So much can be learned from an essay.
You may think it’s just a mechanical exercise that you have to get through, but honestly, an astute reader can glean so much about you from reading a simple essay.
Not only does presentation and professionalism matter, but what you say – and what you DON’T say – matter just as much.
What might matter most of all is how you organize your thoughts and express your ideas. You have to have a reasonable grasp of the English language to do a good job with this (which hopefully your college education gave you). Fancy writing is not the key. What will tilt your chances towards admissions success is how you construct your thoughts and lay them out for the reader – in specific response to exactly what was asked.
The problem of applicants not answering the question is so pervasive that it’s often the first thing you hear admissions people lament when they’re asked for application tips.
How to get into bschool?
So that’s first. Be direct, and answer it quickly – usually in the first paragraph is best.
Then, the rest of what you construct needs to support that answer. An essay is presenting a position and backing it up. It doesn’t matter if that “position” is a statement of your short-term career goals, or if it’s your most significant achievement. In all cases, the purpose of an essay is to communicate something specific about you with enough evidence that the reader can go along with it. You’re taking a stand. You’re saying, in response to the question, “X is true for me, and here’s why.”
It’s also your duty to the reader to be consistent, and to manage expectations.
What we mean by that is, if you start the essay making a particular claim or statement, or including certain facts, then the reader is expecting you to follow through with that.
And, they’re expecting you to operate within the standard conventions of an application to a top business school.
We had a BSer submit an essay to us recently – we’re going to change the details here but yet use the same story to illustrate what happened. This person was trying to convey “fit” to the school and they introduced it by saying (this part is fictionalized) “Community.” OK great, that’s a pretty common topic for bschool-world. Community. We know what that means.
But then, the headliner statement in this section about “Community” was about the TV show (which EssaySnark has not seen but we’ve heard of it).
OK fine, we can make that leap with you, though we’re wondering why you as the writer are asking us to do so.
But THEN, the real problem hits when the actual story they presented had nothing to do with “community” – neither the idea relevant to the MBA cultural experience, nor the TV show. They actually presented a story about having to confront a colleague at work when a project wasn’t going well.
So, that story that we got could very well work in an MBA essay. In a vacuum, it was an appropriate topic to be presenting in an app.
The problem is, it had nothing to do with what the writer said the essay would be about. The BSer was being too cute with the presentation. It was a clear abuse of the flexibility of the question that the adcom had asked. It was a case of style over substance – and style ALWAYS loses to substance in this battle for getting in. (And unfortunately here the “style” was as jarring as seeing the old dude with the plaid shorts and white knee-high socks with sandals; in another context, the individual elements could work, but all put together, just, no.)
What you’re doing with your MBA admissions essays (or trying to do) is to prove to the adcom that you can think. That you can take a vague assignment and wrestle it to the ground and come up with a solution. That you can deal with ambiguity and come out a winner.
You know that thing called the case method?
That’s when you take in all this data and spit out a cohesive opinion.
It’s kinda like what you need to do when writing essays.
It’s true. The Harvard Admissions folks say it all the time. Getting into bschool is not an essay-writing contest.
But until they invent something better, the essay is what we got.
And writing is one of the hallmarks of being human. It’s one of the things that separates us as a species. It reflects our ability to think.
If you write it well, your essay will let you show that you can do that.