($) More on “standardized” Letters of Recommendation

This is a heads-up to further clarify schools’ expectations and requirements on letters of recommendation. We went in great (excruciating) detail on this topic awhile back and since then we’ve discovered even more about these “standardized” LOR questions that you need to be aware of. What more would we possibly say if they’re “standardized”? Well…


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Comments like this always make us kinda sad.

But! It has a happy ending:

Your blog and books have been an immense help in my application process, so thank you. I have applied to 5 schools in Round 1 (Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Kellogg, Stern) and 2 in Round 2 (Booth and Sloan). I wish I knew this blog when I were applying to Round 1, since I was rejected to all schools except Stern (accepted) and Booth (waitlisted).

If only we could find more of you BSers earlier in your process…

In this BSer’s case, all’s well that ends well – they enlisted our help with their waitlist strategy and they made it into Booth! But we’re pretty convinced that they could’ve made it into Columbia and Kellogg, too, based on the strength of the profile. It was execution on the essays and a misunderstanding of the importance of the different components and how it all fits together that did them in. Still, Booth is a great school, so no problem there, right? It’s just in that category of, “I wonder what would have happened if…”

If you’re just getting started with your applications, and you’re planning on trying for these high-end schools, then obviously you found us before it was too late, which is great! Many people make out just fine by leveraging this blahg and our books to support their applications.

It’s also not too late to use us for your Round 1 applications. We’re working through this long holiday weekend here in the U.S., and we’re even accepting new clients for HBS (though frankly if you’re just getting started on that app then we are a little skeptical that you’ll really be able to pull off a winning essay in the time available – yes it’s possible but you’re not making it easy on yourself!! we can tell you if what you’ve got might be in the realm of possibility or not if you go for our HBS Essay Decimator – and we can tell you if you might benefit from pushing things out to Round 2 instead).

Finally: Our Sanity Check application review process is also very helpful for many. This is where you submit the entirety of your application to us and we look at it from the perspective of the adcom at your target school. It’s kind of an “Is it hot or not?” type analysis. We let you know if you’re making some completely avoidable blunder that might cost you the admit, or if you’ve put the pieces together in such a way that yeah, you might actually have a chance!

We always love it when we get to say the latter.

Good luck with all your efforts, Brave Supplicant – the next few weeks will be crazy but we’re here to help you survive it!

Crazy. We’ve been doing this for five years now.

The first post went up on the EssaySnark blahg on August 30, 2009:

First Post Ever

Funny thing is, five years ago, the end of August was just the beginning of the craziness – the first deadlines were still a month out. My, times have changed.

To celebrate this 5-year milestone, we are doing something ridiculous: Get $50 off any Full-Set Essay Decimator service (including the One-Essay-App or HBS Essay versions), or the Complete Essay Package or 4-School Set. You must click through the link on this post to activate the discount for that product. Available today only, for a very limited time – as in, this expires in a few hours. Please don’t write us in tears next week saying you missed it and asking for us to honor it. If you managed to stop by today and decided to act, bingo, you get the deal.

Why we would want to get more work coming in now when things are already nuts is just … crazy. But hey, why not spread more of the ‘Snark around, right?

It’s been five years on the blahg already and we don’t see any reason to quit.

($) essay critique: Darden “courageous professional decision”

We’ve managed to start a trend of posting essay reviews on Saturdays – see the “Why Duke?” essay from two weeks ago and last week was Kellogg’s “Resilience. Grit.” essay. We’re working through this backlog of submitted free essay review requests by posting another today, which is the Darden essay about being brave at work…


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($) You remember that Indiana Jones movie?

Have you ever seen that Indiana Jones movie when he comes to the edge of a cliff and there’s this huge chasm, but no bridge, and he has to take a leap of faith? If you have seen this movie (Last Crusade) then you totally know what we’re talking about and you probably could even…


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($) “Most significant accomplishment” a la Haas essay 2 and others

Here’s some quick advice that came up for us when reviewing a set of Haas essays submitted by a Brave Supplicant recently. Berkeley essay 2 asks for your “most significant professional accomplishment” and other schools ask about similar stuff. Kellogg and Ross and Yale all have questions that go along these lines. This means there…


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Beware the kitchen-sink strategy.

A better way to put it: A kitchen-sink strategy is not a strategy.

Your goal in applying to business school should not be to dig up every little detail and aspect of your life, academic and professional and extracurricular, over the past ten years and cram it in somewhere in the application – or cover it all in your HBS essay. You’ll end up with a Frankenstein monster if you do that. Or you’ll look like this guy:

Is he armed and ready for the most amazing Labor Day party that’s ever been?

Or is he preparing to go live under a bridge?

No matter what, we see that guy on the sidewalk, we’re crossing to the other side of the street.

Your goal is to craft an impression of yourself for the adcom to hang onto as they read through your application materials.

Just because there’s five random things that you could share about yourself does not mean that you SHOULD share them. (Unless the school has asked for a list of “Random Things”, in which case, obviously you should!)

If you’ve worked at three different jobs in the past four years, then you’re at risk for being perceived as a drifter.

If you’ve been helping out with your family business on the side, then you should only incorporate that fact into your pitch if your contribution has been meaningful, and long-term, and if you can show how it’s relevant to what you say you want to do in the future.

The other oddity that reinforces the “kitchen sink” feeling is all the stuff we sometimes see jammed in an online app under the Extracurriculars section. Often, many of the things cited don’t really seem like extracurriculars. Lists like that can sometimes come across as a little desperate. This is especially true when the majority of them are 5+ years old, like from college.

Or this real-life example:

It’s great if you served as advisor to your buddy’s home brew operation. Do you include that in your app?

Sure, if this home brew thing is a fledgling business, and if you added real value to getting it off the ground. If it’s just a hobby? And your contribution was taste-tester of the brews? Well…

Consider what impact each element of your application will have. The whole needs to add up to greater than the parts. Sometimes what we see from applicants is a jigsaw puzzle – unassembled, just the pieces tossed in a pile. It’s up to YOU to develop the messaging that shows the reader – someone who’s never met you, who’s forming opinions about you based on what you share with her – you need to show her who you are and why those elements are important, in the context of getting an MBA and potentially making a contribution to her bschool community.

The goal of an application is not to shove in every last bit of data about what you’ve ever done with every waking moment of your life. It’s to craft a picture of yourself for the adcom. Which you do, based on what you include. We recommend doing so INTENTIONALLY.