We recently went over some trends in admissions as revealed by the Class of 2020 profiles being released by the top American MBA programs and we gave some cautions and lookouts for international vs U.S. candidates. And we’ve been fielding questions from some concerned BSers as a result, among them: If the competition is getting…
Have you ever had someone push their phone in your face to show you a picture — and for the life of you, you could not figure out what you were looking at?
Don’t make your essays be like that.
When someone has a photo on their phone, chances are that they’re the one who took it. They’re the one who was at that place at that time, looking at that thing that they decided was important enough to capture forever. (Or at least until Apple decides to push an iPhone update that bricks their phone and makes them lose everything that had not been recently backed up. Because THAT never happens. Effing Apple.)
Sorry, where were we?
Oh yeah. Someone’s all, “Look, isn’t this great?” And they’re waiting for a reaction and you’re just staring at the phone, trying to get oriented.
Or even worse, they pull it away and swipe to another one. “See?”
And you’re all, Nope, nope, nope, can’t see a thing, no idea.
And if it’s a new acquaintance, you smile and nod and say “Cool!” and pick up your drink.
Well guess what? The equivalence of “Cool!” from your adcom reader’s side is, “Whelp, don’t know what THAT is supposed to be about, let’s move on,” and they swipe left — to the next application in the stack.
One of the most fundamental problems with the essays you’ve written is that YOU’VE WRITTEN THEM.
Meaning, YOU know what they’re about.
You were there. You had the experience. You can pull it up instantly in your head as a memory.
(Or at least, we HOPE you can! If you’re fabricating essay topics out of whole cloth then that’s another problem entirely.)
For anything but a career goals or “why MBA?” essay, good essays are stories used in response to the question.
And even for those other essays, stories are often required to do a good job in answering!
But for the majority of schools, you’ll have essays that almost entirely are comprised of a story. Berkeley Haas’ 6-word story essay is a prime example.
How do you make sure that your essay is not an undefined blur of a picture for your adcom reader?
1. Start by answering the question. This may seem soooooo basic but trust us, it’s really going to help you make sure you’re writing on target to what has been asked. There are other ways to do it, including what this Kellogg applicant attempted, but oftentimes those types of approaches are being creative for creativity’s sake. Or trying to be clever or cute. Or some other motivation beyond just being direct. If you are direct in your essays, you cannot lose.
2. Include details. You need to think like a reporter when you’re setting things up. Remember, your adcom reader does not know you. Don’t be like the guy flashing his phone in your face to show you his photo.
All of this may seem overly simplistic and totally obvious when we write it out here — but please don’t discount this advice. Add this post to your favorites (see that little button at the bottom? Active blahg members get access to the Favoriting system which is our on-site bookmarking tool). Come back to it later. Examine your draft – test your writing against what we’re saying. Because apparently this is not so basic.
If all of this were so obvious as you seem to believe, then why do so many of your essays suck worse than black jelly beans?
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This is gunna come too late for many of you — or maybe not.
Today we’re gunna talk about Stanford and every other “reach” school — but especially Stanford. And oh yeah, every other reach school. And probably every school you apply to that is competitive.
So we’re talking about everything.
The not-helpful advice for today is, You have to show up for this.
Phoning it in on your apps will not work.
That’s especially true for Stanford because of what they need to see.
You know how you were planning on talking about Touchy-Feely in Stanford Essay B?
Yeah, you and the other 8,171 people applying.
The very basic techniques that you’ve heard about telling the adcom stuff that you like about their school simply aren’t enough for a school like Stanford.
If you use that standard technique to mention Touchy-Feely for Stanford Essay B, then you a) need to know what Touchy-Feely is really about, and b) your Stanford Essay A better be showing some touchyfeelz*.
And the only way to do THAT is to a) take the time and b) be willing to dig deep.
Superficial answers are not going to cut it at Stanford.
If you’re sitting here now wondering, “Well shoot. EssaySnark just last week said I have to do the work or I’m not gunna have a chance. I know I haven’t done the work. I also know that Round 1 is an advantage for a school like Stanford. But if I haven’t done the work, I should just put it off till Round 2. Right?”
Sitting here today, when the clock is counting down to a deadline in a few days, then you’ve probably already made the decision for your Hail Mary or not. But if you haven’t, and had decided to go for Round 2 instead, then we hafta warn you:
Every year we work with at least a small handful of BSers in your shoes who recognize that they were phoning it in up to this point, that they hadn’t buckled down to actually focus on the hard work of figuring out this essay stuff. So they decide to punt. Round 2 it is.
And then what happens is, come middle of December, they suddenly wake up like a bear being roused from its winter’s nap too early, and they look around with blinking eyes and they’re all, “How did that happen? How did we get to December already?”
And then they futz around for another week, with even more easily-justifiable excuses like holiday parties and Christmas shopping, and then it’s time for eggnog and Rudolph and they still haven’t managed to write any essays.
So if in your heart of hearts, you know that that’s you…. Please do not punt till Round 2. Please just revert to your college days and do an all-nighter tonight.
Because if you’re gonna end up cutting corners and doing a mad dash at last minute craziness full of adrenaline and panic, you’d be in a better position to do it NOW when you do in fact have Round 1 shining its smile on you. It’s way better to do a half-a$$ed application in the earliest round when you’re competing against far fewer other half-a$$ed-ers. You’ll be just one of many half-a$$ed-ers in Round 2, whereas now, you’ll be more in the minority. Way better to stand out against a smaller pool of half-a$$ed-ers than to drown in the midst of them and not even get noticed at all in Round 2.
Or, maybe today’s post is not for you at all. Maybe you’re one who realized in August that “OMG IT’S AUGUST! ROUND 1 IS COMING!” and while it would’ve been better to have that realization in June, it’s still a valuable realization to have had then. And you got cranking on some essays, and maybe you sent them in to EssaySnark who said, “Nope, this ain’t it,” and you cried, and pouted, and cursed at us for awhile. And then you got to work. And when we saw your next drafts and said, “Huzzah! Yes! You’ve done it!” then you wrote back something like this that a real-life Brave Supplicant shared recently:
I am glad you like Essay A. After reading your initial comments, I realized [something specific to their Stanford essay topic]. Your advice allowed me to be authentic. Now I understood what it means to be authentic. It was a valuable lesson if it were not for Stanford application.
This process of introspection and digging deep really is not that much fun when you start. But when you get into it, and you keep digging, then often it becomes…. almost exciting. There’s something magical that happens when the pieces click together and you start to understand. When that magic happens, it’s vivid and visceral and very much detectable on the page of your essay.
Maybe you can get there in a furious mad-dash of writing tonight.
Or maybe this post inspires you to step back and decide that yes, you can do this introspection thing, and you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the time, and you know that Round 1 is useful but a stronger app in Round 2 is way better. And you start to work on that Round 2 application NOW and you keep working on it every day from today until it’s finished. And maybe that’s in two or three weeks, and you’ll have that app ready to roll in October. Or maybe it’s still not ready until almost the actual deadline in January. But you work it constantly, refining and thinking and being willing to throw it all away again and start over if necessary.
You decide to show up.
That can happen now, or next week, or not at all. But if you’re serious about schools like the Stanford GSB, it’s almost a 100% rule that it’ll have to happen at some point, if you’re gunna develop the quality of materials that the adcom will say yes to.
*Like, not literally. Your Stanford Essay A need not be about some kind of fraught emotional or distressing topic. But it needs to RESONATE. It needs to be real. Maybe we shoulda said that it has to be showing some touchyrealz.
You don’t have to care. So we’ll take it back and not say you “should” care. But you might want to care – at least in the context of writing the best essays you can, which means clearly saying what you mean to say and not saying something ridicjulous.
Good news everyone! Though shockingly deeply lodged in my ear canal, my trauma-nurse sister was able to extract the loose silicon earbud cover!
Wait hang on, let me back up. So it turns out that earbuds can break in your ear on the train.
Or so I’ve heard.
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) September 13, 2018
That particular thread is pretty funny because that guy is pretty funny, but if you didn’t notice, what he wrote in the second sentence is actually nonsensical.
Here’s the reply-tweet that pointed it out:
Was she a trauma nurse before she got lodged in the ear canal, or because she got lodged in the ear canal?
— Glenn Hansen (@HansenHouse) September 13, 2018
These are the types of writing errors that not everyone will notice. Usually, the thing-you’re-saying can still be figured out from context. It’s probably true that most all of you reading today knew that the ear bud is what was stuck in the guy’s ear, and that the sister only helped to extract it. But technically that’s not what he wrote.
Being precise with language is more important in some contexts, or with some statements — such as the classic Eats Shoots and Leaves from the wonderful book by the same name.
Getting this wrong in an MBA essay won’t be the end of the world, or the end of your chances of an admit.
But sometimes these errors are funny, which actually is funny/not-funny because what’s funny to the adcom is decidedly not-funny to you when you realize the error happened on an app that’s already been submitted.
So just a reminder today — AGAIN — that grammar counts! And your fifth grade teacher Ms. Henderson is now smiling that FINALLY you see the value in all that she tried to cram down your throat.
And the other reminder that EssaySnark is available this weekend!! In case you have dangling modifiers that you need pointed out.
We have a whole Don’t Do This tag here on the blahg which seems to get a lot of use and might be worth exploring. Today’s topic is something that hasn’t been mentioned recently even if we’ve said it plenty times in the past, so we’ll hammer it home again: MBA resumes must be one page.
Oh you don’t believe us? OK how about we make it a proclamation:
Thou resume, when thoust do supplicateth to thy gods of bschool, shall be only, at mostest, ONE single page in length.
That is like uno, solo, singular, mono. Un. Eins. один 壹 ichi. Minimus. Finito. No more than one.
Even if your resume is formatted nicely, even if you’ve got all this wonderful (blech) stuff about your fine self to portray to the adcom, even if you’re oozing fabulousness from every pore, sorry hate to say it but there is NO REASON why it should be two pages.
Ahem, sorry for that interruption.
Truly, the only people for whom it *might* be appropriate to submit a resume more than one page long are those who’ve been working 10+ years, and/or PhD who’ve published a lot — and even for them, there are reasons to trim back to one page!
The issue here is PERCEPTION… and it’s also POLITENESS. Reading essays is HARD.You are taking up MORE OF YOUR ADCOM READER’S TIME by submitting a long resume. (It’s the same reason why you never want to submit an optional essay unless you HAVE to.)
You should be looking to do the opposite. Minimize the amount of effort they need to expend to go through your application. Present yourself PROFESSIONALLY. This means being respectful of their time.
Sending a two-page resume — yes, even for a school that “allows one” — is NOT a good idea for ANYONE. It sorta makes it look like you’re too fond of yourself — that you can’t bear to part with all that fabulousness on the page.
(Many readers will just stop after the first page anyway!! They might not even bother with all your on-and-on-ing-ness on page two!)
EssaySnark feels so strongly about this that we’ve priced our resume reviews accordingly: You can get a very thorough assessment of your one-page resume for the amazing price of just $ 299.00. If it’s longer than that, we really don’t want to review it at all. 🙁 You can get a two-page review for an additional $100 (please contact Team EssaySnark after purchasing the base service for instructions to pay for the add-on).
Or just face the music. Buck it up, bucko. Deal with reality and decide to do that hard work of getting it onto a single page, which is the standard that all full-time programs request. This is about marketing yourself to a buyer. How you present MATTERS.
Addendum: So impressed with the BSer who prompted this rant – who’s now the proud owner of a sparklin’ new one-page resume!!
We know you know what we think about using Columbia Early Decision as an insurance policy. If Columbia is not your first choice school, then don’t apply Early Decision. If you’re also applying to schools like Harvard and Stanford and Wharton, then it’s unethical to also try for Columbia ED since you’re clearly focused on…
We’re reblahgging this from a few years ago because it’s timely! and relevant! and hopefully helpful!!
Today’s post is about two totally unrelated things, except that they both came up for us multiple times over the past few weeks in the marathon of essay-reviewing we’ve been doing.
- close-knit community
- diverse student body
- collaborative students
- strong alumni network
- leadership skills
- business acumen
Or you could say close-knit student body and collaborative community and — well, you get the point.
Maybe we should develop an MBA Essay Generator — just enter the name of the school you’re targeting, your short-term goal and long-term goal, and push a button, and out pops the essay!
‘Cuz people, all of yours have been sounding the same. May as well be a fill-in-the-blanks type proposition, like Mad Libs or something. Wants us to sit around the office playing Buzzword Bingo as we read the essays. Hmmmm… wonder if that every happens in the admissions offices at these schools? It’s gotta be tempting.
Hopefully you have some REAL reasons for wanting to get an MBA and your essays include more than just these tired old cliches and boring buzzwords. Granted, “business acumen” is a pet peeve specific to the ‘Snark – it’s unlikely any of your adcom readers will react quite so negatively as we do when they see that — but none of those just ain’t gonna get you noticed for much.
What might get you noticed but for oh all the wrong reasons would be some of these:
Really Bad Typos
Yes we actually saw these recently.
- “It is not time for me to get my MBA.” (presumably they meant “now”?)
- “I defiantly want to go to Wharton.” (you sure about that?)
- “I am quiet confident that Duke is the best place for my MBA.” (well, confidence is always good!)
- “I can better asses a situation like this in the future.” (oooo we saw this in more than one BSer’s drafts)
- “My goal is to shit my career into consulting.” (our personal fave!)
- (new for 2018!) “Launched a mentoring program to improve faulty efficiency” (coming from someone working in education — presumably they meant “faculty”? but maybe not!)
Writing something like THAT will surely get your adcom reader’s attention. You’d even likely elicit a belly-laugh from them.
When you’re in a sleep-deprived caffeine-adled fog of essay-writing delirium, the eye is not to be trusted. Proofreading is a special task that you should honor and treat with care. Do it separately from any editing process. Put everything aside for awhile and then come back to it again when you’re fresh. When we see mistakes like this in an essay, we will tell you that there are writing errors that you need to watch for… but we won’t necessarily correct them. EssaySnark is not an editor. It’s your job to make your puppies perfect.
Not that any of you are ‘fresh’ right about now – not after all the late nights you’ve been pulling!
On the topic of proofreading and polish, here’s a couple of posts that may help you … at least, if you’re not now in active panic-mode as you rush to pull up the versions you’ve already submitted, to make sure you didn’t commit one of these major faux pas.
- Tips for cutting it down to size (overlimit essays)
- Formatting your MBA essays
- How to write a conclusion
- And one more related to the “buzzwords” thing: Words that appear only in essays and resumes
Nobody’s gonna get rejected for a typo in an essay… but it’s not going to endear you to your adcom reader, either. Attention to detail, people. It’s a beautiful thing.
UPDATE! This “buzzword” thing prompted some questions in the comments, which we’ve responded to in a series of follow-up posts, starting here!
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