Rotman MBA essay and the Spike Factor Challenge

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Rotman School of Management Expansion

Rotman School of Management Expansion

You’re in the middle of your MBA application and are just about to enter the Rotman MBA essay’s most crucial part. Rotman will ask you to list down 1-3 of your spike factors (something unique about yourself) that will contribute to the Rotman community and are aligned with Rotman’s values of diversity, excellence, integrity, and respect. What makes the Rotman MBA essay different and more exciting than all others is the question and, more importantly, what you’ll have to do before even starting this essay. If you approach this essay well, it will not only help you in the application stage, but in the interview stage too.

The Rotman School of Management MBA application is an in-depth and comprehensive approach to understanding an applicant’s potential fit at the B-school. The admissions team wants to be sure that any admitted candidate is a good fit in terms of values and can impact the school. These are figured out by examining each candidate’s spike factors — elements of their background, accomplishments, and traits that project a future sense of quality and value for the B-school and its student community.

How to think about your Rotman MBA essay and the spike factors within it

The Rotman MBA admissions committee is looking for a few things when reading an MBA application. They want to know about your background, what drives you, and how you’ll add value to the incoming class. They also want to see how you will align with Rotman values, but this isn’t something you should force-fit into your essay at all. Usually, the ‘spike’ is challenging to identify, and aligning that spike to Rotman values is even more challenging. Here is how you can begin to think about your spike factors.

Background: Think about your upbringing and how that has shaped who you are today. Did you grow up in a small town or a large city? Are there any environments that have influenced you? Did you experience a dramatic change in family life growing up? While you may not talk about these experiences directly in your essay, identifying your values will make it easier to determine what makes you tick and what drives you. Most achievements/spikes are really based on that.

What differentiates you? The admissions team wants to know why they should choose you over all the other candidates. Your GMAT and GPA are irrelevant here. What matters are the experiences and the actions that have led you to be who you are. These spikes can be personal (e.g. some unique experience you had / how you helped someone in need / how you demonstrated integrity under pressure), academic (student leadership or some achievement or accomplishment in sports, music, or the arts), or social (significant volunteering or some other social effort).

On the other hand, be aware that every accomplishment does not constitute a spike. For example, completing a demanding project at work, traveling to a novel destination, or mentoring a colleague are all okay to think of, but they are not all that rare, and should not be used.

Passion and drive: The last puzzle piece is your drive and your passion. What led you to take up the spikes that you will talk about? Usually, spikes driven by passion and genuine interest are better to talk about than those driven by pursuing a tangible goal (e.g. better grades). As a school that profoundly values innovation and new thinking, Rotman is particular about choosing applicants who demonstrate their ability to embrace change, manage risk, and build value.

Rotman values diversity, excellence, integrity and respect.

As you’re getting ready to start thinking about your spike factors, it’s worth putting more thought into your values. Some of these values may be deeply rooted in your psyche. Some may have become very important for you since business school. Values often seem entirely arbitrary and unimportant, but they can provide a tremendous source of energy to propel someone through several years of hard work.

The Rotman MBA program is more than just a collection of courses, modules, and lectures; it is an opportunity to tap into the core values that define the University of Toronto and its world-class business school. There is no better way to learn and grow as a business professional than to continually revisit those values and reflect on how they have shaped your thinking, behavior and leadership. Ultimately, if these values are within you, they will also reflect in the Rotman MBA essay.

Approaching the Rotman MBA essay

The exact essay topic that Rotman asks you to tackle is:

Explain your spike factor (something unique about yourself) that you believe will contribute to the Rotman community and is aligned with Rotman values. How will your spike factor help you succeed as an MBA student and beyond? (up to 1000 words)

Begin with first deciding the number of spike factors that you want to talk about. While many people do just fine by mentioning just one or two, you can go up to 3 if you feel you have the examples and the substantiation to back them up. Remember, it’s not about quantity but quality. When thinking of these spike factors, make sure that you are really selecting aspects that differentiate you from other applicants and would catch the eye of the admissions reviewer. This is also the right time to speak to Rotman students and understand the school and its activities.

Remember, it is not about directly addressing Rotman values but showing that you have the drive, character, and skills to succeed as a student at Rotman. Once you begin creating your essay, review and refine it often. Sometimes, we are the worst judges of what makes us great. Getting opinions from friends, family, and professionals is essential at this stage because they will help you verify that what you see as a spike is really spike. Think about how your spikes correlate with Rotman values, but do not create a link where there is none.

Rotman wants students that broadly embrace its own values and mission. They are not looking for applicants who go over the values and then manufacture spikes that seem aligned with those values. The difference is easy to determine.

Finally, keep in mind that your spike is not about outstanding achievements or monumental accomplishments. It is about the story. It is about the values and the character that led you there. Substantiate the achievements to make them meaningful, but look for the spike in your values, not in the numbers.

Wait – the spike(s) are not the only thing in this essay

One crucial aspect that most applicants forget is the last bit of the Rotman MBA essay question – how will your spike factor help you succeed as an MBA student and beyond?

This is what we would tell you:

Many applicants struggle with the last part of the Rotman MBA essay question. While they can answer the first part (what is your spike factor?), they can’t figure out how to answer the second part – how will that unique aspect help you succeed as an MBA student and beyond?

Here is how you should plan to answer this part.

Write down all the skills you have developed because of that unique quality. For example, if your spike factor is music, you may have developed leadership skills, a sense of discipline, and perseverance. Perhaps you have become more organized or even more patient. Whatever it is, write down all the skills you have developed because of your spike factor.

Now think about how these skills will come in handy in B-school. For example, a sense of discipline and perseverance can help make sure that you do well in an MBA program as it involves a lot of hard work. A person who has these qualities will be able to work hard even if there are tough times at b-school. If you had to pick one skill from among those mentioned above, make sure that it aligns closely with your B-school goals (see what we are getting at here.

What about the pictures?

Rotman also asks you to upload 1-3 of your ‘spikiest’ pictures. While it goes without saying that you should try and choose the most representative and powerful images to convey the spike you are talking about, Rotman understands that not every applicant goes through life taking pictures of their top moments. So, take it easy, and feel free to go with pictures that may not make it to your local photography competition but that do an excellent job of representing the spike you are writing about.

Should you take ‘inspiration’ from a sample Rotman MBA essay online?

Let us say it out loud – we have seen some of the sample essays available online, and they are poor examples and dangerous. They may lead you to think that there is only one, specific way to approach the essay, while that is not true. Also, some of the ‘spikes’ used in these essays are ones we do not agree with at all.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen hundreds of essays from all walks of life. Anyone specific essay format that anyone lists will not be the magic wand for your essay. It’s more about sharing what passions and stories you want to tell us about yourself. Ultimately, our advice: craft your narrative in a way so that your life is exciting and full of impact. If you can do this, we guarantee an essay has never been so much fun to write!


Also Read

GyanOne success stories – MBA in Canada – Rotman and Schulich

Rotman MBA Admissions Team Interviews with GyanOne



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