Kenan Flagler Undergraduate Application Essays

UNC Kenan-Flagler Essay Topic Analysis 2016-2017

Following up on the release of the Kenan-Flagler MBA essay topics for 2016-2017, we wanted to offer a few pointers to applicants targeting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for their business school studies next fall.

The UNC MBA essay set is unchanged from last admissions season. The school poses just one required question to applicants, along with three optional 300-word essays of varying open-endedness. Taken together, the content of these prompts reflects a focus on applicant’s career plans and the reasoning behind them, as well as ways that candidates would contribute to the community and preparation to succeed in the classroom.

The retention of last year’s essay prompts and overall format suggests that the adcom was pleased with the information that candidates’ essays yielded last admissions season. Indeed, it seems that candidates’ choices around the three optional responses in particular present an opportunity to evaluate the applicants’ willingness to put “extra” work into their application, as well as their judgment in determining how many of these prompts to respond to and what to share in each.

Let’s take a closer look at each of this year’s UNC Kenan-Flagler essay questions:

Essay 1: Please describe your short and long term goals post-MBA. Explain how your professional experience has shaped these goals, why this career option appeals to you, and how you arrived at the decision that now is the time and the MBA is the appropriate degree. (500 words maximum)
Appearing on the UNC MBA application for several years running, Kenan-Flagler’s lone required prompt is a fairly standard career goals essay. Structurally, we recommend that applicants address each element of the essay in the order in which it is presented. Applicants will want to begin by describing their professional aspirations, including both the position they hope to obtain immediately following an MBA, as well as their long-term objective. Candidates will then need to touch on the ways their work experiences to date have informed these goals, as well as the reasons that this career option is appealing. In addition to a match with their existing skills and interests, we suggest that applicants also address the impact their long-term position would enable them to have on an organization, industry, sector, or region. Effective essays will clearly address each of these four points (i.e. short-term goal, long-term goal, how past experience has shaped these, and why this path is appealing) in just 200-250 words in order to leave ample room for a robust why MBA discussion.

On that topic, applicants will then want to explain why they have chosen to pursue graduate business education at this point in their careers, and the ways that an MBA will prepare them for their stated goals. Naturally, in the course of the “why MBA” portion of this response, it would behoove candidates to comment on how exactly the Kenan-Flagler MBA would position them to achieve their career goals (rather than writing generically about the benefits of this credential). Candidates should aim to devote at least 200 words to a discussion of how specific courses and student clubs at UNC would impart the skills and knowledge they need to bridge the gap between their current abilities and what they’ll need to be effective in their chosen career paths. Learning about the details of Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program will therefore be essential in answering this last part of the prompt. Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities — whether through a visit to campus, conversations with students and alumni, or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC — will pay dividends here.

Essay 2 (Optional): What personal qualities or life experiences distinguish you from other applicants? How do these qualities or experiences equip you to contribute to UNC Kenan-Flagler? (300 words maximum)
This question gives applicants the opportunity to share some information about their interests and experiences that set them apart from other candidates, while simultaneously showcasing their knowledge of and fit with Kenan-Flagler. While this essay is technically optional, we strongly recommend that all UNC MBA applicants provide a response to this question. Indeed, applicants would be remiss not to take this opportunity to help the adcom get to know them better — and to continue to demonstrate their interest in attending their MBA program.

Specifically calling for “personal qualities and life experiences,” this essay invites applicants to provide more intimate insight into who they are and what they care about outside of the office. Details matter here, so think about how you can translate your passions and past experiences into involvement on the UNC campus, and indicate specific contributions that you would like to make. Creating a link between your past and your potential future at the program will enable you to present a consistent and clear picture of your candidacy, as well as your professional and personal interests. The more information you can provide about how exactly you would contribute (playing a certain role in organizing a particular annual event, for example), the more reason you’ll give the adcom to admit you.

Essay 3 (Optional): If your standardized test scores are low, or if you have not had coursework in core business subjects (calculus, microeconomics, statistics, financial accounting), please tell us how you plan to prepare yourself for the quantitative rigor of the MBA curriculum. (300 words maximum)
This response is directed toward applicants with quantitative liabilities in their applications. Applicants should therefore first consider whether either of the conditions of this question applies to them; if your GMAT score falls below the average of enrolled students in the MBA program or if your academic transcripts don’t demonstrate a track record of success in quantitative work in classroom settings, then you should consider addressing this question. As for the response itself, applicants should focus on ways they’ll prepare before they arrive on campus, whether through additional coursework, group or self-study, or through seeking out more quantitatively-oriented responsibilities at work.

Essay 4 (Optional): Is there any other information you would like to share that is not presented elsewhere in the application? (300 words maximum)
This response will be an appropriate place to address any elements of one’s application that need further explanation (e.g. recommender choice, expected promotions, etc.). The wording of this essay is fairly open and inviting, and so it may be an appropriate place to share an additional anecdote or highlight an impressive accomplishment. Applicants should aim to demonstrate good judgment in deciding whether to respond to this prompt, and should take care not to introduce information that appears elsewhere in their materials or that could have been covered in response to one of the above essays.

Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s UNC MBA essay topics! As you work on your Kenan-Flagler MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s UNC / Kenan-Flagler offerings:

Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis, Essays

Schools: UNC Kenan-Flagler


If UNC’s Kenan-Flager is on your list of dream bschools, then you’ll want to read up on these tips from their admissions office. Meet Lisa Beisser, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions, and hear what she has to say about your chances of getting in!


First off, what’s one aspect of UNC Business School that makes you proud to be a part of it? This school really prides itself on its culture and sense of community and going beyond just the bottom line. Like most top business schools, we have incredibly smart and driven students. But our students also are very focused on community and being part of the greater good. That combination is unique and something we are all quite proud of. Our students strive to make positive impacts on the future corporations they lead and the communities they serve.

What qualities do you think a student needs to really thrive at UNC? At the most basic level, our students need to have the analytical skills to do well in a very demanding academic program. But beyond that, our students need to thrive on teamwork and a spirit of collaboration. Finally, students need to be ready and eager to take advantage of the intense leadership training that our students receive.

Do your criteria for acceptance change at all across the different application rounds? The general criteria doesn’t change across application rounds, but by our last round, we are sometimes looking for a particular profile that we need to round out the class. We are always looking to diversify the class in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality, functional background, etc. For example, when we get to our last round we may realize that we are light on women with marketing backgrounds. So when we are making decisions in that last round, we still have the same admissibility criteria, but we may find a woman with marketing experience to be a better fit at that time for us.

When you think about the best recommendation letters you’ve ever read, what’s a common thread that makes those letters stand out? Outstanding recommendation letters tend to include a lot of detail and examples to back up the positive statements being made about the applicant. The letters really paint a picture of an individual who is progressing beyond their peers and is a rising star in their organization.

Does a student’s extraneous interaction with your school affect his/her admission? For instance, do you keep track of a student’s behavior on a campus visit or tweets at your Twitter handle? We keep track of any official interaction with the admissions office (campus visit, email, event attendance, etc.). And we also have a place for “misc notes” in each applicant’s file. So if a particular issue came to our attention (through a current student or social media) we could always indicate the issue in the notes field. In terms of affecting admissions chances, well, everything an applicant does could potentially impact their admissions decision! For example, if someone was rude to our receptionist during their campus visit, we would probably hear about it and consider that input with the rest of their application package.

What’s the number 1 reason you would turn down a UNC applicant, and why? Since we pride ourselves on our school culture, we are careful to choose applicants who we believe are a good cultural fit with our school. We sometimes will deny an otherwise strong applicant based on a sub-par interview or a red flag regarding interpersonal skills in a recommendation.

When it comes to choosing a school that’s the right fit, would you recommend that students choose schools based on how high low or high their GMAT scores are compared to the average score of that school? Why or why not? A school’s average GMAT score is a good place to start in terms of determining which schools might be in your target range. But clearly test scores are only one piece of the puzzle. We encourage applicants to look at a school’s academic strengths, graduates’ employment record, leadership opportunities and school culture. We always admit applicants with a wide range of test scores, so if an applicant finds they are otherwise a good fit with a school, even if their test scores fall below the school’s average, they still may want to pursue admission at that school.

During your interviews, what else are you looking to learn about the student that wasn’t already communicated in the application? The interview is the one place where we can evaluate an applicant’s verbal communication skills and interpersonal skills. We often are trying to figure out how this applicant may present themselves to an employer/recruiter a few months down the line. Do they have “executive presence”? Can they engage their interviewer? Are they able to tell their “story” in a compelling way and connect it to their future career goal?

What’s one final piece of advice you’d like to share with every UNC Business School applicant? I recommend that applicants use the business school application process to truly do some introspection and self-reflection. Before writing your essays or even choosing your schools, figure out what makes you tick, what makes you unique and how business school will help you achieve your career goals. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to do this, but this level of self-awareness will go a long way toward making the application process a successful one. Finally, and I’m sure this is something most schools recommend, is that you make time to visit the schools on your “short list”. An on-campus visit, if feasible, allows you to truly get a pulse for a school’s culture and determine if a particular school is a place where you think you will be comfortable and thrive. And if you can’t travel to campus, use other means to get to know a school’s culture, like reaching out to current students and alumni.


Let us know in the comments below if there are any questions you’d like us to ask an admissions committee on your behalf!

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