We’re still in catch-up mode, cleaning out the piles of junk mail sitting on the kitchen counter, sorting through the mounds of laundry that piled up in the corner, trying not to forget to pick up the dry cleaning when we’re out doing errands, and working diligently to knock out all the less-urgent but still-important commitments we’ve made to patient BSers who submitted an essay for consideration for a freebie review here on the blahg.
Today we have Darden! From a BSer who has likely already submitted in Round 1. Based on the quality of this essay, we’re thinking that there’s a good chance this person will be getting an interview invite this round. We don’t normally post “good” essays here on the site (you can read up on our policy about sample essays)
The Darden essay question is:
When preparing for class at Darden, students formulate an opinion on each case before meeting with their learning teams and class sections. When encountering different views and perspectives from their own, opinions frequently shift. Tell us about a time when your opinion evolved through discussions with others.
This essay requires that you tell a story about a specific thing that happened to you. Many schools want such a story in their essays; Yale’s “commitment” essay requires it, as does the first essay for Kellogg about how you have “demonstrated leadership”, and Berkeley’s question with the 6-word story needs one, too. These schools are all getting more and more creative in how they’re asking their questions, which means that there’s very little opportunity for re-use of content across schools (which is exactly what they are aiming for!! they want you to write specific to them).
However, the skills of telling the story that you build in working through the prompt for one of these schools will benefit you when it’s time to do another. There are two main requirements:
- What story are you telling? Is it a good fit to the question?
- How are you telling the story? Are you capturing the right details? Does it actually answer what they are asking?
These are separate skills; both are mandatory for a good essay for one of these questions. Frequently BSers try one topic and go to town in writing out the story, and when they submit it for review, we have to inform them that nope, we don’t really see it as fitting. (Pro Tip: This is where our Essay Ideas App Accelerator can be hugely beneficial!!)
Here’s how it starts.
“Do you know what you are asking me to do?”
It was 1:00 AM on a frigid February night in Western Pennsylvania. I was twenty-two, and after only eighteen months working in construction, I had been promoted to nighttime mechanical superintendent overseeing the installation of $37 million worth of mechanical and piping systems. This meant I designed the step-by-step construction plans for the union millwrights to follow and controlled where the men worked, what safety equipment they wore, and what tools they used. My word was final, and although these men had more experience than I had years of age, I tended to dismiss their advice as disingenuous or having ulterior motivation. In my mind, they had a cavalier attitude towards safety, quality, and budget, but if something went wrong, the blame was mine alone.
Rudy, my foreman, waited for an answer. He usually agreed with my plan for the work, but tonight he was angry.
Now you can probably see why we started off with the assertion that this BSer would likely get an interview!
To be clear: There are many ways that this could be significantly improved, from a purely execution standpoint.
But in terms of the content that’s being delivered in this first chunk of the essay, it’s done well. From reading this intro, we have confidence that this story is a fit to the question (though things can easily go sideways in the middle even when an essay starts well!).
What we learn in this intro is:
- The applicant worked in construction – which is obviously not the typical pre-MBA path (points for diversity!)
- The applicant was promoted fast in that job (points for achievement!)
- The applicant was cocky beyond belief when he got promoted 😀 (points for setting up a potentially interesting story!!)
So, where could this essay be improved?
The device of a cliffhanger opening – starting with the question “Do you know what you’re asking?” – is not the best.
That type of device is really commonly used and it’s almost never an effective one.
Because the author is trying to manufacture suspense, and suspense does not belong in an essay.
Even though this essay requires a story, it is not a creative writing assignment.
The #1 objective for any essay for bschool is CLEAR COMMUNICATION.
This implementation of the question -> explanation sequence is not the worst in the world but we still don’t care for it. The reader has to read A LOT of the essay to figure things out, and the biggest problem is that WE HAVE NO IDEA WHO SAID THIS TO WHOM. That wasn’t ever clear — not even after re-reading the opening 3x. Did the
cocky construction manager writer who is narrating the story say this? Or did Rudy the Foreman say it? The reader simply does not know until much later. This type of confusion is NOT GOOD for the reader to be experiencing.
Does this make for an #essayfail? No, not at all. It’s just gimmicky and unhelpful. It’s not furthering your objective of clear communication.
The other non-optimized piece here: That first main paragraph has a helluvalotta info in it. That’s a lot to take in. It’s clearly written, and the sentences are short, which are very very important – but it’s still not entirely simple to read through and figure things out. This essay requires several go-arounds to make sure we’re getting the gist of it all.
What could fix that?
This BSer could’ve written the same information like this:
When I was 22, I was working in construction in Western Pennsylvania. I’d been promoted to nighttime mechanical superintendent after only 18 months. One frigid night in February, I was overseeing the installation of $37 million worth of mechanical and piping systems. This meant I designed the step-by-step construction plans
for the union millwrights to follow and controlled where the men worked, what safety equipment they wore, and what tools they used. Rudy, my foreman, usually agreed with my plan, but tonight he was angry. My word was final, and although these men had more experience than I had years of age, I tended to dismiss their advice as disingenuous or having ulterior motivation. In my mind, they had a cavalier attitude towards safety, quality, and budget, but if something went wrong, the blame was mine alone.
Rudy said, “Do you know what you are asking me to do?”
There’s still further ways that this could be optimized, but that rearranging would make it easier on the reader. It presents the same information, just differently: The reader who is new to this content can move quickly through and there’s less risk of stumbling.
You’ll notice that crossed-out section; the phrase “union millwrights” is OK but not great. It’s not a standard phrase that most readers encounter in everyday speech, and it’s one of those things that, yes, it’s clear, but no, it’s probably not. It creates a speedbump for the reader. And it’s not necessary. The reader knows you’re talking about construction workers. If you want to make it clear that’s union guys, then maybe you can say that, but it’s not really core to the story. The last part of that sentence refers to the “men” which is sufficient.
As you can see, these are all finetuning and small tweaks. The big advantage that this BSer has is the storytelling skills are sound. They have set up the situation well with the statement about being dismissive, and that his word was final. That’s clearly hinting at where the conflict will come. As an opening, this is great.
Where is the “opinion”?
The BSer has stated that he is stubborn.
He had a particular attitude in how he worked with these men.
Is that an “opinion”?
He does go on to show how he realized he was wrong, and the discussion offered in the rest of the essay captures the way he changed his thinking. So to that extent, yes, it’s a fit.
But….. we’re left feeling like, dunno, is it really a fit to this question?
The execution on such a story always comes down to where you present the discussion and how that influenced you. We cannot say with certainty if this story is the best one for this person to present. Is it good? Sure. Is it the best? Hmmm.
A story when you were 22 might be fine; or, it might be too dated. All of these factors need to come into play when you evaluate the strength of a topic for a particular essay question. It depends on what it’s able to convey about your candidacy overall. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re presenting your qualifications for business school. A story that captures some extremely differentiated part of your profile might be a fabulous choice, or, a different topic could sometimes be much better, if you’re already showing that differentiated element through the resume. (We’re not saying that as a way to second-guess this BSer’s choice of topic; we’re just trying to be thorough and help you see all the angles that must be brought into consideration with strategy!!!)
If this BSer is still around, we hope we’ll hear an update of how they have done with the apps so far in this cycle!!!
For any of you others, now is an EXCELLENT time to hit us up for consideration of a freebie essay review of your own. We won’t be able to do these in the crush of Round 2 at the end of December, so take advantage of it now if you’re interested! We have at least one or two others awaiting comment which came in late in Round 1, and we hope to also be looking at those soon.