CBS Essay 3: Tips on the "Pleasantly Surprised" Promp

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CBS Essay Question 3: Tips on Answering the "Pleasantly Surprised" Prompt

It's odd that the question that I thought was going to be the most fun this year for many of my CBS clients, has turned out to create the most anxiety and shots missing the target.

What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

It's very typical in the U.S. when you start a new class or activity that people will be asked to go around the circle and introduce themselves and share a fun fact or something others would be surprised to learn. As an aside, I worked in Mediterranean Europe for three years in my 20s and never really saw that type of forced extroversion game played. But it is indeed quite typical in the US to be put on the spot to share something surprising to get the group "warmed up".

Now this question is a repeat from last year, and provides a stark contrast to the more serious career focused questions one and two. From success helping clients and from feedback from CBS, I feel this question is a rare opportunity to be personal, fun and even a bit shocking. Many applicants can't resist turning every question into a heavy-handed leadership/accomplishment essay regardless of the prompt, but please be aware that this is not what principally is being asked.

So what is fair game? Choose something that you regularly do that is out of the ordinary. Like one client biked to work every day over 50 miles, and the genesis of this was a business trip to Holland where he saw hundreds of employees take conservation to heart and cycle to the office. Another client was a former college track star and now ran with homeless men many mornings at 6 a.m. as part of a NYC non-profit (and a few of these men completed the NYC marathon!). Another approach is to talk about an event or experience that was surprising and impactful. One client met his wife when he was 13 on a teen tour and then they reconnected over a decade later and fell in love at first sight - he was going to bring her to CBS to share the experience together. Another client was a pizza aficionado, and took specialized pizza cooking classes before entering her unusual recipe in a culinary competition.

It's worth noting that in excellent topics, in addition to there being something truly unexpected and refreshing to read, there is often some sense that others at CBS may benefit from your passion or oddity. Classmates may also become eco-conscious bikers or volunteer for this NY-based non-profit that incents the homeless to run and "earn" points towards benefits like job counseling.

As always, the word limit can be a challenge, but I always tell my clients to ignore essay length on the first couple of drafts. Only a gifted few can both write and edit simultaneously, and it's better to get all your ideas out first, before you judge your content too critically.
Alex Leventhal
Harvard MBA, 1998
Prep MBA Admissions Consulting
[email protected]