How To Think About Your Personal Story

How To Think About Your Personal Story

If I think about the area where my candidates often need the most help, it is in crafting a winning personal story. This is the most important part of the application and often the hardest. I advise my candidates to start this process months, if not years, in advance! The good news? Everyone has a personal story.

So, what should you include in your personal story? This will differ for every candidate but across the board I can tell you, NOT EVERYTHING! No one wants to read 1,000+ words with a chronological flow of your life. Instead, you must be focused, logical and unique.

This is also not the time to tell the admissions committee what you think they want to hear. The most successful candidates didn’t necessary overcome some horrible tragedy or solve world hunger. Sure, if you have done something impressive or overcome a difficult situation, that is often something you might want to think about including but this alone is not enough and it still must fit with your story. You can certainly write a compelling statement without this.

When I meet with a new candidate, I start by asking a lot of questions. We talk about everything the applicant has done, often starting from childhood. Here are some steps you can use to begin:

  • Make a list of everything you have done in your life and take the time to write it out thoroughly. Think carefully about the decision you have made, what you enjoy and most importantly, why?
  • Think about your future goals. What do you want to do after you earn your MBA and again, why?
  • Next, look for a theme! What single idea connects these all together. This is the hard part, so give it time.

Here is an example: I had a candidate who had a passion for education stemming from a family tragedy. He barely mentioned the tragedy in his essay as frankly this didn’t really say anything about him. Instead, he focused on what he did in the face of this. He shared his penchant for education starting at a young age. All of his extra-curricular, past career and future aspirations laddered up to this. Sharing these highlights led to a compelling statement. His application strength didn’t come from his career successes but from how his essays were focused, his personal and professional moves were logical and his career path but somewhat unique.

Another less obvious example is taking a weakness and using it to explain the jobs you selected and the project you worked on. For instance, are you painfully shy? How have you overcome this in your career and what decisions has this led you to make? This can make an equally compelling statement.

Business schools want to know how you will make the business world better when you leave their campuses and what your unique mark will be. Past behavior is the best predictor of the future and we have all left a mark somehow or another. No candidate is ever perfect, instead, we chart the best coarse we can with the hand we were dealt and the best personal statements show this.

Crafting a personal statement isn’t easy and Personal MBA Coach is here to help!


About Personal MBA Coach: Scott Edinburgh, a Wharton MBA and MIT BS graduate, founded Personal MBA Coach in 2008 to offer boutique and personalized MBA and graduate school admissions consulting. Over the past 10 years, Scott has helped hundreds of applicants get into top programs around the world. In addition to working directly with Scott, clients have access to former MBA interviewers to prepare for every aspect of the application process. 96% of clients are successful. Contact Scott to learn about the Personal MBA Coach approach to full-time, part-time or Executive MBA applications.

Scott can be reached at, or +1 617 645 2424.

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