We’ve talked about this before – “an essay is an argument” post from 2012 – but it’s unlikely many of you have seen it, and this concept keeps coming up in feedback we’re giving to BSers. So we thought we’d do it front-and-center on the main page today for all of you.
Let’s break things down from the beginning.
What is an essay?
For the purposes of a grad school application, an essay is your point of view, offered as a logical, step by step argument that supports the answer that you have formed for the question that the school has posed.
The essay prompt is a query.
Your essay is your best answer to that query.
Another way to think of it is like this:
1. You are answering the essay question — ideally in the first sentence or two of the essay, and if not there, then most definitely somewhere in your first paragraph. This answer is your premise.
2. The rest of the essay is your argument that proves how this premise is true.
If you’re being asked to talk about your post-MBA goals, then your argument consists of:
a) why you’re prepared and ready to pursue those goals, based on what you bring to the table and your precise background and set of experiences. (Shameless Self-Promotion! If you don’t know how to present your background, our Accomplishments & Achievements App Accelerator can help you!)
b) how this specific school is going to enable you to achieve what you’re setting out for yourself
And, usually implicit in there, but sometimes handled explicitly:
c) why you need an MBA to go after this plan
So that’s the recipe for any career goals / why MBA essay.
You want to make a specific dish.
You have X raw ingredients.
You’ve identified that this school is the exact mandatory ingredient that you don’t have, that you can’t get anywhere else, for you to add that will make this dish come together.
You’re making an argument for how this is true.
This framework is true for any type of essay, because all essays are arguments that are putting forth a position or statement, and are then showing why that position is true.
If you’re being asked to talk about “growth” a la Kellogg, then you need to have evidence in your essay about how you have grown.
Yeah, it seems obvious when we say it this way, but so many essays suffer from this most basic of all essay-writing sins:
THEY NEVER ANSWER THE QUESTION.
This is also how your conclusion is super important, and needs to serve a specific function of your essay. The conclusion must be wrapping up the key points laid out in the essay — not introducing new ones.
Oftentimes, we’re cruising along*, reading an essay from a Brave Supplicant, and the essay theme has been established
Oh hey did you catch that?
“The essay theme.”
The essay theme is revealed through the stories you include.
The answer to the question is not on its own the theme of your essay — though obviously it’s related to it. Your application theme is something different from your essay theme; the application theme is one of these esoteric concepts that, we’ve decided, was first promoted by admissions consultants who wanted to freak out the marketplace and make applicants think that they can never successfully apply to business school on their own. The theme of your essay is also esoteric, and it’s very possible that each reader of the essay will come away with a slightly different sense for what the theme might be — not that any readers of your essay are ever going to be formulating any such explicit statements about the theme. It’s not like members of the admissions committee gather around the conference room table with their tea mugs and snacks and debate what the theme is. It’s not like English class. Instead, we will call the essay theme more like the sense that the reader takes away as a whole when they put the essay down.
For most writers, the theme of the essay cannot be decided upon in advance of you getting your thoughts on the page. (Shameless Plug Again! Our Essay Ideas App Accelerator lets you get those ideas vetted! Before you commit to your full drafts!) And, actually, most BSers don’t need to explicitly analyze the theme of their essay at all, ever. Not as a separate step in developing their content.
They just need to answer the question.
And then, they need to find examples from their life that backs up that answer.
Voila. Finis. That’s the sum total of all the steps involved in putting together a standout essay.
If the essay is missing this basic architecture — if, for example, the last paragraph of the essay tosses out a bunch of new ideas that weren’t actually presented and proven-out in the body of the essay — then the essay feels dissatisfying for the reader.
Or, if the essay has too many ideas that are tangentially related but not constructed into a holistic and meaningful argument, then it can feel not thought through.
A common problem is trying to cram everything in. The kitchen-sink essay is not an essay. It’s an amorphous blob that makes the reader’s head spin.
Every single sentence in your essay needs to be there for a reason. It needs to be building up. Contributing. Making sense as part of a whole.
If you mention that you have held a role in your company, great! But what does it have to do with anything? How does it support the answer you’re giving to the question of what you want to do with the MBA? The cause -> effect connections must be established on the page.
That’s true for all answers to any essay question.
This is your great opportunity, BSer.
Do this part of your essay-writing well and we guarantee you, your app will stand out.
Because remember: Essays are not a writing exercise. They are a thinking exercise.
We’re still taking new clients for Round 2, if you believe that any of our expertise in presentation of personal content in response to difficult questions might help you!!
* Oh wait. That rarely happens. Maybe yours will be different??
Tell us what you think.