If you missed Part 1 of this topic, go read it here first and then continue on. So here’s the thing: When you’re truly differentiated, you kinda know it. You might be the type of person who realizes that you could come across as braggy in certain situations if you’re not careful, because…
Northwestern Kellogg has an MBA entire essay question asking about values this year, and Stanford has asked “What matters most” for years and years and years. Values-driven companies are more attractive to employees, and it’s becoming a prominent feature at many top MBA programs that values are examined and explicitly expressed as part of their…
This is another follow-on post to the “3 Innocent Mistakes” that we wrote about previously. You need to become the type of differentiated applicant that the schools want to see. You need to have a multi-dimensional approach. Stories of leadership and impact are ever more important in this day and age – but unfortunately, from…
We’re resuscitating a post from 2017 today because it’s illustrative of something tangible that you can DO RIGHT NOW to begin working on your Round 1 MBA applications. The references are to some events in the culture that seemed to have occurred a lifetime ago, but only happened in the past two or three years. If you’re not American, you may not be familiar with these references, but hopefully the use of this example shows you the value that we’re trying to articulate in taking this app-strategy advice nonetheless.
One of the hardest things about developing a strong application to business school is figuring out what to write in your essays. Good essays take time to develop, not just in deciding on a topic but in executing a full argument around that topic once you have it. Hardest of all is Stanford’s essay on “what matters most.” One of the best ways to facilitate the entire creative process is journaling.
Keeping a journal as part of your bschool application process helps in more ways than one. If the term “journal” is a turn-off to you and feels too intimate (too much like “diary”) then you can switch this suggestion to just “keeping notes.”
You’ll want to capture the facts and details that you pick up on each one of the schools that you’re learning about. The risk of course is that they start to blur together, and you forget which detail is from which. What school has the GIX1 thing again? Which one does MAP2? Keeping notes on the different programs will help you keep them apart. A journal (or just a notebook where you’re jotting down what you learn) will let you do that.
The harder part about essays, though, is presenting stuff about YOU. Most applicants stay at a surface level in what they write on their topics, even on essay questions that invite you to go deep. Brainstorming and recollecting significant events from your past is one of the best ways to identify meaningful topics for certain essays. Getting in the habit of writing about the events of your day-to-day life — even the mundane and the routine — is a smart thing to do since it’s so effective in helping you to generate ideas without having to try so hard to do it.
Want to know the real secret about keeping a journal, though?
Finally, writing a daily journal (or just keeping notes on your bschool research activities) is an excellent way to counteract the tendencies of BSers towards procrastination. If you commit to something simple like writing a little every day in a journal, then you’ll be setting a stake in the ground in this daunting MBA application project. You’ll be actually GETTING STARTED. One of the biggest risks to your apps this year is putting off the essays. Procrastination is your worst enemy. By beginning a journal then you’re starting with baby steps; painless ones. You’ll be sneaking up on yourself, doing something productive and tangible in the overall process of applying, yet without hardly noticing it. Keeping notes and maintaining a journal – or just capturing ideas that come up for you in an informal way – will let you sneak up on yourself and get started with something that is often intimidating. Many people don’t start their work on their essays until really late because they just don’t know where to start. They put it off and they put it off, until finally it’s August and they’re up against a wall and they panic and start to scramble. Talk about stressful.
It’s still early in the cycle – but not so early that you shouldn’t be thinking of ways to begin. Keeping a journal – or if you don’t like that term, then just starting a systematic process of note-taking, where you capture info on schools and your thoughts and experiences on a regular basis in one place – can be an excellent entry point into the overall project of starting your essays. It’s a great way to sneak up on yourself and make yourself begin something that’s otherwise daunting and tough to tackle, and it will let your subconscious start to ruminate and marinate on ideas about what you’re going to write in those essays.
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We’ve got this thing where you can submit an essay for consideration for a freebie review here on the blahg and since we began talking about Stanford this week, here’s an essay from last season, for Stanford GSB’s classic “What matters most to you and why?” torture device essay question. It’s possible that Stanford will…
So you want to go to Stanford. Well hmm. The thing with Stanford is that it’s pretty impossible for anyone to say if you have an honest-to-goodness chance to get in or not… except for Stanford. We often can tell when it’s likely a no-go — as in, someone has little to no hope at…
This may come off as basic, or even insulting — are we saying that people don’t do this? Why actually, yes. When you’re so focused on establishing “school fit” that you’re tossing out names of your target school’s classes and clubs hither and yon, it’s really (really) easy to lose sight of what this technique…
This is gunna come too late for many of you — or maybe not.
Today we’re gunna talk about Stanford and every other “reach” school — but especially Stanford. And oh yeah, every other reach school. And probably every school you apply to that is competitive.
So we’re talking about everything.
The not-helpful advice for today is, You have to show up for this.
Phoning it in on your apps will not work.
That’s especially true for Stanford because of what they need to see.
You know how you were planning on talking about Touchy-Feely in Stanford Essay B?
Yeah, you and the other 8,171 people applying.
The very basic techniques that you’ve heard about telling the adcom stuff that you like about their school simply aren’t enough for a school like Stanford.
If you use that standard technique to mention Touchy-Feely for Stanford Essay B, then you a) need to know what Touchy-Feely is really about, and b) your Stanford Essay A better be showing some touchyfeelz*.
And the only way to do THAT is to a) take the time and b) be willing to dig deep.
Superficial answers are not going to cut it at Stanford.
If you’re sitting here now wondering, “Well shoot. EssaySnark just last week said I have to do the work or I’m not gunna have a chance. I know I haven’t done the work. I also know that Round 1 is an advantage for a school like Stanford. But if I haven’t done the work, I should just put it off till Round 2. Right?”
Sitting here today, when the clock is counting down to a deadline in a few days, then you’ve probably already made the decision for your Hail Mary or not. But if you haven’t, and had decided to go for Round 2 instead, then we hafta warn you:
Every year we work with at least a small handful of BSers in your shoes who recognize that they were phoning it in up to this point, that they hadn’t buckled down to actually focus on the hard work of figuring out this essay stuff. So they decide to punt. Round 2 it is.
And then what happens is, come middle of December, they suddenly wake up like a bear being roused from its winter’s nap too early, and they look around with blinking eyes and they’re all, “How did that happen? How did we get to December already?”
And then they futz around for another week, with even more easily-justifiable excuses like holiday parties and Christmas shopping, and then it’s time for eggnog and Rudolph and they still haven’t managed to write any essays.
So if in your heart of hearts, you know that that’s you…. Please do not punt till Round 2. Please just revert to your college days and do an all-nighter tonight.
Because if you’re gonna end up cutting corners and doing a mad dash at last minute craziness full of adrenaline and panic, you’d be in a better position to do it NOW when you do in fact have Round 1 shining its smile on you. It’s way better to do a half-a$$ed application in the earliest round when you’re competing against far fewer other half-a$$ed-ers. You’ll be just one of many half-a$$ed-ers in Round 2, whereas now, you’ll be more in the minority. Way better to stand out against a smaller pool of half-a$$ed-ers than to drown in the midst of them and not even get noticed at all in Round 2.
Or, maybe today’s post is not for you at all. Maybe you’re one who realized in August that “OMG IT’S AUGUST! ROUND 1 IS COMING!” and while it would’ve been better to have that realization in June, it’s still a valuable realization to have had then. And you got cranking on some essays, and maybe you sent them in to EssaySnark who said, “Nope, this ain’t it,” and you cried, and pouted, and cursed at us for awhile. And then you got to work. And when we saw your next drafts and said, “Huzzah! Yes! You’ve done it!” then you wrote back something like this that a real-life Brave Supplicant shared recently:
I am glad you like Essay A. After reading your initial comments, I realized [something specific to their Stanford essay topic]. Your advice allowed me to be authentic. Now I understood what it means to be authentic. It was a valuable lesson if it were not for Stanford application.
This process of introspection and digging deep really is not that much fun when you start. But when you get into it, and you keep digging, then often it becomes…. almost exciting. There’s something magical that happens when the pieces click together and you start to understand. When that magic happens, it’s vivid and visceral and very much detectable on the page of your essay.
Maybe you can get there in a furious mad-dash of writing tonight.
Or maybe this post inspires you to step back and decide that yes, you can do this introspection thing, and you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the time, and you know that Round 1 is useful but a stronger app in Round 2 is way better. And you start to work on that Round 2 application NOW and you keep working on it every day from today until it’s finished. And maybe that’s in two or three weeks, and you’ll have that app ready to roll in October. Or maybe it’s still not ready until almost the actual deadline in January. But you work it constantly, refining and thinking and being willing to throw it all away again and start over if necessary.
You decide to show up.
That can happen now, or next week, or not at all. But if you’re serious about schools like the Stanford GSB, it’s almost a 100% rule that it’ll have to happen at some point, if you’re gunna develop the quality of materials that the adcom will say yes to.
*Like, not literally. Your Stanford Essay A need not be about some kind of fraught emotional or distressing topic. But it needs to RESONATE. It needs to be real. Maybe we shoulda said that it has to be showing some touchyrealz.
Seems like we’re writing a lot about Stanford just lately. (Even those posts weren’t explicitly about Stanford — yeah, they’re about Stanford.) It’s because the Stanford essays are so hard! If you’re trying for Stanford, then first step is to pick up our Stanford Essay Guide. Because we go into a lot more stuff there…
Authenticity is just a concept. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. It’s not like a question on the GMAT, where there’s only one correct answer and you can find out if you did it right (or at least, on a practice exam you will find out). Because it’s a concept, authenticity is not…