We’ve offered lots of past warnings about tone and messaging in the context of “contribution” essays for your MBA app, and today is another that’s worth studying if you’re tackling one of these beasts.
The essay prompt may ask, explicitly or implicitly, “What will you contribute?”
It comes up in the MIT “mission” essay that those who get invited to interview must turn in. (Pro Tip: If you’re applying to MIT, write your “mission” essay NOW! As part of the process of developing your cover letter and all the other pieces you’re turning in when you submit!! We go into this strategy in our MIT Essay Guide.)
We often see BSers fall into the trap of writing to impress with this essay especially.
It’s hard not to do so!
After all, you’re given this assignment which is essentially asking, “Prove what you got. Lay it on us, bud. We have high standards here at this esteemed school. Do you think you can meet them?”
Isn’t that how you read those questions?
So then you write this essay where you try to get into the same mode as the school is in when they are asking the question. When the school is focusing on collaboration and teamwork and all these virtue-signaling buzzwords, it seems like they want you to also write in similar terms.
There are two main problems that we see creep into these essays.
(Besides the omnipresent issue which seems to happen more on these questions than some others.)
- You just showing up on campus won’t add value to any school. It sounds obvious when we say it that way doesn’t it? And yet, that’s how a lot of people end up writing about stuff. We cover this in detail in this post from the ‘snarchive that references Wharton’s essay at the time.
- You’re going to be in an environment of equals. And yet, many people end up writing these essays as if they’re going to endow gifts on the community or bring all these incredible advantages to their peers. If you find yourself using words like “empower” in how you describe the contribution you think you’ll make, then you may be falling into this trap.
This is another case where every word counts — and we recognize that just saying that isn’t always terribly helpful. But when you closely examine the actual words you write on the page, to feel through what they are conveying, then perhaps you can get a better sense for what we mean.
These “contribute” essays are often incredibly heavyhanded. They can come across as if the applicant thinks they’re God’s gift to the world. We don’t think most of you are that enamored of yourselves to be so arrogant (though, yeah, every now and then we meet a BSer and we’re like, “Whoa!”).
Who, exactly, are you seeking to ’empower’ and how, exactly, will YOU do that?
Watch out for writing an essay that says what you think you’re supposed to say — instead of writing an essay that answers the question with details and tangible concrete statements that are couched in specifics.
That’s where an authentic essay is born.