How to Write About Blemishes, Setbacks, and Failures in Your Personal Statements

After collaborating with hundreds of business school applicants over the past 15 years, one thing that I have learned is that there are many paths to an MBA. Often, these paths are bumpy, circuitous, or unconventional. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking to a group of applicants on GMATClub’s YouTube Live broadcast, and I decided to focus that talk on how to overcome blemishes or even big problems in your application.
Midway through, a funny thing happened! My kids escaped from the playroom and decided to investigate what Dada was doing… several times! Like many of you, all of us at Gurufi.com have had to adjust our lives to the realities of COVID-19. Our office in Portland closed because of local restrictions, so we’re all working remotely from home. As my kids ran in (repeatedly) to see what was going on, it occurred to me that this was an excellent lesson for the kinds of challenges we face in life: randomness intervenes, complications arise, family situations suddenly require our attention.
I hope you’ll check out this presentation because it gives some handy advice for how you can account for setbacks, blemishes, and disasters in your life within the context of your Personal Statement. We also touch on how to write a powerful “biggest failure” essay that some schools ask for. The TLDR is:
• You shouldn’t run from your mistakes if it’s something that the admissions committee will know. You need to provide the frame for how they view this.
• “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” For big mistakes, think about how you can contextualize the setback within the broader scope of your life and career in a way that depicts it, not as a failure, but as the first act in a story of success.
• Admissions committees understand that people aren’t perfect. Find ways to make them see you holistically.
If you have questions for Brian, send him a line at service@gurufi.com.
For help with your Personal Statement or other admissions writing, check us out at Gurufi.com! We have a fantastic group of experienced editors and consultants ready to make your application shine!

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