If you missed Part 1 of this topic, go read it here first and then continue on. So here’s the thing: When you’re truly differentiated, you kinda know it. You might be the type of person who realizes that you could come across as braggy in certain situations if you’re not careful, because…
Northwestern Kellogg has an MBA entire essay question asking about values this year, and Stanford has asked “What matters most” for years and years and years. Values-driven companies are more attractive to employees, and it’s becoming a prominent feature at many top MBA programs that values are examined and explicitly expressed as part of their…
We’re reblahgging this from the ‘snarchives since it’s an important topic!! You can see some comments below from BSers who’ve gone before, asking about their own strategies — feel free to post your own such questions too if you have them! This is one of the most important decisions that you will make in…
This is another follow-on post to the “3 Innocent Mistakes” that we wrote about previously. You need to become the type of differentiated applicant that the schools want to see. You need to have a multi-dimensional approach. Stories of leadership and impact are ever more important in this day and age – but unfortunately, from…
Everybody is interested in entrepreneurship now, and many applicants have tried their hand at something entrepreneurial in the past. That’s especially true since the entrepreneurship emphasis has filtered through society into colleges, and many younger applicants are now trying for bschool after having had school-sanctioned venture-ish experiences while earning their bachelor’s. Or, maybe a buddy…
We cover topics of GMAT score and GRE too in many posts, so this is just a quick-and-dirty reminder that a) there’s a lot of stuff in the ‘snarchives and b) if you’re asking “Is it good enough?” then most likely, that means you need to retest. 🙂 Because unfortunately many applicants get the disease…
One of the very resilient myths out there in MBA Admissions Land is that you need to work for some big-brand famous-name company in order to get into Whanvard. We’ve covered such myths many times before:
- 3 Myths about MBA Admissions
- *Really* debunking the “big-name company” myth
- And this alternate take: 5 Myths about MBA admissions – and why they’re actually true
If the companies you’ve worked at aren’t recognizable names that your admissions reader will instantly know about, then yes you do need to utilize particular techniques in how you present your work history on your resume and how you introduce your achievements at those companies when discussing them in essays (basically, you set context to convey what you do and what the company does, or for the clunkiest method of all, you use parenthesis on the resume to state the industry the company operates in — which we don’t actually recommend, since there’s more elegant ways to convey it, but many people do this and it’s fine). We coach on these more-elegant techniques in our Reworking the Resume App Accelerator and provide feedback about it as needed in the Essay Decimator essay reviews too.
The adcoms do not care that you have not worked for a famous company. They do not care that you have not worked for a company of any certain size. They only care about the impact you’ve had, given the circumstances and situations you’ve been in. Size of company and type of employer are totally irrelevant.
The other tricky angle is if you work for a family business, but even that is not a problem per se; it just needs to be handled carefully. Check out the ‘snarchive on family business for a starting point if that’s you.
There’s one way that working at a big company might be an incredible advantage.
Or more precisely, working at certain big companies. In certain locations. Like major cities on the East and West Coasts of the United States.
The advantage is this: The admissions directors of top bschools tend to go to those companies to do private info sessions just for them.
When a company hires a lot of undergrads from a university like the University of Pennsylvania, and then two years later, many of those employees are in the market for applying to bschool, then it makes sense that Wharton — and Harvard, and Columbia, and Stanford — may want to be attracting interest from them. When there are deep connections of a university to an employer, then these not-open-to-the-public meet-and-greets tend to happen more.
It seems royally unfair that an admissions director of a top school will be going to your company and spending a few hours there. But that’s how it works in the Real World.
We’ve even heard of some companies hiring admissions consultants to work with all of their analysts on their apps. Wow, talk about a perk of employment!
If you’re in a position to take advantage of any of these on-site meetings with admissions folks, then obviously we say, take advantage! If you’re just some shmuck who’s at a small firm doing good in your community, you’ll need to work harder for your access to admissions.
Such access does not guarantee anything. Even the Mr. Important candidate from Elite-Prestige, Inc. is gonna have to impress the admissions reader when time comes for that app to be submitted. But still. It seems like the playing field is tilted just a tad, that the business schools do this. The answer they give is, it’s the same information they make available publicly at any other info session, and they offer those aplenty at this time of year. It just rubs the wrong way, at least to us, the little guy always concerned about trying to be fair.
What we’re going to cover today is what we cover over and over again on this here snarkolicious blahg – and it’s one of the slipperiest techniques to master. It’s also perhaps the most sophisticated, and while we cannot say that if you write your essays using this technique, that you’re guaranteed to be accepted,…
Writing good MBA admissions essays is an acquired skill. That means that you will go through the Four Stages of Learning in your process of developing your applications this year. This model is also referred to as The Hierarchy of Competence and we’ve seen it depicted in a number of ways:
Or our personal fave:
However there’s a problem with learning skills for your apps which is unique to this domain and which is wholly unappreciated by most.
The problem is this: You think you already know how to write an essay.
The Hierarchy and Four Stages models are all totally understandable and easy to accept when considered as part of learning a new skill. You decide you want to learn how to play golf, you know it’s going to be new and different and challenging. You KNOW that you don’t know it, and you know it’s a process to learn.
With writing essays, most people THINK they already know how to do it.
That means, that they THINK they’re at Stage 4 – Unconsciously Competent.
(But they’re actually at Stage 1.)
“Write an essay? No prob. I got this. I just gotta figure out what I’m gonna write about and I’m golden.”
Write write write.
Write some more.
Maybe have a friend read it and say it’s good.
Wait wait wait….
and get rejected.
The only way that most people discover their essays are not good is when their apps are rejected.
And even then, many people will never understand that that was the problem.
They stay at Stage 1: Unconsciously Incompetent for-ev-er.
The part of it that makes EssaySnark cry is that many of the people who are rejected because their essays sucked are actually really strong applicants who could’ve made it in. Had they only known.
So please consider this a PSA: More likely than not, you do NOT know how to write a good essay.
It’s definitely possible to learn this skill on your own (we’ve created an entire blahg dedicated to helping you do so) or you might want to seek out assistance from a qualified admissions consultant (please note the qualifier of “qualified” in that phrase). Just recognize what you’re up against and know that you’re in Stage 1 right now.
The best way to learn new skill is to dive in!
Smart school administrators keep their mouths shut about their competition. Because like really, how could you know??
EssaySnark has trouble enough keeping track of all the changes and trends going on across the MBA landscape, and it’s OUR JOB to keep track of them.
How can you expect a school admissions person to know what all the other schools are doing with their curricula, research, and programs every year?
If you hear an admissions person or a school dean say that theirs is “the only” school that has such-and-such, well, they’re almost undoubtedly wrong.
The utter ridiculousestness part of this is: Many rankings systems rely on deans to rank their peers.
YES!! Some deans apparently have a hard enough time keeping track of what's going on in their own schools! How in heck do they have a clue what any other school is doing? TYFT https://t.co/9jwu55eLRZ
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 13, 2019
EssaySnark is not going to change that system — though we do think you should be aware of it! It’s just one of the many reasons we think rankings are stupid.
We are much more concerned, though, about the influence that we hope to have in the context it matters: What you say in your essays.
If you feel tempted to write in your essays that you want to go to some school because it’s “the only” school that has such-and-such — based on what you heard a dean or an admissions person say — then you’re probably only repeating a fallacy. And that seems kinda lame. Like, in this era, we should all be vigilant about not perpetuating fake news, right?
If you don’t see the problem with that, fine. You’re right. Repeating to the school what the school themselves said cannot be that much of a crime. But much more important to consider is the actual utility of such a statement on your chances of admission. Will it help you? That’s the lens through which to evaluate everything you say in your MBA app.
Even though the school themselves said that they’re “the only” school for blahbaddyblah1, for you to say it is not helping you to make your case for why you want to go to that school. It may seem like it’s making the case, but it’s not.
Because presumably, the thing-you’re-citing as so important is, sure, cool and maybe groovy and perhaps Top-100 level awesome. But if you don’t make it into the school you’re slathering all this praise on, you’ll go somewhere else, and that school will serve your professional development needs just dandy. Which kind of refutes the whole idea of pitching one school on being “the only one” for you. If schools are essentially interchangeable, then talking up one feature in an essay as being soooooo important can sort of come across as butt-kissing. Just a bit. You know?
We know where this comes from though, and it’s not an intentional evil. It’s just how stuff happens. Like a game of telephone.
(We won’t name names or anything but) we’ve heard bschool deans utter absolute nonsense in media interviews, probably in full innocence and not meaning to actually lie, but they end up totally misrepresenting what’s available in other schools when they do it. And you, innocent BSer, hear this dean say something, and you latch onto it as a Good Reason, and don’t investigate further. You take it at face value, but it turns out maybe not actually in the real world to be true.
It’s kinda like the thing about an MBA admissions consultant who advertises that they used to work as Admissions Director at Business School X, implying what an advantage that must be. That may sound very, very alluring — wouldn’t you want to get the help of someone who used to evaluate applicants? They must be the insider of all insiders! They will bring all of the secrets!
But there are some serious issues in moving from one side of the admissions table to the other, the biggest being that evaluating an end product to decide if it’s someone to accept is a totally different task than coaching a candidate on how to work through their raw material to construct that end product, that will then be accepted by the admissions person. Sure, they’re both about looking at you with a critical eye to see if you have those traits that the business schools want in their classes. But it’s a very different set of skills to help someone build a great application, versus saying, “Yes, no, waitlist” on the other end of that process.
It’s the same type of thing with a school bragging about its awesome initiatives, programs and opportunities. When an admissions person does their song and dance at an information session, they’re in sell-mode: They’re telling you all the great things about their school. It’s only natural to want to do some compare-and-contrast in how differentiated they are against their peers.
Because you know what? All the schools really start to sound the same if you’ve been listening to a few of these pitches.
The rep from the school isn’t intending to lie. They are just phrasing things that way to showcase their advantages and their benefits. Or, maybe, someone who did some competitive analysis of their new offering against the marketplace of their competitor schools came up with the conclusion that theirs is a new program, that no other school has it, and they’ve tagged that into their marketing ever since, believing it to be true.
It almost definitely isn’t.
If you hear something at School X and get all excited about it, then definitely take notes on that — it could be something that’s really powerful to talk about in your essays, when you can articulate the reason you get excited about it.
But if someone tells you their school is “the only” to do blah blah blah, then skip that part if you reference it in your apps, and also, don’t be deterred from researching the MBA marketplace for yourself, to see if that same feature exists at some other school, too. Ask around. See what your contacts say. It can be a little awkward to stumble into this for yourself. You hear that School X is “the only” school that has such-and-such, and then the next day you’re talking to a student at School Y who asks which other schools you’re considering, and you say, “School X, because they’re the only ones that have such-and-such” and she’s all, “We have such-and-such. We’ve had that for years.” And you’re like, “Oh.”
Of course, there’s exceptions to this statement, but on the whole, there aren’t that many new things out there in bschool-land. Schools tend to copy each other. Maybe School Y doesn’t have exactly the same thing but they have something really similar, or they’re calling it something different. One example is the major (or concentration, or whatever your school calls it) of Organizational Behavior. That’s an old standby that every school offers; most schools have a required course in the core curriculum, that all students take, in Organizational Behavior. Well guess what? Booth just renamed their version to “Behavioral Science” which ya gotta admit, sounds way sexier.
Most schools do have what the other schools offer.
Perhaps School Y school isn’t broadcasting its presence on campus so loudly, maybe because they’ve had it around a long time and it’s not the latest shiny object that’s being featured in their own PowerPoint, or they have so many other fabulous things that they aren’t making that a #1 priority in their marketing. This is another reason why your own school research can be so fruitful, since you can uncover those hidden gems — and if you are able to feature those in your essays and talk about why they’re important to you, it can go a long way to making a convincing argument.
Saying in an essay that they’re the only school to offer some certain program isn’t that compelling. It just says they have the program. Tying your statements into your own personal reasons is always a more powerful way to pitch your reader.
And basically: Critical thinking. Critical thinking is how to live in this world. Not being critical, but being a careful consumer of information you’re being told.
Including by us!
Think stuff through. Vet it for yourself. Make sure it makes sense before you adopt it for your worldview.
Or your essays. 😀
ETA 2 weeks later: Refreshingly, we just saw MIT Sloan admissions respond to a question in a chat with “I don’t know how we compare to other schools.” Yay Sloan!
1 Does anyone know how this should be spelled? Doesn’t look right. Suggestions? Leave ’em in the comments please!