Today we have a list of items that certainly aren’t “mistakes” but they’re practices that EssaySnark is not fond of. We prefer NOT to see these things in business school essays – and your professors in college were probably not too keen on them, either:
1. Cross-references. Each essay should be self-contained and complete. Please don’t put a reference in one essay to what you’ve discussed in another — no parentheticals that say “As discussed in Essay 2, blah blah blah.”
- The main rationale behind this advice is that you should be presenting new and different info in each essay. If you’re cross-referencing, it’s like you’re a stand-up comic from the ’70s dredging up old and tired material in his Las Vegas routine. Make each essay fresh and new; bring in some other part of your profile here, don’t rehash what you’ve already covered.
- The other reason is, what’s the point of the cross-reference? Do you want the reader to drop the current essay and go over there to that other one, right now in the middle of the sentence, to read up on the whatever-it-is you’re referencing?
2. Headings and Subsections. In some cases, when a school has a part A, B, and C in their essay, they want SEPARATE ESSAYS. In other cases, they’re simply calling out the different parts that they want you to answer IN A SINGLE ESSAY. In the latter case, it should be written as a complete unit. For most schools with multipart questions, you should not use subtitles or labels in your essay – even for a longer essay like the single Harvard essay allows, it’s better to just write it out as a cohesive unit. That’s what makes it an essay instead of a report. We go into the specific requirements (and expectations) of specific schools like Haas and NYU in their respective MBA essay guides.
- Headings take away from your valuable word count, and they are just unnecessary with today’s shorter essays. They chunk your content up too much. It becomes a choppy series of answers, instead of a cohesive, polished presentation that flows. Your essay should have a formal intro and conclusion, and transitions between each paragraph. Remember, this is an essay.
3. Start with a quote. We’ve ranted about this one at least once or twice before. Please don’t put inspiring words from Gandhi* at the top of your essay. Embroider them on a pillow if you are thus enamored of them, but don’t weigh down your bschool essay with such high-and-mightyness. They’re eating up valuable words, and they are NOT ABOUT YOU. And they are setting the bar so g*ddamn high for you that it’s ridiculous. Make the essay about YOU, not about some dead dude who said something that sounds smart. The adcom wants to see if YOU’RE smart. Based on what YOU have done. Quotes at the top are college admissions essay material (and even then they’re not recommended!!!).
None of these are illegal — you are not committing some type of grave bschool applicant sin if you do them. But they don’t help you, and in some cases, they can be detracting, at least mildly. Your essays are your own, of course — feel free to disregard EssaySnark’s advice completely!! (Just please don’t talk about “business acumen” in any essay you send over to us or we will get a little upchuck in the mouth and not like you one bit for it.)
And one more? Just for the history books? This one other little act of irksomeness that we hope you will never commit? Please don’t call bschool a “college.” We don’t often see this in essays but we sure do on the message boards. “Tell me what colleges I should try with a XXX GMAT.” People. Bschool is graduate school. Not college.
For those of you struggling with these basics of how to write an essay, we have another useful post: How to cut a too-long essay down to size. (Most people don’t have the opposite problem; we have only rarely ever encountered an essay-writer who couldn’t get to the max length of their writing assignment.
And if you’re still not sure how to do it: How to write an essay.
* Or Steve Jobs!!!!!!!!! Please God no, don’t put a quote from Steve Jobs in your essay… Even if you had it there before he passed away, it totally does not belong.
Updated February 2016: Here’s an excellent article from the smart people at Stanford GSB about innovation… and buried within it is some great guidance for those of you who still can’t resist using that Gandhi “be the change” quote in an essay.