Sometimes we come across a draft of an essay written by a BSer that’s technically sound — no typos, sentences are clear, proper length, answers the question. It has all the elements that we suggest go into an essay of that type — appropriate references, using an example, talking about X or Y or Z or whatever the specific essay prompt requires.
And yet, it falls totally flat.
We call this a “paint by numbers” essay.
It’s like the BSer has studied up on “What needs to go into Essay X for this school!” and they’ve carefully inserted an Element A and an Element B and done some proofreading and sent it in to us for review.
You may be sitting there going, “But EssaySnark, if it has all the right elements, and there are no typos, and it’s answering the question, what the heck is the problem? What do you WANT from me, anyway?!?”
What we want is for you to share yourself with the reader.
It is totally possible to write at technically competent essay that still fails to reveal anything meaningful about you as an applicant to business school.
These are essays that either:
1. Choose totally safe topics — like writing about a professional example for an essay question that really really really is looking for a personal story (even when the adcom says either is fine)
2. Fails to go deep enough to say anything material about you as a person — where some other consultant, or private equity analyst, could slap their name on the essay and it would fit their life circumstances just as well as it does yours
It’s probably impossible to write a wholly unique MBA admissions essay. After all, there are only so many trajectories in life, and most of you trying for admission to a top school have gone through a few well established tracks to get where you are.
But still. You don’t want yours to sound like a cookie-cutter creation.
Certainly nobody sets out to try to write an essay like this. You probably think you were being smart, in following the instructions. You did your research, you heard that X, Y, Z needs to go in an essay of this type, possibly even from one of our SnarkStrategies Guides. It’s not like you’re just winging it or trying to cut corners. You really did work on it! So then what’s the answer, if this draft you came up with is not good enough?
One approach is to spend more time with the question.
If you dissect the actual essay prompt, and break it down into its core components, it’s likely that you’ll be able to gain new insight into where the adcom is coming from and what they want to see in an essay that will resonate.
For example, any essay asking about why you want an MBA needs to do more than just identify the career goal, and say that your target school has a certain class or professor. You can certainly do that, and it’s a legit starting point — but it’s only the beginning. Then you can tie that into what you feel you’ll gain from that experience, or (that perennially difficult topic) how you’ll contribute.
Just citing the course or the professor is more than many other applicants do — but it’s not enough to show the adcom why that course or professor are important.
All that does is proves to the reader you can use Google and that you bothered to go past the front page of the school’s website.
So. More can be done.
These are just high-level suggestions for how to solve this paint-by-numbers problem.
If your essay looks like it was written by crossing items off a checklist to make sure you’ve met requirements, then it’s likely going to sound like a robot wrote it.
As of yet, we don’t have robots writing essays for us. Maybe some day…. and by then, we’ll have robots reading them, too. So EssaySnark will be out of a job and BSers will have different hoops they’re asked to jump through. For now, going back to the drawing board and examining what the actual essay question is may be a good way for you to cross-examine yourself, and apply another level of analysis to the topic you’ve chosen to write about.
When you step back, does it help the reader know who you are?
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