Today we’re talking about MIT and their “cover letter” which is not really an essay but yeah it’s an essay.
These are the instructions from MIT:
MIT Sloan seeks students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas. We demand integrity and respect passion.
Taking the above into consideration, please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence, include one or more examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria above, and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions (300 words or fewer, excluding address and salutation).
Whoa that’s a lot!! The first step to attacking an essay is to figure out what they’re asking for. Spend some time with that. Figure out what the question actually is.
We’re going to do things differently today and show you the ending of this cover letter. Usually we start with the beginning, which in this case also deserves to be discussed but we’re going to skip that and focus on the bottom. These are the last two paragraphs of a 5-paragraph submission (totally 346 words which is a bit long, given the instructions):
By talking to current students and alumni, reading the Sloan Student blogs, and attending multiple Sloan events, I am now certain that MIT Sloan community is the perfect fit for me. Every Sloanie I have met, is someone I not only respect, but want to be friends with. The close-knit, but collaborative community and culture of innovation is something I would very much like to be a part of.
Like Cinderella’s slipper, Sloan is the perfect fit for me.
The most basic analysis you can do for anything you write for an MBA app is, does it answer the question?
We invite you to look back at the prompt. Where in that prompt is anything that relates to this content?
Yes, the word “respect” occurs there — but the adcom is telling you that they respect STUDENTS WHO HAVE PASSION which means, they want YOU to show what you’re passionate about. (And please please pretty please, do so by SHOWING them – not TELLING them. Because passion.)
Saying you respect the ones you’ve met just sounds odd. Did you expect to NOT respect them? Do you typically not respect people you meet?
Here’s another useful test:
Try substituting another school’s name in your content. How about this:
By talking to current students and alumni, reading the Georgetown Student blogs, and attending multiple Georgetown events, I am now certain that Georgetown McDonough community is the perfect fit for me. Every Georgetownie I have met, is someone I not only respect, but want to be friends with. The close-knit, but collaborative community and culture of innovation is something I would very much like to be a part of.
Like Cinderella’s slipper, McDonough is the perfect fit for me.
We could do a line-by-line of why this does not do anything for your MIT pitch, but instead we’ll invite you to examine it for yourself.
The one piece we have to specifically call out is that last sentence.
Let’s look back at the instructions:
Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence…
Is that line something you would write in a formal business letter?
We hate to be ones to squash creativity, and certainly showing some personality is nice. However, that last line serves no purpose; it does nothing to satisfy the requirements the adcom has given. And at risk of being totally sexist, we have to ask all of you: Does the Cinderella reference make you think that the writer is male or female?
There is literally nothing in the whole cover letter that has anything to do with shoes, or fairy tales, and even worse, there is nothing about “fit”. The paragraph that precedes it does not prove that this BSer is a match to Sloan, nor does it identify anything useful about Sloan that shows it’s a match to the BSer. Instead what we have is 79 words of a 300-word essay that add nothing to the pitch whatsoever. The very last sentence even introduces some cognitive dissonance (the BSer is a male engineer; that doesn’t mean that male engineers can’t appreciate a fairy tale or a glass slipper, but there is nothing in the entire cover letter that, ahem, fits with any of that — so it’s just introducing new imagery that takes the reader off in a different direction than the main CL story was trying to convey).
Does this BSer’s main story work for this assignment? It might, but it’s hard to understand the story that he’s telling based on how it’s presented. It’s a classic “Look at these results!!” story but how those results were achieved is difficult to discern.
So, Test #3 as you look at your own story for MIT: Is it clear that you are the one who produced the results that you’re citing? Will a complete stranger be able to understand the situation? Are you focusing on laying out HOW you solved the problem?
A problem -> solution story is certainly not the only way to go for the MIT cover letter, but it often can work well, so to that extent, this BSer is thinking about things the right way.
More work needs to be done though on clearly communicating — and we suggest ditching the cutesie parts, and focusing more on the basics.
Clear communication is key.
Answering the question is critical.
Every word matters.
Revision is your friend.
This BSer is not so far off track that this is a wholesale #essayfail, but it does have lots (and lots) of potential to do more.
You’ve got limited space with your reader, BSer. Only 300 words. Make them count for you!
PITCH THE SCHOOL!
Do you have an essay that you think is good? Want to see what EssaySnark thinks? Submit it for consideration for review on the blahg! Or if you’re in a hurry and want guaranteed feedback, we’re still taking on new BSers for the Essay Decimator essay review service for Round 1.
Tell us what you think.