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The Ultimate Guide to Writing The Failure Essay in MBA Applications

Written by  Rachit Agrawal, MBA

Published on Thu, February 22, 2018 6:24 AM   Updated on Mon, December 16, 2019 6:44 AM   5 mins read

Source: ProfessorBernstein

While completing your MBA application, different B-Schools would ask you the same essay question in words of their own. For example, the Wharton School would frame it as, Discuss a time when you faced a challenging interpersonal experience. How did you navigate the situation and what did you learn from it? (600 words), HBS would ask, Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words) and INSEAD would have it as, Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed.?Discuss what you learned. (400 words maximum).

What is the AdCom trying to understand through this Question?

Upon looking at the above mentioned question-descriptions carefully, you shall notice that only INSEAD  chose to mention the word ‘failure’ in the essay-question. Whereas those at Wharton ask about the challenging interpersonal experiences. On the other hand, HBS asks for 3 setback experiences. Thus, these three mentioned questions seem to be completely different questions and they actually are for real. However, there’s a common binding to all these three. This means that all the three questions illustrate that the Admissions Committee members  intend to inquire about your testing time and what were your reactions and coping strategies. Thus, the motive is to comprehend your personality by studying your reaction in the face of adversity. Since all of us go through problems at some point of time, be it personal or professional. Therefore, it acts as a great litmus test for candidates. AdCom members wish to know how good or bad you are in the trials and tribulations of life, as you are applying for a course that will lead you to a world of uncertainties.  Through the challenging situations and if or not you let yourself be under the situation, they intend to see if you have the potential to be a business person or an entrepreneur with a business or a startup of his/her own. Thus, the AdCom wish to see the how the superman inside you recognizes his superpowers and emerges as the hero despite all odds. However, even if the essay question does not ask you about your learning from the experience, it is mandatory to mention them. It is inherently required in your answers. Because what you gain form adversaries is experiences and what experience further gives you is, knowledge/learning. Thus, this is entirely what your answer/essay should focus on.

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Some things that schools are trying to screen for:

  1. Are you the type of person that gets bogged down by certain situations?
  2. Do you believe that problematic situations serve as times to rationalize for the cause of a failure?
  3. Do you look back at situations and objectively learn how to handle things better?

How do you approach and resolve difficult situations?

The AdCom is looking for a person who knows the effect of their decisions and actions and those who learn from the circumstances yo plan and prepare well for the next time.  Make sure to mould your story in such a manner that the AdCom members get what they want to see. Do not present yourself as a weak contender. You should utilise this golden opportunity to strengthen your application by presenting yourself in the best possible way.

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MBA Essay Writing Do’s for the Failure Essay

So the Do’s for the MBA-cum-Failure essay are-
  1. Read the question properly and completely. Keep in mind to address all parts of the question.
  2. Take the AdCom through your journey in the essay. You can do this by writing about the different steps you took to overcome testing situations and quantify your stories.
  3. Include all your learning, personal and professional, from the failure or difficult situation.
  4. Then you can also briefly mention similar situations that acted as potential setbacks but your learning and memory from the previous failure prevented you from committing same mistake all over again. This will surely get you brownie points.
  5. But remember, the focus is not how grave the situations is or how big a price is on stake. The entire focus is upon your learning, coping strategies, the action plan you chose to take and why.

MBA Essay Writing Don’ts for the Failure Essay

But there is a list of Don’t as well.
  1. Do not copy-and-paste essays from different schools as the question is modified enough for each school that schools will see right through such tactics.
  2. Do not blame the circumstances or other people for the situation (that’s rationalization and it will get you nowhere, shit happens, face it like a man).
  3. Do not skirt around the issue if the challenging situation is a result of your mistake. Accept your mistake and focus on the steps you took to overcome the situation as well as your learning as a result thereof.
  4. Do not use trivial personal stories such as overcoming a breakup, etc. as it may reflect lack of judgment on your part.
Essay is an important part of the MBA Application. It is not only a chance to present your story in your own way, but also it increases the strength of your application if done in the correct manner. What is your view on the failure essay? Do share in the comments section. Also, do mention your suggestions and feedback.

Also Visit:

  1. Admission Essays – Complete Overview
  2. Admission Essays – Types of Essay
  3. Admission Essays – Essay Samples
  4. Admission Essays – Essay Guidelines
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About the Author & Expert


Rachit Agrawal

Author • MBA • 20 Years

Rachit believes in the power of education and has studied from the top institutes of IIIT Allahabad, IIM Calcutta, and Francois Rabelias in France. He has worked as Software Developer with Microsoft and Adobe. Post his MBA, he worked with the world's # 1 consulting firm, The Boston Consulting Group across multiple geographies US, South-East Asia and Europe.

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