There’s a common tendency among novice essay-writers (which everyone applying to bschool always is) to want to have a big ending.
This happens all the time with Stanford Essay A on “what matters most” — we see BSers write a full 700 words and then, finally, they pull out the answer to the question: “Because of all that that I just bored the bejeebus out of you blathering on about, what matters most to me is…”
It may seem like the essay will have more shazam if you do it that way.
But it won’t.
What will happen is, the reader will be scratching their head, a little confused, perhaps slightly lost, following you around as you wander through these various thickets of stories that don’t seem to be related to anything.
And then for you at the end to jump out from behind the bush and say “Surprise! The answer to the question is X!”
Well…. often that’s dissatisfying at best. (Particularly so when the examples given don’t properly support the answer you’re finally announcing.)
Instead, tell the reader the answer to the question straightaway.
Lay it on ’em right off the bat.
Like, in the very first sentence! That’s an excellent place to do so, in fact.
The adcom is reading dozens and dozens of applications today. Reading essays is hard. It’s often incredibly boring.
You don’t want the reader to have to hunt for the answer to your question.
You don’t want to play Man of Mystery on them and try to be coy, or have them follow the clues to figure things out.
What that creates in your reader is not a sense of suspense, but one of frustration.
Your task is to take your reader from Spot A, which is not knowing where you’re taking them to the destination at the end of your journey, Spot B, which is where they know you better than they did before.
The best way to do that is to let them focus on the experience of learning about you through reading your essay — not having them engage half the brain in trying to simply figure out where they’re headed.
If you have a theme in mind for your essay, then announce it to the reader somehow in the opening. This might be relevant — maybe — for Harvard’s essay, which is very unstructured.
Don’t lay out a bunch of topics and then announce the way they’re connected later on.
That will force the reader to read through the whole thing again to figure out if the argument you’re proposing is sound.
This harkens back to the “your essay is an argument” advice from before.
When a lawyer is presenting a case to the jury, they state their position at the opening. They don’t deliver all of the evidence as a series of facts, and then tell you what the evidence is supposed to prove.
Leaving the critical message to the end puts too much of a burden on the reader. They have to retain all of these points you’re raising and the different offshoots and directions you’ve tossed out, and try to assemble it as they go.
Alleviate that pressure. Take it off them completely.
Use your introduction to say where you’re headed. (Just don’t do it in the three-point style of “In this essay I will tell you about…” — that technique is so common with college freshman writers, and beginning speech-givers, and it’s clunky and word-wasting.)
If you want to talk about how you grew through a personal challenge you experienced, then say it directly: “Last year I grew as a person when such-and-such happened.” That may seem overly simplistic, but it’s clearly stated and direct. The essay itself will then need to show the growth (Pro Tip: Showing growth is usually way easier with outside-in stories!). Or: “In March 2018, I discovered that I am [insert quality here] when I faced a challenge at work with blah blah blah…”
Writing essays for MBA apps is not a creative exercise. (Or, it is, but it’s not got the same goals as creative writing does.) This isn’t about being coy with the reader, and building suspense, or creating a cliffhanger. Be direct. Be concise. Be succinct. This is the key to any adcom reader’s heart.
Or at least, it’ll prevent them from reaching for the Advil when faced with your app.