Today is the last post in our Resume Week series. First post here, in case you missed it! (Can you believe that another week has cruised past? How on earth did it happen that HBS Rd 1 is in less than two weeks?!?) What we’re going to suggest to you today is really-truly still related…
“EssaySnark! I’ve done so much stuff!” The worst thing in the world with an MBA app is a datadump instead of a resume. When BSers hear that their resume can be only one page long, there is often a) panic, b) resolve to include everything anyway. If you’re tweaking your font size down in an…
It’s Resume Week! Every day this week, we’ll be discussing MBA application strategies around the resume as a key component within your overall presentation. Today is a Q&A from different BSers trying to figure out how to optimize the info that they should be sharing, and where. These all came in at various times from…
It’s so weird. When we decided to do this, we were all excited about the alliteration. RESUME WEEK! It just sounds like it’s meant to be, right? And then when we started writing the posts, we’re like, “Hmmm, but it’s not actually alliterative.” That may mirror your experience of creating your resume. You THINK you’re…
Today we’re looking at an actual honest-to-goodness essay that an intrepid Brave Supplicant has written for HBS, and sent in for us to look at and talk about here on the blahg! In case you’re new in these parts, we’ve got this little thing on offer where, if you’re feeling especially courageous, and you’re willing…
First tip: You should definitely be filling out your app dataset if you haven’t started that already! Second tip: Only do that for your FIRST SCHOOL — not all of them — else you’re likely going to set yourself up for a very muddy process. Why? Because you don’t currently know what your full strategy…
A lot of what we do here is coaching around essays, and today’s post may make some of you click away, thinking it’s insignificant. But it’s not.
Everything matters in an essay, and one of the best ways to succeed in life is sweating the details.
Here are two sentences pulled from a newspaper article about an unfortunate event.
This paragraph is from the first third:
[T]he grievously wounded woman, who soon died at a hospital was a police officer, too: Katlyn Alix, a 24-year-old Army veteran with two years on the force. And St. Louis authorities soon said she was killed by a colleague.
And here’s a paragraph about halfway through:
The bizarre shooting comes at a difficult time for the department, which is already under national scrutiny after four St. Louis officers were indicted by a federal grand jury in November in the brutal beating of a 22-year police veteran who had been posing as a protester during 2017 demonstrations over a fatal police shooting.
Here are your questions:
1. How old was the officer who had been shot?
2. How long had that officer served on the police force?
3. How old was the officer who was indicted?
4. How long had that officer served on the police force?
Do you see the issue?
Anyone want to comment on this? How would you write these two sentences to fix it? Let’s talk about it!
We’ve offered lots of past warnings about tone and messaging in the context of “contribution” essays for your MBA app, and today is another that’s worth studying if you’re tackling one of these beasts. The essay prompt may ask, explicitly or implicitly, “What will you contribute?” It comes up in the MIT “mission” essay that…
We’re not talking about your life.
We’re talking about your essays.
Which, at this point on the calendar as we head into Round 1, may be (should be!!) one and the same!
We realize that some of you just rolled out of bed and looked at the calendar and rubbed the sleepboulders from your eyes to realize that, “Oh. Hey. Aren’t some applications due pretty soon?” And you haven’t really begun the heavy lifting of writing any essays yet. (If that’s you: You still have time to go through all the steps of the Complete Essay Package and come up with a strong pitch!)
But others have been writingwritingwriting and despite our many warnings about DON’T DO THAT!! you wrote a full draft for Harvard’s open-ended question, or about Stanford “What matters most?”, as your very first project.
And now you have a frankenstein monster that’s 2,000 words and has every single thought that you’ve thunk in the past three years referenced somewhere.
As much as it pains us to even suggest it: It might be better to start over.
We see signs when this might be the best (only) way out of an essay morass with things like this:
- The introduction says stuff that’s never referenced again anywhere in the essay. Ever.
- The same story appears in multiple places, but only in bits and bobs.
- There’s timewarping out the gazoo.
- The essay is 3x as long as it’s allowed to be by the school’s instructions.
- The essay commits the #1 worst mistake in all of essays to bschool ever.
These are just some of the signs, and it’s certainly not an exhaustive list. But if even one of those is present in a draft, it is a good indication you may be headed for trouble.
It’s possible to do open-heart surgery on a draft that’s in trouble, but usually, it just makes a mess and gets guts on the floor and the patient ends up dying on the table anyway. And then the surgeon is exhausted and goes out to have a cigarette and doesn’t come back for two days.
That’s inefficient and non-productive (and dangerous: somebody’s gonna slip and fall in that mess of guts you left behind).
So yeah. We’re saying to put this beast out of its misery and start over.
But you know what?
If you do this, it may be painful at the beginning — just because that decision to drop what you’ve started and abandon all the words you wrote seems like a defeat.
But very, very soon, if you do this and ditch the too-long/overfraught/impossible spaghetti-mess of a document that you’ve constructed, and you do that horrible little step of “File->New” in Word, and stare at a pristine blank page that’s seemingly laughing back at you…
If you have the bravery to do that, then guess what?
It’s highly likely that the same good ideas you had before will still be there. Those good ideas will still make their way to this draft. And very soon, after going through some emotional angst in the difficult decision, you’ll start to see sunlight again, and you’ll get energized.
That is, provided you don’t repeat the same process that got you the Frankenstein before.
You need to start over and do the first step differently.
Don’t start over by writing a new draft.
If you do this, then you need to START OVER WITH OUTLINES.
Figure out EXACTLY what the answer to the question is first. This needs to be YOUR FIRST STEP.
Now that you’ve written a bunch on this topic, you will have a whole arsenal of ideas to pull from. The step that many people skip is ORGANIZING THOSE IDEAS. Selecting the best ones, and leaving the others aside for another essay on another day. Structuring your thoughts. Putting things in their proper place. Sticking with the skeleton form of an essay first. Not writing it.
If you just start writing, the draft will end up looking like the inside of your brain looks: a frenetic upchuck of random crazy thoughts and ideas that may be tangentially related but really don’t make all that much sense. (Isn’t that how your thoughts work in your head? Lots of pingponging? Associations and tangents? Snippets and memories and muddiness and distractions? We often see essays that are a direct representation of the thought patterns going on in the person’s brain. Revealing that to the adcom is not actually a good way to get into bschool. 😉 )
Here’s some actual honest-to-goodness real-life feedback we gave to a BSer after coming to the conclusion that this person’s Harvard draft was similarly unsalvagable:
(Such feedback — and plenty more like it, that’s actionable and specific and very very detailed — is given through our Essay Decimator Essay Review service, in case you were wondering.)
Remember, writing essays is not a writing exercise.
There are very, very few people who know what they want to say before they start writing — yet they start writing anyway. And then they have an essay that doesn’t know what it’s saying.
Don’t be that guy.
Sometimes the quickest way to where you want to get is to slow down, or even, sometimes, to start over.
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