Business School Brainstorming

Many times, getting started on your essays is the most difficult part. Faced suddenly with the task of presenting yourself and a lifetime of experiences to a faceless stranger, you will need to engage in some serious self-reflection. And yet most people have trouble answering the question, Who am I?

The Brainstormer questionnaire was developed to guide any applicant through the difficult but always rewarding process of introspection. When you finish, you should have the beginnings of some good material for your essay(s).

Some tips on getting the most out of the Brainstormer:
  • Find a quiet place where you can concentrate.
  • Allow yourself enough time to answer every question completely and thoughtfully, and think before you write.
  • Feel free to set the questions aside occasionally, but not for more than a day--you'll lose momentum.
  • Return to the questions more than once, rethinking and adding to your responses each time.
  • Ask family and friends for their thoughts and feedback.
  • This is not a test! You are not being timed, and you won't be penalized if you answer a question unconventionally. If something you write triggers some interesting thoughts or recollections, run with them-without worrying about whether they "fit" into the questionnaire.
  • This is an opportunity for you to find your own voice and discover something about yourself. So relax, and enjoy the process!

MyEssay Brainstormer

  1. List five people who have inspired you.
    The people who inspire you may be living or dead, real or fictional. Who are they? What sorts of qualities do they possess? Did any of them ever say or do something in particular that moved you to emulate or admire them in some way?
  2. What do you read?
    This is not a trick question. Think about it. List several books, especially those you have read for enjoyment; include magazines and comic books; think of your favorite section of the newspaper. What genres do you prefer? What are your favorite books, and why? What characters from literature have fascinated you most? Why do you think you are drawn to these characters? Why do you read the books you do? What have you learned from what you've read?
  3. List three virtues that you admire and respect.
    Name all the virtues (e.g., courage, honesty, loyalty) you find crucial to a happy, ethical, and successful life. What is your definition of true character? Write anything that comes to mind about these qualities, including examples from your own life.
  4. Describe the three most important lessons you have learned.
    We often learn more outside the classroom than in it; many of the things you have done or experienced have taught you special lessons that have contributed to your character. Think of three things your experience has taught you and write as much as you can about how such lessons have changed who you are and how you go about your life.
  5. Describe three memorable experiences you have had.
    The emphasis here should be on descriptions of significant experiences, detailing them and explaining how they affected you. Do not confuse the most memorable experience with the most impressive or exotic; some of the most striking experiences, the ones that remain impressed most vividly on the memory, may have lasted only seconds, in the most commonplace of locales, and yet they may speak volumes about the person you are and what you value. When you have selected three experiences that reveal something unique about your character, try to describe them in as much detail and depth as possible.
  6. Discuss a failure from which you learned.
    How a person confronts a failure or a setback can be extremely revealing. The important aspect of any essay dealing with failure is the ability of the writer to look upon failure as a learning or growth experience, and to assess his or her own mistakes or limitations in a productive, thoughtful way. Concentrate on the positive side of a disappointing experience; avoid complaints and excuses.
  7. Respond to three quotations that are meaningful to you.
    One popular and all too common technique students use in their college essays is beginning essays with quotations from famous people and to use such quotations as keynotes for their essays. Though this approach is not unacceptable, it is commonplace; what is crucial is that you follow the quotation with unique discussions or insights that reflect the specifics of your own experience. Do not simply select a quotation and explain it, or discuss why you agree with it.
  8. What do you consider your greatest success?
    Many students think they have not attained great success yet. But success is a personal matter. Often it is the smallest or quietest of victories that are most meaningful to us. And a success does not need to mean some crowning, dramatic triumph; many times in life we find that what we thought was the prize at the end of the undertaking was not really the greatest benefit of the adventure.
  9. Name five things you know.
    You learn all your life, from your mistakes and your successes, from yourself and from others. The goal here is to write down the things you have learned from your experience. Together they will add up to a distinctive picture of you and your unique perspective on life.
  10. What is your definition of happiness?
    Give this some thought. What brings you happiness, and why? When and where are you the happiest? Determining what makes you happy is good way to make sense of what is most valuable to you and begin finding out what you really want from life. Even if you do not end up using any of the ideas that you come up with here in your essays, this is always a worthwhile exercise!
  11. What are your earliest memories?
    Regardless of how insignificant they seem, describe the first memories you have in as much detail as possible. The very fact that these images or experiences have remained impressed upon your memory for so long means there is most likely something meaningful about them. What places and people figure most in your childhood memories? In what ways has your perspective changed since childhood?
  12. What do you parents remember about you?
    Ask your parents to recall incidents that, to them, has significance in the picture and history of you, or that exemplifies the person you are.
  13. What is an education supposed to provide?
    List all the reasons an education is important to you as an individual. Consider everything--classes, people, activities--and ask yourself why each is valuable.
  14. List five special things about yourself.
    What makes you different from everyone else? Write anything that comes to mind: Are you very tall or very short? Do you have a special talent, from playing the piano to riding a unicycle? And of what aspects of your personality are you most proud?
  15. What has been the most significant change in your life?
    In what ways have you or your life changed? How did you face or react to that change? How has your perspective on yourself or the world around you been altered?
  16. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?
    You may have a story to tell that says a great deal about you and your sense of humor. Write down any laughable tales about yourself; this anecdote should, ideally, be more than merely funny. It should reveal something positive about you as a person, your insight, sense of self, and writing ability.
  17. Name three places that have intrigued you.
    We have all been to places that have had an impact on us in some way, in good ways and bad, by inspiring our imagination or opening our eyes. Describe the places you have been in detail, as well as your memories, feelings, and thoughts of actual experiences. You should attempt to find out why a particular place moved you the way it did. Do not fall into the common trap of writing a dull, generalized "My trip to Europe taught me so much" essay. And do not worry if you are not a veteran world traveler; often illumination can be found in the most ordinary of places--a local neighborhood, a stretch of highway near your hometown, or even a particular room in your house.
  18. Discuss three objects that have special significance for you.
    Think of three objects that are meaningful to you, because of whom or what they represent or the memories they invoke. Build a narrative or some sort of discussion around each one to explain its significance.
  19. What is your favorite social activity?
    What do you like to do with other people? Why do you enjoy this activity, and what rewards do you reap from it?
  20. What is your favorite intellectual activity?
    What do you do that challenges your mind? Whatever it is (chess, or poetry, for instance), write it down and discuss why you enjoy it.
  21. Describe yourself to a stranger.
    What do you look like to yourself? What is your most salient characteristic? How would you describe yourself? How do you walk? Whom do you remember? Have fun with this one!
  22. Discuss a fear you have overcome.
    As you write, keep in mind that to master a fear is an extraordinary thing of which you should be proud. Do not be afraid of admitting weakness; concentrate on the positive outcome of your experience and the things you learned in the process of confronting the beast.
  23. List three goals you have in life.
    Where do you see yourself five, ten, twenty years from now? Do you have a dream? How have you prepared for it? How did you arrive at this goal? Why is this goal the right one for you? If your goal is realistic and your commitment to it sincere, you should be able to answer all these questions, after some thought.
  24. List ten things you like and ten things you dislike.
    Do not think too much about this one; react to your immediate feelings.
  25. What question have you always wanted answered, and why?
    It could be said that curiosity, be it intellectual, philosophical, or whimsical, is at the heart of a thoughtful, productive life. To what question have you always wanted an answer? Regardless of the nature or weight of your question, it should be something that has meaning for you, and that would require an answer you truly care about and want to know. Discuss why the question is important to you.