We then did a whole separate post on using stories in MBA essays, where the takeaway message of both of these posts was essentially, “Answer the question.”
Yeah, we know, we’re in the Department of the Obvious with all of this. However, when asked “What is the most frequent mistake applicants make?”, one of the most common answers that adcom around the world give is, “They don’t answer the question.”
Sometimes people don’t answer the question because they have this Really. Great. Story. that they are itching to tell to the adcom – usually a story written for another school’s prompt – and they are so in love with it that they decide to include it here too, knowing it’s not really what’s being asked.
Sometimes people don’t answer the question because they really do think that this other story is a fit, because they didn’t spend time with this school’s question to reflect on it and understand it.
Most often though, people don’t answer the question because they don’t have an answer. They think they do but they don’t. They have stuff they want to say and they start saying it, but they haven’t gone through the entire process of figuring it out – because they haven’t gone through the process of figuring THEMSELVES out.
The adcoms want to see the REAL YOU in your essays. These questions force a process of introspection and self-discovery (damn it’s like EssaySnark is getting all spiritual on your ass today).
The exercise of writing your bschool essays is not a one-shot deal. You’re not going to plop yourself down at the computer and whip out a draft and be done with it – not if you expect your draft to be good, that is. “Sitting down to write your essays” is a process that will be repeated many times over likely the course of many weeks before you can call yourself “ready.”
Typically we recommend starting out not by writing at all. Instead, a better idea is to begin by doing a lot of brainstorming and rumination. Chewing on your ideas – or on the end of your pen as you stare out the window pondering the meaning of the universe – is actually a very productive activity in the realm of essay-writing. Many of our essay guides, particularly the ones for schools with difficult questions like Harvard and Stanford and MIT, contain a variety of brainstormers to help you get the pump primed and the juices flowing. These should not be skipped if you’re serious about uncovering the good stuff to use in your applications.
Writing essays is just as much about polishing and refining, as it is about getting your hands dirty. You need to dig in the dirt of your life if you want to uncover the gems.
8/26/14 UPDATE: The Tuck School posted a great set of MBA application tips – #2 is “Answer the question you’re asked” (following #1 of “Read the directions”).