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…

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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!

($) One bad grade: Optional essay?

Well this sucks. A Brave Supplicant sent us a question just over a week ago and apparently they wanted our response in time for a deadline that has now come and gone. We always welcome those inquiries and requests for free essay reviews but we really can’t guarantee a specific timeframe on a response (or,…

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Another post on the ridiculousness of rankings

Of course you know that Duke is now the BEST. BSCHOOL. ANYWHERE!!

[warning: long post ahead.]

At least, Duke is now #1 according to the gurus at BusinessWeek who last week released their “best of” list.

And at least, for the next two years. Or whenever BW changes its mind again. And at least, if you consider BusinessWeek the ultimate authority. The Economist released their own list about a month ago and Booth maintains top billing there; Duke is way down at #25 (!) on that list. For whatever reason, EssaySnark has always considered BusinessWeek the de facto “rankings” – maybe because it was the primary game in town when we were back in bschool – we remember the day that rankings came out and posters went up around the school celebrating our position, it was quite a big deal. While we check out the others when they’re released, we tend to study BW’s more.

The BW rankings come out bi-annually so Duke should get to enjoy this top spot for quite some time now – unless BW goes to releasing every year, which we may have heard some rumor about but can’t be bothered to interrupt the writing of this post to go check. Because one year, two years… the reality is that SCHOOLS CANNOT CHANGE THAT FAST.

Maybe a ten-year ranking would offer some value to the marketplace but please. The schools are academic institutions. They are behemoths. Changing stuff at a bschool is tantamount to moving the Titanic. It can happen but it just takes time.

Even when things do change, they never really change. We talked about that before, when we posted the BW Top 20 from 1988. It’s essentially the same schools there too, just in a different order than today. Duke was #10. Stanford was #9. Kellogg was #1.

We’ve already explained our attitude on rankings and why we feel that those who are overfocused on them (for the ‘prestige’ factor) are a little misguided.

And we’ve explained that the BusinessWeek data is unreliable.

Recently we heard someone who is very invested in the rankings industry state that anyone who claims that rankings are meaningless is an idiot. (He didn’t say it exactly like that but pretty close.) He was criticizing consultants (like us presumably) who tell their clients that rankings don’t matter. For the record, we’ve never said that. We understand the need to have some type of yardstick to at least begin the process of separating out the schools. There’s a HUGE difference in going to the College of Nowhere for your MBA versus going to H/S/W – or Duke, or Ross, or even Foster or Rochester or whichever other school we’re talking about.

What we take issue with is the obsession with trying to get into “the best” school.

“The best” school is totally individual and personal. What one person feels is “the best” could be completely opposite to what you feel. That’s where rankings fall short.

Anyone reading this blahg is targeting a top MBA program. To that extent, the schools we discuss here are near-interchangeable – at least, when you try to put a label like “the best” on them. Each school is actually quite unique but it takes some digging in to understand that. Our own criteria for labeling schools “the best” is based on our own interactions with them (and with the people they admit). That’s built off years of experience and us practically dedicating our whole life to this whole MBA admissions gig. The way for YOU to determine which school is best for YOU is, of course, to do your own version of digging in – interacting with the school, visiting campus if at all possible, rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.

And we want to also address the rationale that many people hold up as justifying the importance of rankings: That school ranking is tied to post-MBA salary. The reasoning is, if you go to the best school, you’re going to make more money coming out.

That premise just does not wash.

In terms of averages yes, absolutely: The higher-ranked programs tend to feature higher average graduate salaries. BUT!! The stronger correlation to salary is industry, with financial services leading the pack and consulting close behind.

We can go along with the idea that the recruiters with the deepest pockets are going to be motivated to recruit at the “best” schools and those are the ones where students will be able to negotiate for more money coming out. Sure.

But that does not mean that YOU will be able to do so.

Remember, those are averages. If you have a rockstar background then you’re going to be in demand in the recruiting game whether you’re at Stanford or Harvard … or UC-Berkeley. Those averages are always skewed by an outlier or two. The outliers are NOT dependent on the SCHOOL; they are dependent on the person. The individual. The BSer’s own qualifications and strong profile.

Obviously the person with the strong profile is going to take her pick of which school she goes to. If she plays her cards right, then she’ll get multiple offers. Because she’s a rockstar. And she’ll likely choose the one that’s “the best” – which may or may not coincide with a particular rankings system. It will undoubtedly be in the Top 5 of whatever are deemed popular; she’ll likely choose one of the schools du jour. Or maybe she’ll choose a program that offers her more in scholarship funds – which is a cheap trick that we often see schools throw out. She’s not likely to choose a full ride at Rochester over a no-ride at Wharton, so it never totally tips the scales in a crazy way. But keep in mind that one way schools try to affect their rankings is to fight for the “best” candidates by throwing money at them, because the school knows that those “best” candidates will then be able to attract the “best” salaries in two years’ time – which affect the school’s ranking.

Can you see how the game is rigged?

This is about THE STUDENTS.

That seems to get lost in this whole discussion.

Instead of thinking of which SCHOOL is “the best”, you want to be going to a school that is attracting THE BEST STUDENTS. The ones who will challenge you, who will take you to another level in your thinking, who will help you up your game.

And hopefully the ones who you feel at home with, who feel like your tribe. The community matters so much.

You’re going to be spending two years with these people. The type of person a school attracts really does matter (or it should).

The reason what we focus on a limited set of schools here on the blahg is that those are the schools that are the most competitive to get into. It doesn’t mean you can’t get a very good education at a school like Rochester (we’re totally not trying to diss Rochester, it’s just not a tough place to get into). We have our own Top 19 MBA list which is actually ranked based on how selective they are and how “easy” (if there is such a thing) it might be for someone to break into them. When that was published (May of this year) we put Duke at #7, tied with Kellogg. That may or may not change as we move through the rest of this admissions cycle, based on our prediction that Duke Round 2 is going to be a very different situation this year than it typically is. We’ll have to revisit our Top 19 again next year – though the top 5 positions are unlikely to change.

Basically what we’re trying to say today is YES we agree that rankings are helpful since they give you a starting point to whittle the field of literally thousands of MBA programs down to a manageable starting set to evaluate for your own purposes and needs. But the rankings industry – yes it’s an industry - is very invested in this idea that the “top” schools change from year to year and that those changes are relevant to any individual person. That part is just baloney. A Top 20 school is a Top 20 school and we just can’t see how that will be any different in the next decade. Yes, the AVERAGE salary of a “better” school tends to be higher, but that does not mean that YOUR salary coming out of the “better” school will be higher.

The people part tends to get lost in the analysis.

This is about YOUR LIFE. It’s not a numbers game.

If anyone reading this blahg ends up at any of the Top 19 schools… you’re going to do just fine in life.

We suggest figuring out which of those Top 19 is the right fit for you – and not obsessing about whether some anonymous media publication has deemed it to be “better” or not than some other school – and focusing all of your energy on learning about this program and WHY it’s the right fit, and then working really super hard to express that in your essays.

If you do that, you may be surprised at which schools you CROSS OFF of your list before you’re done.

We’ll leave you with this tweet from a student at NYU Stern:

($) Which Duke Essay 2 option should you choose?

Now that Duke hit #1 on the BusinessWeek rankings you just KNOW that they’re going to get a gazillion apps in Round 2. We had written this post to get published in December but we’ve moved it up since it’s timelier now. This is for the brand-conscious BSers* for whom Duke is now at the…

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Trying for H/S/W? Why “Is my GMAT good enough?” is not the right question.

We work with a lot of candidates. Most of them want to go to Harvard. Or some other rarefied-air school. It’s unusual when we get to tell them “Yes! Go for it! You have everything in place to make this happen!” (Note: This type of assessment is part of our Comprehensive Profile Review write-up. You…

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.