Following along with our recent warning to help manage expectations for anyone interested in working with us, we’re also going to re-iterate today our policy on posting sample essays.
Our policy is that we don’t do it.
This LinkedIn post by one of our favorite bschool professors anywhere, Adam Grant at Wharton, explains why. He covers a phenomena called “kleptomnesia” where people unconsciously “steal” ideas from others – and don’t even realize it .
We know that YOU would never intentionally plagiarize another person’s work.
However, if we were to post some other BSer’s essay and hold it up as “good” then we just know the temptation would be too great not to try and mimic it. You would of course write it in your own words, with your own life circumstances or career goals or whatever inserted in place of the details that the original author included.
The thing is, though, intrepid Brave Supplicant, that when we see a “good” essay – especially if it’s for one of those very tricky and very personal questions like Stanford essay 1, “What matters most to you and why?” – then the REASON it’s good is almost always due to execution.
There’s no such thing as a template for writing essays*.
A long time ago there was all this brouhaha in the MBA admissions media over some candidate who made it into Stanford by writing about a tortilla in her “matters most” essay. Derrick Bolton (GSB admissions director) was asked about it in interviews, and they explicitly referenced it on their admissions website with a warning on how not to do things.
Today’s Stanford website warning is even more explicit:
Your application is strongest when your genuine voice remains intact. Let me provide a specific example.
Available for purchase online are “successful” essays purportedly written by prior Stanford admits. It would be unfortunate if you were to follow blindly those examples. Some were not strong in the first place; we admitted candidates despite, not because, of their essays in those cases. In addition, what “worked” for one applicant may not “work” for you — and you actually can do yourself a disservice when you try to force your own experiences and insights into someone else’s framework.
Yeah, it’s gotta suck mightily that the service selling those “sample” essays was started by a GSB alum. Some HBS students started a similar service awhile back, too – using their FIELD project funding no less – but it seems that business idea petered out as we can’t find them on the web anymore (and no we won’t link to such sites sorry).
We most frequently get the request for a “sample” essay from a client who’s gotten a couple rounds of feedback from us, either on essays or on the preliminary steps of the App Accelerators through the Complete Essay Package, where we keep saying, “No, this is off target” and “This type of content won’t help you” – and they get exasperated and ask “What do you want from me??” and request us to direct them to examples of how to do it.
But the essays that stand out the most are ones that are – you guessed it – authentic.
You’re probably tired of hearing that. And maybe you don’t know what it means to write an “authentic” essay.
What we can tell you is that it will likely require many drafts and many rounds of revision – many more than you would expect. Especially if we’re talking the “matters most” essay.
The person who’s struggling with the process of writing essays so much that they throw their hands up in frustration and ask for a “sample”…. That person is on the edge of a breakthrough. This stuff ain’t easy. It requires wrestling with your material and figuring out how to articulate the things that makes you you. OF COURSE it’s going to be challenging.
And here’s a secret: The best essays are the ones that are born from that struggle.
We wish it were different. It would be wonderful to just tap a magic wand atop your head and anoint you an expert essay-writer.
But we can’t do that. Maybe someday they’ll invent a pill for it.
For now, it’s just going to require you rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty in this stuff.
*While this is a true statement, we do provide guidance in several of the school essay guides about an ideal way to structure your thoughts on the page, in terms of what to open with, what should go next, etc.; the Columbia MBA essay guide in particular includes some of this for their goals essay.