The "How will you contribute" essay, or the "what will you do for us?"
I found this to be quite tough. Primarily because I had little self-confidence in what I could do but also because anything I could think of didn't seem good enough. I wasn't planning on starting a new club, directing curriculum, winning national case competitions, or even making lots of money as an alum and donating swathes of it. However, I honestly don't know what the winning formula is for this question.So I'll tell you what I said in my essay. I'll also provide some observations on the involvement of the current class and what may help to mention. HUGE caveat here - like I said, I don't know the winning formula.
What worked for me
I said that I am an active and engaged student who has been known to stimulate debate in class. This is what I did in my undergraduate degree - so I was a teacher's dream student. I also mentioned the desire to plan a trek to Australia.
Our year hasn't been very active or engaged in the school in general. While the second years lament over the apathy of the first years, Student Services have been quoted saying that involvement is cyclical - one year is not so engaged, but the next year will be. The apathy of our classmates is pretty easy to see when it came to the GBA elections - there were 6 candidates for president last year and only 2 this year, for example. I can't speak for the clubs, but from those that I'm in, there is also just a smattering of interest in leadership positions.
A second observation, one that I will detail a fair bit later, is that some people tend to form friendship groups only with those that are like them. To put it in a less gentle fashion, all the black people have formed tight knit groups, all the Asian people have formed tight knit groups, and all the Indians have formed tight knit groups. While there is a general niceness to others, these particular people just band too tightly and the benefits of knowing and being friends with other people are lost.
I'm going to aim this tip directly at Indian applicants then: if you are from India (i.e. not an American with Indian parents), you have the toughest job of all. I'm estimating about a third of our class are Indian or come from Indian heritage. Many with computer science or engineering backgrounds. Many want to do consulting or work as a product manager in a high tech firm. The vast majority of them band together in those tight knit groups. I can't say if it's indicative of our class or across all classes, but in some ways it's very exclusionary. It's also very disappointing for people like me who want to take advantage of the benefits of diversity and interact on a deeper level with these people. So I would say my biggest tip would be to tout how inclusionary you are. How you do that, I don't know, it's up to you. I strongly recommend mentioning something that makes you different - like being on the social committee of the GBA, or getting involved in Tepper Cares, our philanthropy branch, or even just saying that you will join social or general interest clubs (i.e. not the B&T club or SABA) and actively participate in order to learn another person's culture or lifestyle. The Indian stereotype is the Engineer interested in consulting or high tech and plays cricket. And please please PLEASE don't just say that you'll do this stuff, make sure that you do. Or else otherwise the greatest benefits of going to an American university is lost.
Finally, now that I'm doing a lot of interview preparation, think of it like a job interview - why would a company hire you if you're just going to do the same thing as the job requires? Don't you think you would make a better candidate if you did something above and beyond the requirements, specifically, helping make the company better? The university is like that too. They don't want people who will just come in for school and then leave. They want people who will make the school a better place.