Happy Thanksgiving to our American BSers, and to everyone: Thanks for reading the blahg and giving us an opportunity to help you pursue your dreams, in whatever small way that we have!

Your reactions to Harvard’s cosmetics industry activist.

Just a reminder: We’re gearing up for the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. – we have information on impact to our reviews schedule for active clients in My SnarkCenter.

Today we’re following up on the issue of whether a student “owes” something to a school. This question was raised when a current HBS first-year took a recruiter to task when the recruiter solicited her for an internship. The student in question is very passionate about the issue of chemicals in cosmetics and this recruiter happened to be from L’Oreal. We posted about it here and then we ran a quick poll asking for input. We only got a smattering of responses but those that were offered were insightful and interesting and so we’re going to share them with all of you today.

First of all, we asked your opinion on how the student handled the incident in general:

What do you think about the student's response to the L'Oreal recruiter?

Not one person would’ve done the same? Granted, a sample size of 12 is not massive but still.

We also asked whether it was OK for the student to post the recruiter’s email address on her blog, and most people felt that was not so great:

How do you feel about her publishing the recruiter's name and email address?

Yeah, that seemed a little lame to us, too.

Then we asked for any commentary on the incident, and we got some great remarks. Here they are:

Respondent #1
I know that these schools work hard to bring recruiters onto campus and provide their students with great internships and career opportunities.

But here’s the thing: these schools are still institutions of higher learning. They’re not corporate PR machines. Elite academic institutions need to protect free thought and expression. I don’t think Ms. Assaf owes HBS anything here–I think HBS owes it to her to remain in her corner. If recruiters balk, HBS needs to fight back and say that it remains committed to bringing bright, open-minded people into its hallowed halls and that the corporate world should be excited about the opportunity to hire graduates who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power.

HBS needs to foster this kind of environment, not stifle it.

We didn’t hear anything about HBS stifling anything. -ES

Respondent #2
I think you need to represent the brand of your school well. By all means, disagree, but do so professionally and with courtesy.

Respondent #3
A student should care about how their actions reflect on their school.

I’m not sure how I feel about this incident, except it drive me towards more collaborate, friendly programs even further.

Respondent #4
Almost everyone goes to business school to advance their career, so self-interest, even if it’s for an altruistic cause, is inherent in every BSer. In this sense, BSers should put their own interests ahead of others because what’s good for the individual is USUALLY good for the school. High incomes from grads mean more prestige and $$$ for the school later, which means more recruiting opportunities for future BSers. But self-interest/selfishness doesn’t always produce the best outcomes for the market as a whole (Great Recession?) especially when there are externalities such as reputation and biases at play. As an individual, you represent the school much in the same way that the school is the collective summation of unique individuals. It’s important to portray that brand with respect and professionalism at all times. If one deviates from that course, as determined by the community or the “reasonable person test,” then the individual in the wrong needs to make an apology. I believe BSers have a responsibility to work as a team to collaboratively promote their school’s brand in a way that’s not win-lose. In most situations, there’s a way to make the pie bigger instead of just dividing up a fixed number of slices. Perhaps considering this recruiter as a teammate instead of an adversary would have avoided Ms Assaf’s public berating of a recruiter and instead built a relationship with her to try and fix an organization from the inside. Isn’t teamwork one of the essential skills BSers need to develop in B-school? This situation has the familiar tint that many older generations use to categorize the negative qualities of Millenials. Giving Ms Assaf the benefit of the doubt, however, the issue area may require harsh language and responses in order to bring awareness to the cause. Perhaps Ms Assaf’s negative response was a strategic decision to gain publicity for this issue area. If that’s the case, then she has harnessed the positive network effects of social media effectively and should be respected for her tactical decision-making ability.

Two points in response to this: 1) Re: “recruiter as teammate”: The recruiter is an HBS alum but it doesn’t seem that relationship was top-of-mind to the student; 2) Ms Assaf apparently has disabled comments on those posts on her blog so she seems uninterested in a dialog on the issue. -ES

Respondent #5
No, the student is not under any obligation to act a certain way. That said, a business school is there to provide you with many different career options. If you don’t like a particular company/industry and your personal values conflict with theirs, then you don’t have to reply to their email or go to their panel.

What if some passionate environmentalists decided to protest against an energy company’s presentations? What about if the non-profit/social entrepreneurship folks decided to protest against…all the banks/finance companies? It’s inevitable that there be a conflict of values. But a student doesn’t have to make a big fuss. A company that is not right for them may be right for others. Something like this CAN damage a school’s relationship with an organization, though since this is HBS, it probably won’t matter.

Anyway, the recruiter dashed off a hasty recruiting email and didn’t review the recipient’s resume. Quite frankly, it seems like the recipient’s ego was bruised (how dare you not know who I am and my personal causes!). Quite frankly, I think she should get over herself. There are much better ways to go about creating change, I don’t think this was one of them.

:-) -ES

Respondent #6
I don’t think you explicitly “owe” the school anything in terms of recruiting. However, as a member of a school’s class, I think you need to be aware of how you are representing the school’s brand and identity, as you are now part of the club (or clan or tribe).

In my opinion, the student came across as unprofessional and self-righteous and damaged both the school’s reputation and the career center’s relationship with L’Oreal (albeit in a minor way).

To be fair, she is also young, clearly passionate about the issue, and willing to make a stand for it. Perhaps this, to some extent, reflects the HBS “type” – she’s vocal about her opinions (would speak up in class), not afraid of public scrutiny, and cares enough about issues to do something about it. Also, she’s kinda cute.

That being said, I think what she did was stupid and wouldn’t want someone like that in my class…but maybe that’s why I didn’t get into HBS.

Now you have to be cute to get into Harvard?? Hunh, never knew that one! -ES

Thank you, everyone, for those remarks – it’s interesting to see the different reactions! Does anyone have any further reaction to these reactions? The original poll is still open or you can just add your thoughts in the comments of this post.

And Happy Thanksgiving, to the Americans in Snarkville!

Our views of the admissions consulting industry

Some adcoms are remarkably progressive in their attitudes. This comes through in many of their admissions policies — and perhaps nowhere more strongly than in their reaction to admissions consultants. Some schools are very open and willing to interact with us. Others still hold onto backwards ideas that people shouldn’t seek help on a totally opaque, one-shot-deal opportunity. If you have a complicated tax situation, you get an accountant. If you want to start a business, you ask an attorney. Why such a stigma against seeking out qualified help from an admissions consultant in such a life-critical task?

Anyway, if it weren’t for the complexity of the MBA application process, and the fact that bschool applications are such an imprecise measure of an individual — as many adcoms themselves are quick to admit — there would be no market for admissions consultants. It’s the applications themselves that force candidates to solicit advise. “Why Stanford” – really? You expect someone to just meditate on that and come up with a viable answer, without at least getting some do-this/don’t-do-that type input into their process? Some adcoms have only made the need for consultants even more acute.

If it weren’t for this murkiness, and the sheer competitiveness and high-stakes outcomes, admissions consultants wouldn’t be able to charge so much. Which means the industry attracts all sorts of “consultants” who hang up a shingle – qualified or not.

It is due to the information imbalance that the prices are so high. The lack of transparency in admissions across many bschools means that a good admissions consultant can be a massive advantage. How you determine “good” is a difficult task indeed. That too is murky.

The lack of transparency in the admissions consulting industry means you can easily be taken for a ride. It’s your life at stake, yet the way people so casually toss out advice on message boards is oftentimes shocking.

EssaySnark has just as much of an issue with many of our colleagues in the consulting industry as we do with the ridiculous stance that some admissions directors still maintain against consulting. We’ve talked before about how it’s possible that using a consultant can very well hurt your chances – but that’s not the reason some schools are against it.

The unfortunate fact is that anyone who manages to get accepted to some bschool or other seems to think they are instantly qualified to tell others how to do it. Sure, there’s value in going through the process — but getting yourself into school doesn’t make you an expert across the board in bschool admissions.

There are 20 top business schools in the world, each of which having multiple programs and tracks. Are you saying that you are now well versed in the acceptance preferences and admissions policies of all of them? Yet you’re going to charge hundreds of dollars to issue advice? Wow, that’s ballsy.

This is just a mini-rant, no real purpose to it, except the main message of CAVEAT EMPTOR (“buyer beware”) when it comes to selecting your advisor – and to just state for the record, any bschool that pulls attitude on its applicants for using qualified resources to improve their chances at getting in, get over yourself.


How to contact the MBA admissions office.

We wrote a handful of posts recently on how (and when) you might be able to add things like an updated GMAT score or change in job situation to your application after you’ve already submitted your MBA app.

That sort of overlooks an important part of the process that we should call out separately.

There are times when contacting the admissions office is necessary – either before you apply, or afterwards. This post is for the afterwards communications.

When you submit anything to admissions, try to make their job as easy as possible:

  1. Make sure you submit from an email account that has your full name (with proper capitalization) as the sender, ideally from the same email address that you have used in their online app
  2. Use a descriptive subject line – something like “Updated GMAT score report”
  3. Either in the subject line or in the first part of the email, identify your application file by whatever method the school uses – either an app ID number or your date of birth.

Then write a formal email, with a salutation, a short paragraph (emphasis on “short”) explaining why you’re contacting them, and a formal signature line.

If you’re submitting something, do not forget the attachment! (Pro Tip: Attach the file before you write the body of the email. If you get in this habit with all your email correspondence, you are unlikely to ever forget the attachments.)

If you’re submitting something, then request that they add it to your application – phrased POLITELY, as a REQUEST.

The EssaySnark Team often gets “requests” for stuff and we are frequently surprised at how they are written. A request usually is in the form of a question (that would be one way to approach it, at least).

Remember that EVERYTHING IS BEING EVALUATED. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about things.

The best success story ever.

We have a favorite former BSer who we’ve now followed along the entire process of applying to business school (stress!), to getting in (yay!), to getting scholarship money (double yay!), to getting an exciting internship (crazy!), to landing the most coveted post-MBA job ever (OMG!!!!), to now GRADUATING! and being back in the Real World with those three little initials MBA after their name, raking in the big bucks in the start of an amazing new career.

This person sent us a letter over the summer, and we are posting it here (edited slightly, and with permission) to hopefully inspire all of you who are struggling with the first step of this whole process: applying to business school.

Hi EssaySnark!

I never imagined what it would be like to write this email at the conclusion of my time at [bschool].

I’ve been reflecting all month, it took me that long to write this full email (which is super stinking long), but I figured I would try to capture my thoughts.

I took a much needed break from email. I hadn’t realized just how crazy life had become and just how married I was to my inbox until after graduation, when the barrage finally started to slow down.

Typical to my style, I took on way too many things this last semester and finally found my breaking point – when I realized I wasn’t able to give everything the attention it deserved, and things probably started slipping through the cracks that were too important to let slip. It was an immensely valuable lesson to learn in business school, one of the best ever.

In other news, May held a trip to Puerto Rico with my classmates, two graduation ceremonies, a week with my parents visiting (hosting tourists, even the best kind, was exhausting), a trip to the Outer Banks with 70+ of my non-bschool friends from the East Coast, and a move out of [city]. I don’t think I slept more than 4 or 5 hours a night, it was the most whirlwind month ever.

It was odd, to get to the end of business school, look around and think “okay. I’m good. I learned enough at this place with these people. I’ve met enough good people and enough people that I don’t imagine staying that close to in the future.” I am ready for the next step (and freaked out, since I’ve been promised that I will again feel like an “admissions mistake” when I meet and interact with my future colleagues)

I suppose I expected more nostalgia, but I didn’t really feel that. Just gratitude for the lessons I had learned and the friends I had made, but also a desire to continue on with life. I have learned that I try to grow in every direction I need to at once, which is actually a terrible way to try to grow at all. My summer is going to be spent (and probably the rest of my life) learning how to set one or two goals for personal development at a time, since currently I have about 6-8 floating around in my head at any given point. I think business school also taught me to be more gentle with myself, to appreciate that although my methods aren’t perfect, I have been successful so far with them, and balancing the past success while attempting to change some of my less effective methods for more effective ones.

Most of all, I am grateful for the experience. Grateful for the friends who make me a better person, grateful for the learning opportunities and the ways that I pushed myself even harder and tested my limits. Grateful that I ended up with the exact job I wanted, and another that taught me how important finding the right culture is for my future jobs. What a transformative two years!

And, grateful to you EssaySnark, for helping me find the words to convey how much I wanted to be at [this school], and why I was the right fit. I couldn’t have done it without you, seriously.

Now that I’m finally done with my email/computer hiatus (a month was probably long enough…), I can be a normal, productive member of society again. Looking forward to perusing the blahg again and seeing what’s changed :)

Dunno ’bout you, Blahg Readers, but that gave us chills. :-D

($) essay critique: Columbia essay 1 (background and goals) for finance candidate

This BSer asked for a freebie review of this essay last year – and we didn’t do it for him then. One reason was that he emailed it in to the team, when we have explicit instructions on the site for how to submit requests for review. An inability to follow directions does not endear…

While much of the blahg is available completely for free, the content here is reserved for members with full blahg access only ($5.95/month, cancel anytime). Please login to view this content or purchase a membership – or return to the home page.

HBS and free essay reviews and why we don’t post “sample” essays.

We had an HBS essay come in as a request for a free blahg review recently and we settled down with the scotch — errr, chocolate — no sorry none of that, with the virtual red pen, ready to rip the draft a new one… and lo and behold, this puppy was actually kinda good.

When we had this experience, we tweeted about it, to give the BSer a heads-up that we may not be literally writing a review of it:

And we did consider it… and now we’ve decided, nope, we’re not gonna post it.

Sure, we could do our ‘Snark thang and talk about the sentences that are a little bit screwy or how this paragraph goes somewhat sideways from the theme and what in heck are you trying to SAY here and all of that… But in this case, this person wrote a GOOD ESSAY.

And we don’t get to say that much.

And there’s no way in h3ll that we’re going to tempt all of you well-meaning BSers by posting such a strong draft on the blahg.

We covered this a long time ago with the Why we don’t post sample essays post and it’s not like we think all of you are unethical and would just blatantly steal this person’s ideas. Of course you wouldn’t do that.

The thing is, you might try to adapt his style or his approach – and that’s the part that’s so distinctive about what this person did.

This was a Harvard Business School essay, which is a tough one to do well, no matter how bright and shiny your resume is or how amazing your background. This person made his essay engaging; he was unafraid to show some personality. And he covered some key material along the way. It wasn’t just personality – though personality did come through. Refreshing. You can see that a real person wrote it. How novel!

So instead of us posting the actual draft that was submitted, what we’re doing today is to encourage you to possibly take some risks in how you present yourself on the page.

Of course, this advice will completely backfire for so many, so we also urge you to be cautious.

The reason this person was successful in how they approached the assignment is because they are a DECENT WRITER – who (critically important!!) shows evidence of being a CLEAR THINKER.

The “clear thinker” part is The. Most. Important.

And, this person has also managed to cover some relevant and significant points about their background with the draft that they put together. We go into some strategies and strong recommendations on proper use of your HBS essay in our Harvard MBA essay guide and one of the key points that we always suggest is to focus in on some stuff that you’ve done and show HBS how you are a leader. someone who’s done stuff. That can be interpreted in many different ones, there’s not just one way to do it (which is again why we’re loath to post samples since that would imply that we’re sanctioning the way the one BSer did it, which has potential to do all of you a disservice).

What you need to do as your first step on the way to a Harvard essay is to figure out what you want to say.

The how you say it is not your primary decision. That should come later.

If you have a beautifully-written and intelligently-sounding essay, it’s not going to get you very far if it’s not offering something helpful and new to the reader. Your job is to share something about yourself with them. This is NOT a creative writing exercise.

We encourage you to get the ideas down on paper, and figure out a structure for your thoughts, and understand for yourself THE POINT of it all – and plan it out, before you start writing.

Then, if you have a particular style or a voice or a particular flourish that you want to incorporate in the way that you present these ideas, go to town. Don’t be afraid to show some skin. (Not literally.) Get in the game. Give the reader a sense of the ‘real you’, if you’re brave.

Once those ideas are solid and you have done the hard work of the THINKING part of the assignment, then you have much better chance of impressing your reader with your presentation of them.

If you do it the opposite then you’re likely to end up once again with all fluff and no substance. Don’t confuse the two.

This Brave Supplicant who sent us their Harvard draft had some good stuff to talk about. They connected the ideas through use of a well-defined theme, and they used a could-be-gimmicky-but-they-pulled-it-off opening line to communicate that theme. The essay feels polished, and whole, and there’s some interesting stuff being conveyed. All in all, an impressive draft compared to what we often see.

There’s LOTS of ways to execute on this – as many ways as there are Brave Supplicants applying! Our HBS app guide offers some strong suggestions and guidelines and those can often result in a “safe” essay – which is often enough to make it in, when you’re bringing the goods to back it.

And, you should also not be afraid to riff a little bit.

BSer, we hope this works out for you – please stay in touch and let us know how things go in Round 2!