We spoke recently about the Personal Statement as part of an application to many (non-MBA) master’s programs, and voila! A Brave Supplicant has surfaced with a draft they want to be snarked up. This is for one of the Master of Science programs at the London School of Economics (good school!), in this case their Innovation
Here are LSE’s instructions for this Personal Statement:
Write a short personal statement (up to 600 words) about why you want to do the programme. This might cover, for example, what you will bring to the cohort, and what your particular strengths are.
Also, you should answer the following questions (your answers should be approximately 500 words each):
1. Tell us about an experience you had with social innovation /entrepreneurship/ a project with high social impact. What role did you play and what did you learn about yourself?
2. How will your past experience, combined with this LSE masters, help you to achieve your goals?
The total length of your personal statement – including the answers to the above questions – should therefore be between 1,100 & 1,600 words.
Those instructions are actually rather confusing. Are they asking for three separate essays? Should you portion out your answers in different sections, like with headings?
Actually, no. They want one essay of up to 1,600 words, and they want you to cover all those topics. Of course, shorter is better, so if you can come in closer to 1,100 words, you will make friends with your adcom reader. This BSer’s draft came in at that lower mark, so already we’re encouraged. Remember BSers, just because a school allows you to write a long essay does not mean a long essay is better. We also discourage the use of subtitles in essays (and thankfully this draft didn’t have any), as it breaks up the flow and makes it disjointed, reading more like a report than an argument. An essay is a pitch; you’re answering the school’s questions to advance your position (in this case, why you need the benefit and advantage of their particular educational program).
So what did we get from this BSer? Here’s the first paragraph:
My all-time favorite pitch on Shark Tank (the US version of Dragons Den) featured a brilliant innovation called luminAID. Two entrepreneurial women had designed inflatable solar lanterns that had the potential to improve the lives of over 1.6 billion people across the globe who currently lack consistent access to electricity. This product was inspired by the needs of the survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquakes, who lacked reliable light sources in the aftermath of that vicious natural disaster. The same luminAID lanterns also held massive appeal for outdoor enthusiasts and camping aficionados who could leverage this sustainable, no-fuss invention during their recreational pursuits. The company’s mission and execution resonated quite strongly with me due to the intersectionality between the founders’ desire to innovate and their drive to improve the lives of their most vulnerable fellow citizens; my personal quest is fundamentally no different.
First observation is, kudos to you for being aware of your audience. As an applicant to LSE, the reader of this essay is British, and this BSer realized that Shark Tank is a U.S. show, and a program with the same format runs under a different name in the UK. So that’s pretty cool. It’s a tiny thing, but it subtly signals cultural awareness. You don’t have to go so far as to British-ize the spellings — for example, writing “colour” instead of “color” — and in fact that would be weird. An American should use American spellings (particularly since in this case it can be an advantage to be an American, since there are likely far fewer of them applying, proportionally speaking, so you’ll be in the minority — so don’t try to mask the fact by taking your Americanisms out of your writing).
But what about the actual content? That first paragraph clocks in at nearly 150 words, or ~10% of the whole draft, which is an appropriate length for an intro — but for the fact that it has literally nothing to do with the applicant. Talking about what some other people’s startup is on a TV show is meaningless. The only way that intro would work for the BSer is if:
1. The BSer was connected in some way to the Shark Tank entrepreneurs, or
2. The BSer has already made significant progress on their own social venture that’s in some way comparable to the one described in the paragraph
Do either of these apply?
Let’s keep reading:
During my senior year at [university], I participated in a course called [entrepreneurial course – exact name redacted for privacy], which helped develop my foundational knowledge for building a business. Within this course, I decided to explore an idea for an application that would compare the various online marketplaces to help users determine where to sell their used electronics. I excitedly built a business plan, conducted market research and performed some rapid prototyping of the application interface. I also began to critically evaluate whether I wanted to pursue this venture full-time after graduation. While I saw the market need and was optimistic about the app’s revenue generation potential, I recognized that it lacked the capacity to have tangible human impact at a macro level. It became clear to me that risk-taking and entrepreneurship would always be inexorably intertwined with my desire to (and please excuse the cliché) make the world a better place.
At this point the ‘Snark is puzzled.
Why do we even have that first paragraph at all?
This second paragraph is where the essay actually begins.
Paragraph 2 is also in line with LSE’s Q1, asking about an entrepreneurial experience — though much (much) better would be a story of entrepreneurship (or social innovation) from outside of the academic environment. If the only experiences you have are from a class, then that’s fine, but we would encourage you to dig deeper and think more broadly about possible examples to include. Remember that there are many ways to demonstrate entrepreneurship beyond simply having started an actual company.
It’s often the case that you need to write for awhile before you figure out what you want to say. Sometimes, you need to write a full first draft before you find the core of your answer. We talk about this tendency to wander about before latching onto your actual message, called “throat-clearing”, in this post on how to cut an essay down to size (Pro Tip: All you BSers who aren’t currently in essay-writing mode may want to go read that post, and mark the Favorites star on it so that you can come back to it in a few months, when you’ll be needing it!).
Our vote in this BSer’s case is to chop off that first paragraph as unnecessary throat-clearing. The main reason we suggest this is, by setting out that initial (and totally unrelated) example of the entrepreneurs that created a product that can help millions of impoverished people around the globe, the BSer is creating an expectation in the reader that they have created something that can help millions, too. However, when we continue reading the submitted draft, we’re struggling to find even another example of how this person has done even significant volunteer work for any kind of social cause. The BSer claims they want to (pardon the cliche) make the world a better place, yet there’s nothing here that shows us how they’ve worked to do that in any capacity, large or small, in their life to date.
Now we’ll skip ahead to the very last paragraph of this essay:
My mother, who hails from a small village in South India, had to fight her family for her right to obtain a higher education and broaden her pool of opportunities for employment and social advancement. The vast choices that were afforded to my brother and to me are a direct result of our mother’s determination to pursue and leverage a college degree. I am thus intimately aware of the cascading and multi-generational impact of educating and empowering women who hail from insular rural communities and have traditionally had limited avenues freely available to them. I know that studying at the LSE’s School of Management can help me forge my own path to use business to address the needs of underserved women and to assist in the promise of a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Hmmm. That can work as an ending (or as an opening), but do you notice that once again, it’s emphasizing someone else and it’s also implying that this BSer has had these values of helping others in poverty for a long long time — yet we can tell you, since we read the whole essay, that there’s a dearth of any valid content within the body that actually points to how this BSer has done so. So, it’s creating expectations in the reader, but not delivering on a message that supports them. If this BSer cares so much about education or empowering women or addressing the needs of underserved women, then where is evidence — any evidence — for how you’ve worked to do that in even a small way already?
This creates an imbalance in perceptions. You’re setting the bar very high for yourself by using that opening example, and the adcoms are already at least mildly skeptical (though for this particular program they’ll be more willing to give BSers the benefit of the doubt). We say, ditch that current opening, and start the essay discussing what matters most: YOU.
You may also be interested in:
- Impact on the world (in MBA essays)
- My grandfather was an inspiration to me
- The full EssaySnark Essay Decimator essay review service – since what we’ve captured here is only a very small part of all the comments we could offer in helping you make your essay great