essay sections over the years. Tepper is the latest to attempt to essentialize a candidate through a single, short essay. Let’s have a look…

First thing you need to do is develop a sense of what’s interesting about you… not just to yourself, but to others as well. This is more art than science. But we have (an admittedly crude) method for at least kickstarting that private investigation. Here’s how it works:

  1. Write down your most impressive features (list of 10). Think of features as any of the following: achievements in general, talents, unique personal traits, interesting life experiences, key professional achievements, unbelievably innovative “big idea,” cool skills, etc. Some examples: Top marks at an Ivy or IIT or Tsinghua; GMAT damn near 800; worked in a leadership role at a place like Google, Tesla, BP, huge family enterprises; from some place other than America, India, or China (Moldova, Uruguay, anywhere in Africa, etc.); consistent and strong leadership role in a volunteer capacity at a place like Red Cross, Amnesty International, etc.; speak five languages; you decided one day to become a contortionist and became famous for it… at Goldman Sachs; and so on.
  2. Rank this list. How? In terms of which one is most meaningful to YOU PERSONALLY. This requires discipline and a heaping teaspoon of honesty. Think of this as a private admission to yourself… which one of these are you most proud of? Do you care most about? Is your greatest achievement? Or the hobby you are most passionate about? What defines you the most? It is somehow – impossibly – a combination of all those things. Take a swing, and rank them 1 through 10 (1 being the MOST).
  3. Weight this list. Use the following scale and place this number NEXT to your updated (ranked) list:
    • 1 point – No one else on Earth can lay claim to this.
    • 5 points – Very few applicants have achieved/done/experienced this.
    • 10 points – Many other applicants are likely to have achieved/done/experienced this.
    • 15 points – Virtually every competitive applicant will have some version of this.
  4. Multiply. Multiply the initial rank and the weight to general a Final Number. (To illustrate, let’s say a leadership story from McKinsey ranked 6th on your list and it was somewhat unique but not all that unique, and you weighted it a “5” (very few students have achieved this), you’d end up with a Final Score of 30 for the McKinsey item (6 x 5).
  5. Reorder Your List. Lowest Number FIRST. Look at it. See what it tells you. (This is not a perfect methodology by any means, and sometimes it won’t reveal much… but in most cases it can be a useful tool to at least nudge you in the right direction.)

Here’s why we went through all that. Given a ONE-SHOT-TO-LEAVE-AN-IMPRESSION scenario, you will probably be best served focusing on the items that end up at the TOP of your final list, and leaving aside the stuff at the bottom. In weighting these items, this exercise should expose traits and achievements you may be accustomed to regarding as impressive, but that are, in fact, not as impressive as some other stuff in your arsenal. THOSE are the items (your “greatest hits”) that you need to bring to THIS kind of impression.

Once you zero in on your top two or three items that combine well to paint a strong but also interesting/crackling portrait of who you are, what makes you tick, and why you should remain STUCK in this admission committee’s head, now it’s time to draft this sucker. 300-350 words is going to be two to three paragraphs max. Our recommendation is to waste NO time ramping up. Dive in. If you’re the guy/gal with the game changing idea, open with it:

“What if we’re looking at energy capture through solar panels incorrectly? What if we could achieve 2x the projected energy capture through existing automobiles instead within 8 months?”

Or, lead with the problem that bumps and sets your idea: “Companies today with over 500 employees spend X on Y, instead of Z. The problem? ABC. Here’s how we can solve it.”

If you’re a born leader (and that’s high on your list from our exercise), lead with that: “The battlefield looks different from a TV screen at an airport than it does from the inside of a tank.”

You get the idea. No soft introductions. There’s simply no time. Get to the thing you need to talk about. And go through one or two or three things off your list. Use maybe 200-250 words of your total on that. “The stuff.” For your final 100-150 words, make a case for why that stuff was necessary to communicate. Convey (somehow) that that information should motivate ANYONE listening to want to offer this guy/gal a seat at their school because it foretells success in the future. As long as you have those two pieces (communicating succinctly your TOP traits/qualities as well as some context for why that makes you fierce as an MBA candidate), your first draft will be headed in a solid direction.

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