When BSers get stuck on what they’re supposed to say in their essays, they frequently leave an exasperated comment asking for help. “Do you have a sample I can look at?” they ask plaintively, trying to keep the whine out of their words.
We cautioned against this recently when we talked about that “pizza essay” but it’s worth explaining again.
If you read other people’s essays – even “successful” ones that got into Harvard or wherever – you are running a huge risk.
If you claim that you don’t know what to write in your own essay, and you look at someone else’s essay as a way to figure it out, you won’t be learning what YOU should say. All you’ll be seeing is how someone else did it – and guess what? They may have gotten in even with crapload essays! It happens all the time, and the Stanford adcom warns about it.
If you feel stuck on what to write, then reading what someone else wrote will only give you an idea for how to copy them. It won’t let you express the facts of your own profile and history in any sort of authentic way. You won’t be able to help it; you’ll be influenced. It’s like walking down the street and you can’t get that Britney Spears song out of your head, and you don’t even know where you heard it. It’s just there. Maybe you picked it up in the elevator; maybe it was playing in the bodega where you bought your Red Bull. No idea. It just seeps in. You’re defenseless. Same with ideas from someone else’s essay. Once they’re there, they’re there. You won’t be able to help but to think that that’s how to write that particular type of essay.
And you’re also assuming that the person’s essay was halfway decent. Most essays aren’t. How can you tell the difference? If you don’t have a clue what you should write about, then won’t you think ANY essay is good? It has words on the page, and you don’t spot any typos. Must be a winner!!!!
You have to ask yourself: “Self, what is it I am hoping to gain by reading a sample essay?”
Can you answer that?
Are you looking for how they structured it?
Well, you don’t need a sample to tell you that – EssaySnark will tell you!
A well-structured essay has a clear intro, with the answer to the question in the first paragraph (or even the first sentence); it includes a body of a paragraph or two that backs up that answer; and then it ties everything up with a bow through a conclusion at the end. Voila. Now you have the answer to that question.
We suspect that that’s not what you are looking for, though.
You very innocently say, “No, ‘Snark, ya silly. I don’t care about essay structure.” (though you should!) “I care about what they wrote.”
OK, well, we got that covered too!
If it’s a career goals essay, start here.
If it’s a leadership and achievement essay, here.
If it’s any other type of essay, well, we’ve probably discussed those, too. Just wander over to the first page of the blahg and in the right panel you will see a dropdown that says Select Category. There are oodles of posts on most anything you dare to dream up, if it involves applying to bschool, that is.
We don’t post sample essays* and we won’t give you suggestions for what you should write for your goals. We pretend to give you a sample letter of recommendation in this post (but do we, really?). We don’t even give you a template in our Resume App Accelerator.
In our App Accelerators, we definitely do lay out a structured approach for how to present your background and stories, along with gobs of exercises you can go through to dig into your past and uncover the good stuff in your life experience and professional history that the adcom might be interested to learn about. Yes, it means rolling up your sleeves and figuring stuff out on your own, however in our experience, that heavy lifting of working through your own material is the only way to get there. If we could just tell you what to write, it would certainly make our job easier, wouldn’t it? But besides it being unethical, it’s also not in your best interest. If you want to be prepared and ready for the MBA, then one awesome way to make sure of it is going through this whole essay / introspection process. It may seem like an unnecessary hazing exercise that the adcom is putting you through, but it actually has benefits (beyond just serving as EssaySnark torture device).
Another huuuuuge risk with reading someone else’s essay is, you’re reading a finished product. You’re probably only interested in those “essays that got in!” right? Well, that’s going to represent the final version of what some applicant sweated over through round over round of revision last year. That’s what it takes to write a good essay, at least.
So you’re sitting here in No Essays Ever Written Land, feeling already overwhelmed and discouraged, and you decide to read a a Polished And Gleaming essay from the distant shore of I Got In! Hmm, yeah, we can see how useful that would be!
Reading someone’s essay who already finished the process is like looking at pictures of super models in bikinis or buff bodybuilder dudes when you have only just decided to go on a diet. It’s not likely to be very helpful. Instead, it’s more likely to make you feel even worse about the shape you’re in. But there’s nothing wrong with the shape you’re in. You’re just at one end of the process. They’re at another. With time and hard work, you’re going to get there, too. And then you will be able to explain to all your friends who are trying for bschool in a subsequent year why it’s not going to help them to look at your essays.
This isn’t entirely true. We do post essays but those are always ones with pretty significant flaws that are posted with the BSer’s permission in order to offer comments (submit yours to be considered for such treatment here!); we also have one HBS essay contributed by a long-ago BSer who got in that’s made available as a teaching tool with the purchase of the Essay Ideas App Accelerator.