How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Business School
So You Want to Get an MBA...
If you've decided to pursue graduate study in business, one thing you will need to do when applying to different programs is to write an essay that is often called a "Statement of Purpose."
Before delving into what should be included in a Statement of Purpose, I want to ask you a question: What is something these successful business people all have in common?
- Steve Jobs
- Bill Gates
- Richard Branson
- Daymond John (FUBU, Shark Tank)
- Rachael Ray (cooking show hostess extraordinaire)
- Anna Wintour (Vogue magazine editor-in-chief believed to be the inspiration for the book and movie The Devil Wears Prada)
What Can You Learn From Successful Business Professionals?
Give up? The answer is that not one of the successful professionals listed above has earned a college degree—and yet all of them managed to become extremely successful in business. I've earned two graduate degrees, one of them a doctorate in business specializing in marketing. And even though I've enjoyed two wonderful careers—in higher education as a college professor, and in business as a corporate marketing professional, still, I can only dream of achieving the kind of financial success in business these men and women achieved, without a college degree.
Am I saying you don't need to go to business school to be successful in business? Yes, and no.
What I mean is, getting a graduate degree in business is not all it takes to achieve success in business. I am also saying there is something you and I, and anyone, can learn from people who either didn’t go to business school or to college at all, or those who dropped out of college without completing any type of degree, but still achieved amazing and/or history-making success in business. Understanding what it takes to pursue and persist until you succeed in business is what I'm talking about. It's not simply what I'm talking about. It's what you'll need to show and to tell administrators as you write your Statement of Purpose for business school.
Let's take a quick look at a few things we can learn from the business giants I mentioned earlier. What can you learn from them that might help as you study or work toward achieving your own versions of success in business—and in life?
Looking at the names of those people I listed at the beginning of this article, all of these professionals learned early in life how to apply dogged determination and precision focus in order to create and/or run a very successful business—without getting a college degree. Amazingly, each person whose name I listed was able to discover and then zero in on his or her purpose, to turn their interest in/love for something into astonishing business success, without earning a formal degree in business.
The truth is, not everyone is blessed with the ability to know what they want to do or how to apply the discipline needed do it without going to college. So what does this have to do with writing a Statement of Purpose for business school? A lot, because each of the men and women listed above was able to find the right path he or she needed to take in order to achieve business success. And isn't that what you're seeking? The path that's right for you, for achieving success in business, and/or for accomplishing your career goals?
When writing your Statement of Purpose for business school, you will need to explain why you believe the right path for you, when it comes to your plan for success in business, includes obtaining a graduate degree in business from a particular business school. You will need to explain to business school admissions officials your purpose in pursuing graduate study; your interests in the field of business, and how you have become prepared for the many challenges of graduate study.
Tip 1: Link Your Business and Research Interests to Your Purpose
In addition to the need for "dogged determination," you will also need to understand (and know how to apply) "precision focus" to achieving your dreams. If you already understand this, then you have probably already figured out exactly what you want to study, what you intend to do when you complete your studies, and why you need a graduate degree in business to do it. In fact, if you already understand "precision focus," then you should know, without a doubt, your business and your graduate research interests, two things that are crucial to writing an outstanding Statement of Purpose.
Why do you need precision focus on these interests? Because these interests are what will provide the foundation for your graduate study. If you're precision-focused, you should already know not just your areas of interest, but also how they are linked to your purpose for pursuing graduate study. If you don’t know this, allow me to suggest that now is the time for you to heed the advice of the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, who directed us all to “Know Thyself.” Understanding how your business/ research interests and your purpose in pursuing graduate study are inextricably linked will prepare you for composing a powerful Statement of Purpose with the potential to set you apart from the crowd of other business school applicants.
Tip 2: Show Your Preparation for Graduate Study
In graduate school, you will need to be ready to become involved in research activities while working with faculty colleagues and other students. In addition to that, you must also be able to do extremely well in challenging courses. Sometimes, you might even be called upon to develop and/or teach undergraduate courses. Your Statement of Purpose, therefore, will need to telegraph to admissions officials what sets you apart from the other applicants. What has prepared you for the rigors of graduate research and study?
Remember, you will be competing with many other applicants who will most likely have strong undergraduate academic preparation, a display of excellent grades/GPAs, a significant number of years of outstanding work experience, and very impressive letters of recommendation. And since everything I just mentioned is commonly included in business school applications, your Statement of Purpose will need to include and go beyond these, to point out experiences in school or in life that have not simply prepared you, but have set you apart so that you can excel in graduate school.
Tip 3: Stand Out for the Right Reasons
As you tell your story, be sure to distinguish yourself from other applicants, naturally. If you’ve had to conquer overwhelming obstacles to get to where you are today, be sure to talk about how you prevailed and what you learned from your experiences. Be honest. Don’t create obstacles where none existed or make mountains out of molehills. Trust me, if you do, it will come across as phony. If you haven’t had to prevail over major problems or wring triumphs from tragedy, perhaps you have an inspiring record of accomplishments from doing volunteer work. The important thing is to connect your experiences to this moment in time, to reveal why you know that attending this particular business school is without a doubt the next step in your journey.
Be sure, when you’re writing your essay, to let your personality shine through. Dare to be an individual, someone unique, not made from the cookie-cutter mold. Admit to having both strengths and weaknesses. Explain how your combination of assets and liabilities shaped who you are today. How it took both gifts and limitations working together and at odds to create the dead-set and determined person of purpose you’ve morphed into. Explain how it all helped you discover who you are, who you want to become, and why attending this business school will help you achieve what you plan to accomplish in your life in the future, after business school.
Tip 4: Demonstrate Excellent Communication Skills
The quality of writing you demonstrate in composing your essay could very well become the primary factor distinguishing you from a lot of other very impressive business school applicants. Therefore, not only must you know yourself, you must be able to communicate directly, logically, and succinctly, why your purpose sets you apart from the crowd. You must communicate with great clarity what it is that makes you right for graduate study, and what gives you the drive, will, and commitment to purpose it will take to excel in carrying out research activities and completing demanding coursework.
Communications skills matter. How well you are able to communicate what you have to say will help to set your essay apart from those of other applicants. When creating the first draft of your statement, remember it is just that: A first draft. This is where you get to allow what comes up to come out. Don’t allow a fear of making mistakes to hold you back as you write; now is the time to make mistakes, and to not worry too much about writing too much. But, be sure to allow ample time, later, for rewriting, revising, and shortening your first draft—as many times as needed.
Some Final Tips
Following are several things for you to keep in mind as you begin preparing an outline or jotting down thoughts about what you will talk about in your Statement of Purpose:
- Tailor your statement. If you are applying to more than one business school, make sure your Statement of Purpose is linked to the unique aspects of each school.
- Organize your thoughts. Make sure you have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, and be sure to keep your essay focused on things that show your preparedness for graduate study.
- Have a strong beginning. In fact, a good way to begin your essay is to talk about an idea that excites you that is related to your intended area of study, or to your research interest.
- Have other people read it. Once you complete your final draft, have one or more other people read it—people whose judgment you trust. Ask them to proofread for spelling, grammar, and any mistakes you may have overlooked, and to point out areas where your writing might need to be improved for the sake of clarity, or to improve sentence structure.
After getting accepted into business school, and after you earn your graduate degree, you may or may not achieve the kind of financial success that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Daymond John, Rachael Ray, or Anna Wintour achieved, without a college degree. Still, if you learn how to focus (as each of them did) on what you want while constantly applying steadfast determination, discipline, hard work, and commitment to purpose to your quest, I have no doubt you will achieve many amazing and different kinds of success in your business career, and in your life.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD