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Winning MBA admission essays: how to move beyond common African narratives

A few months ago, a childhood friend asked me to review his MBA admission application. He was pressed by a looming deadline and as such, we decided to sidestep the usual deep strategic and tactical planning I undertake with clients. I was to simply make edits to the writing he submitted. But after just a few lines into his essay, it felt too familiar; as if I had read it many times before. Like many overly utilized Hollywood narratives, I could narrate his essay from just the first few lines. I have come to call these pervasive storylines, the common African messiah plot. The story usually emphasizes hard beginnings in Africa, describes how hard work unlocked unforeseen opportunities, and ends with an unshakable desire to return to Africa after an MBA to fight poverty through entrepreneurship. This article outlines how to avoid this common narrative using personal branding.

*To attract the interest of admission officers and to maximize your chances of admission, don’t tell everyone else' story.

Start with knowing and developing your personal brand

The most effective way to capture admission officers’ attention is to stand out from your peers by telling an original narrative. Yes, Africa is poor, but truth be told, not all applicants grew up in a place without running water and electricity. But even if that was the case, who has the patience to read the same story over and over and over again. Telling a compelling story could be tricky: you have limited (and decreasing) real estate, and many explicit and implicit questions to answer. But as with many things in live, focus is your best ally: lead with an overarching original and authentic identity brand that is supported with strong and compelling examples.

You should think of your entire application package as one big representation of yourself; every piece fitting together eloquently. To lead with a brand, starts with knowing your brand; that is, the lasting image you want your application reviewer to retain. The best brands are bold, aspirational and inspiring. Your brand doesn’t have to be "IT consultant" even if that is your current employment. Do you aspire to be a fintech entrepreneur who will bring financial services to the unbanked in Liberia? This should be your brand inasmuch as you can defend it with demonstrable interest and eloquent achievability.

*Yes, you are a complex and multi-faceted individual; but even superheroes have a simple, lasting image.

Be selective, be authentic be credible

Your brand should be believable! I often find that applicants need the most help in determining their brand, not in writing their essay, or editing their essays. usually, when a brand has been clearly identified and expressed, most have plenty of experiences to lean on to craft their story. Nevertheless, some applicants may become overwhelmed and indecisive vis-a-vis the wealth of their experiences, and the limited pages offered to convey their story. inertia is never your friend. Instead of endless solitary debates about what life event best complements your brand, open yourself to external opinions. Gather feedback on different narratives from family, friends and/or consultant.

* Or consider MBAs For Africa review services including our free review service available here.


To maximize your chances of admission, you must use an original and authentic brand that envelops your entire application to stand out from other African applicants. We have designed a seamless and free process for you to build a strong applicant brand. In 15 minutes or less, we allow you to gain new perspectives and invaluable feedback on your application. Whether you are preparing your application alone or using a strong and informed support network, the quantitative and qualitative feedback we provide will allow you to improve your story and track improvements. Start today here!

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