How to Make Your Personal Essay Stand Out

Author: Marcus Dittmer


The essay is the centerpiece of your EMBA application package—and there is no single way to be successful. However, you can take steps to ensure your essay stands out in the crowd. Improve your chances of impressing an admissions committee by following a few simple tips:  

1.  Avoid crafting an essay that reads like a longer version of your resume.

Each document should complement the other. Think of your resume as the “how” and “what” and your essay as the “why.” 


2.  Tell the admissions committee why you are interested in their specific program and institution.

Your essay shouldn’t read like a form letter you sent to every institution on your application list. If you’re applying to Notre Dame, for example, and are excited about the immersive international consulting project or the intensive Executive Integral Leadership week, tell us this. Demonstrate an understanding of what makes the programs to which you are applying stand out and why you would benefit from attending. 


3.  Answer the following questions, for yourself and for the committee. 

How do you define leadership? What would you like to be your leadership signature? What qualities do you currently possess that an EMBA can amplify and build on? Addressing these questions in your essay will help the committee understand your aspirations and what you bring to the table, and help them envision how you would fit into their program. 


4.  Share experiences that have challenged you professionally.

In fact, sharing how you addressed a difficult business situation—and took that situation forward—helps illustrate your capacity for professional self-reflection and growth. “The most memorable essays often tell us how a professional obstacle was approached and overcome,” says Nicholas Farmer, Notre Dame’s senior associate director for EMBA recruiting and admissions. “This tells us how you think and how your experiences have shaped you.”


5. Provide insight into you.

 While you don’t want to repeat your resume, the more specific and vivid you are, the better the insights you provide illustrate your personality—details you choose to emphasize are proof of what matters to you. An admissions committee reads hundreds of applications. Give them a “hook” for remembering you (“That’s the applicant who . . .”). 


6.  Put down the final draft of your personal essay and walk away for a day.

Once you’ve got some distance, review your essay with fresh eyes. Read it aloud—or use the “speak text” function on your computer. It’s a great way to get a sense of how your essay flows, where you need to create better transitions, and what’s missing to take readers on a journey. 


7. Have someone proofread your essay.

This step is one of the most important. A simple spell check won’t catch grammatical errors. Don’t let an easily avoided typo derail your admission to the EMBA program of your dreams. 

Visit our program page to learn more about Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business EMBA Program and what a degree from Notre Dame can do for you.