And your mom.
But your mom will like them no matter what.
Obviously it’s really the adcom that we want to like your essays. Not your mom.
But the most important person in the world who really needs to like your essays is YOU.
That’s because you’re the one who needs to be confident in what you are presenting. You’re the one who needs to be proud that you did good work. That you tried hard. That you applied with a purpose.
If you’re following instructions that some MBA admissions consultant has determined for what you should write in an essay, that’s totally fine too, and even in many cases advisable, since the consultant’s job is to understand the school, understand what’s behind the questions it’s asked, and come up with recommendations for how you can interpret those insights in a practical way on the page of your essay.
Obviously it’s important to vet the consultant, and make sure that they’re trustworthy and ethical, that they’re not writing essays themselves for their clients, or telling their clients what they should say. That’s way over the line in terms of what’s considered ethical coaching for this process.
Qualified and competent admissions consultants may reasonably have different strategies that they suggest applicants employ for writing essays for any particular school. A good consultant will appreciate this and will acknowledge that there’s many ways to present oneself to, say, the Admissions Board of Harvard Business School, in their “What more should we know about you as we consider your application?” question. Such competent consultants should also always engage with you if you want to do things differently than they suggest; the consultant’s strategies should only be that: Strategies. Your ideas should come from you, and the actual topics that you decide to write about need to be your own. If you want to go in a totally different direction than what the consultant advises, they should be open-minded and hear you out, and work with you on your approach to see if it has legs, and can support your app in presenting important and useful information to the admissions reader.
On the flip side of this: You should be willing to engage your consultant if you have ideas that are outside the box that the consultant proposes as the way to write for that school — and if you get pushback from the consultant that you don’t agree with, or you just don’t see the logic behind what they are proposing, you should feel absolutely empowered in going in the direction that you want with your essays.
They are YOUR essays. Your consultant is not applying to bschool.
Your consultant has no skin in the game. Your consultant surely wants you to be successful but it’s your fate in the balance with what you present.
If you are too shy and timid to assert yourself in the engagement and you go along with the consultant even though you don’t really understand the rationale that they are proposing…
OR you don’t know how to come up with your own content strategy so you read a bunch of applicant forums and just follow the ideas that other applicants say they are using in their essays…
OR you got started too late because the procrastination monster won this battle of applying to bschool and you are just cramming together whatever you can and calling it an essay so you can submit in time for the deadline…
In any of these cases, it’s highly unlikely you will be happy with your essays.
The reason that being happy with your essays before you submit them is so important is because, if you’re not, and you don’t make it in, you’re either going to:
A. Get really pissed off about how the consultant steered you wrong and gave you bad advice, which you followed, and now look! You got rejected! You should never have listened to them.
B. Get really down on yourself that you cut corners or wasted time or whatever was the cause of not devoting yourself to the essay writing process as you now recognize was needed. You’re going to feel that awful pain of regret and self-recrimination.
You’re going to feel cheated. You’re going to have a loss that you have to process, and the fault of it will inevitably be, at least somehow, placed back on yourself. And that sucks.
You want to live a life of NO REGRET. Like this chicken.
If you go through the challenge and difficulty, the blood-sweat-and-tears (often tears) and hair-ripping and anxiety that is also known as the process of writing essays and you submit, and then a few months later, the admissions team comes back with a “Thanks for trying but sorry, we could not extend an offer to you this year” then how will you feel?
Sad, definitely. Disappointed, absolutely. Maybe even crushed, depending on how badly you wanted it.
And anger, directed at someone else, like the consultant whose advice you adopted, even though you disagreed with it?
Sitting here now, it’s really important that you OWN YOUR STRATEGY.
You own your workproduct.
You have ideas, and you execute on them.
Yes, seek out the advice of those who do this professionally, who have strategies, and insights, and understanding on what the schools look for, and especially who can appreciate a good essay (or not) when they see one. So that you avoid making the avoidable mistakes.
But adopt their ideas wholesale? No, don’t do that.
Question everything. Yes, even question the ‘Snark!
If we say you should do X in an essay, and you strongly disagree, and don’t believe that X makes sense to you — or you have this other idea about doing Y that you think is so much more pertinent to you and your background and what you understand the school to be asking… Then don’t do X! Do Y!
If you share with us why you think Y is a better idea, we will gladly engage in a discussion with you about it, and we will always tell you to go about it the way YOU feel the strongest.
These are your essays, Brave Supplicant.
Only you are the one who needs to be happy with them.
Actually, going back to that idea of your mom liking your essays…
If your mom reads an essay for that Stanford MBA essay question about what matters most and she chuckles and says, “Hmmm really?” then maybe the answer you wrote isn’t all that authentic. Or if she reads it and cries, then maybe it is.
There are many other reactions a mom could have upon reading your essays, so don’t get too hung on this either/or set of options. The point is that if your Stanford GSB Essay A sounds authentically like you, your mom will know it. Ask her if she thinks it’s a fair representation of the person she knows you to be. Essays that are overblown, hyped-up and posturing don’t make the best first impressions on a reader. Presumably your mom has the best BS detector on the planet when it comes to the things you might be saying. She could be a good resource to ask for an opinion on the answer you’ve given.
Just don’t let your friends read your essays. Or current students. They might be great to talk to about the MBA and your ambitions, but they’re unlikely to be reliable advisors on strategy and what it takes to get in.
If you’re the type who second-guesses yourself on everything, then today’s message may be hard for you to live fully.
What we’re suggesting is, work work work on those essays. Make them the very best you can make them. Make sure they are presenting YOU to the fullest extent of your capabilities — meaning, they are showing the admissions reader that you’ve done your research on their program, that you’re applying there for a reason, because you know that this school is such a great fit for you — that you’re able to show them how you’re a match to their values, and community, and experiences — and you make sure that the essays are well written, clear, and descriptive, and directly answering the question as asked. Then if you’ve done all of that, you should be proud of what you have accomplished. You’ll know you’ve given it your best, and that’s all anyone can ever ask of you in this life. Winning is amazing, and getting in of course is what we all want for you — but even if it doesn’t play out that way, you can be proud of what you have accomplished these weeks. You will have grown through the process. You deserve to be happy about that.