Northwestern Kellogg has an MBA entire essay question asking about values this year, and Stanford has asked “What matters most” for years and years and years. Values-driven companies are more attractive to employees, and it’s becoming a prominent feature at many top MBA programs that values are examined and explicitly expressed as part of their community.
So what in heck are values????
How do you know you’re expressing your values appropriately in an essay with your MBA application — and how do you avoid coming across like a smarmy ass-kissing jerk?
Because there’s not always a clear line between the two, when it comes to MBA essays.
We’ve made extensive changes to several of our SnarkStrategies Guides for the schools that are putting an increasing focus on values in their application requirements, so you can investigate those if you’re applying to those programs.
For today, we invite everyone to take a moment and do some thinking on values — both because yes, it’s going to be useful to reflect on this for any school you’re trying for (and reflecting on stuff is hard, so doing it early and often is only going to be helpful as you move through this process!).
But the other reason we’re blahgging about this stuff is because, you know, it’s the kind of thing we care about. And we think you should, too — and you probably already do, or you wouldn’t have been attracted to EssaySnark in the first place.
Here’s a question to start with:
Are ethics and values the same thing?
Not to get all PhilosophySnark on you, but no. Definitely interrelated, but not identical.
One simplistic way to put it might be: Your values inform your ethics.
Ethics is how you live in the world. Your standards of behavior.
Your values are the core beliefs and priorities that form who you are.
If you end up writing an essay for Kellogg that only talks about ethics, you’re probably fine. This distinction has a fine edge to it, and the lines certainly can blur when you’re talking about them.
When you’re thinking of your values, you can start by doing some googling and finding resources that list the names and labels we often use for values — just be warned, there are a lot of crackerjack sites out there that profess to give you such lists. Not all of them are actually talking about values in ways that are going to be easily translatable to your own process of introspection around your MBA essays.
The easiest trap to fall into (which you won’t fall into now, since you’re reading this) is saying “I value nature” — where you mean, “Nature is important to me and I like going on hikes.”
That’s not what the Kellogg essay question is asking for.
Remember too, that many statements of values are kind of marketing driven — for example, lots and lots of companies have “mission statements” and many have “values statements” (sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, which right there implies where some problems come from, if you examine the actual words and their meaning).
Here’s Starbucks’ Mission Statement :
Let’s take one of those and see if we can do some analysis on it — here’s the easy one:
“Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.”
Okay, so that is another way of saying “We value diversity.”
But hey, what’s really behind that? Is “diversity” a value?
Yeah, sorta — but isn’t it really saying, “We believe all people are equal.”
So, “equality” is maybe a little more precise. Right?
Saying that their “values” are “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome” isn’t as precise.
That tells you that the “culture” statement isn’t truly a “value.”
Again, if you wrote in your essay to Kellogg about how you value a culture of warmth and belonging, then that might work — provided of course that you do a good enough job of explaining what you mean by that, etc. (because on the surface, that’ll just come across as a platitude, an answer that screams “OH LOOK THIS SOUNDS IMPRESSIVE DON’T IT!” which is the opposite of what Kellogg is asking for).
And don’t even get us started on what the rest of those statements mean.
Like this one:
“We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.”
Huh? What does that even mean?
Unfortunately, Berkeley-Haas fell into that trap when they first constructed their so-called Defining Principles many years back, and they came up with phrases like “Student always” and “Humility without attitude” — like, if you study them, sure you know what they mean. But whenever your organization needs to always redefine or explain your core values when introducing them to someone else, then you know you’re in trouble. For example, in our googling today, we came across a list of values, one of which was Universalism. Hmm. What is that? When you read about the value of “universalism” you may find that it resonates. But you have to read about it before you know that.
So that’s really our advice to you today.
Or two advices, perhaps:
1. When you do your googling out there to figure out what are values that you might write about (since we know that that’s how a lot of you will approach this task) then just consider the source. Is it a reputable site that is focused on interpersonal development, or maybe counseling, or some discussion of ethics? Or is just a wackjob who put up a page on “values” to get some SEO rankings for their consulting business? (errr…… 🙂 )
2. When you decide on a value that you’re going to present to your admissions reader, is the value self-explanatory? Or do you find that you need to give a long discussion or try to define what you mean by it?
We would love to just publish a definitive list of values for you to browse through and choose from, but it’s such a big topic that we’re worried we would do you a disservice (plus, everyone reading this post would end up choosing from this limited list, and you’d run the risk of having multiples of you writing about the same thing in your essays to Kellogg – which would be a big ugh).
We will certainly be giving feedback to those BSers who use our Essay Decimator service, on how clearly you’ve stated your values and how you’ve defended them. That’s the most important part in any essay like this: Providing evidence. Explaining the “why” behind it.
The value itself that you name is almost inconsequential. (Almost.)
If you’re trying for Kellogg, then be sure to pick up our strategy guide for their essay questions, which we believe is the best on the market to help you sort through an impactful question like this!
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