If you’re just starting the process of applying to bschool for the first time, this post is not for you. Today we’re mostly talking to those who are either still on the waitlist, or who will be reapplicants, and who will be informing the adcom about an updated GMAT score either in a waitlist update…
If you’re reapplying to business school then by definition that means that there was something off in your original application. The schools give you different essays to lay out for them your explanations for what you’ve addressed and how you’ve improved. We cover a whole bunch of advice for self-assessing your original apps and determining…
So many times over the past year and a half, we’ve been tempted to blahg about the person who’s become the Republican candidate for President of the United States. So many teachable moments – and some positives, too, actually! There has been debate in Snarkville about it (not nearly as heated as the debate last night!) but in Fall 2015 we decided we’d just leave it alone. We don’t want this to be a political place. You come here for snark about bschool admissions; there’s more than enough snark out there on the interwebs about all of this other nonsense. We wanted this to be a safe space (ha!) where you could enjoy living in a parallel dimension where none of that RL stuff ever invaded.
But then last week we posted a snippet of a field report from a last-year BSer that referenced a political candidate and on Friday, we were served with an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
Anyway, it’s not like we’ve never used politics or current events as fodder for the blahg before. We referenced the 2008 Democratic Primary debate between Obama and Clinton in a 2014 “Are you likeable?” post about interviewing. And we actually covered what we’re going to talk about today last year in this post about hacked emails where Sony executives made jokes in poor taste about the President.
What we got on Friday was a scandalous recording from ten years ago where this Presidential candidate said some things about women, which prompted the candidate to release a video Friday night ostensibly apologizing for what he said. (If you have not seen either or both of these videos yet, what rock have you been hiding under??? We’re not about to link to them directly, they’re easy enough to find on your own if you need to catch up.)
In the apology video, the candidate made the classic assertion:
“Anyone who knows me knows these words do not reflect who I am.”
Why on earth is EssaySnark going to such pains to lay all of this out for you?
It’s because it’s the most common assertion in the world and it pretty much always is bogus.
When you say to the adcom, “My grades in college do not reflect my abilities.”
Or when you say, “My GMAT score does not…”
Well guess what?
These things DO reflect. In fact, by the very nature of them – words, behavior, test scores, GPA – that’s EXACTLY what they do.
The only thing we have to evaluate our fellow human being and to see what they’re made of is the things that they do and the things that they say.
That is ESPECIALLY true in your MBA applications.
Your academic record is a sum total of all of your abilities – or if not your abilities, your willingness to put forth the effort.
The words a person speaks come from their thoughts. Nobody will ever say something that does not originate in their mind. If you’re claiming that your mind is not a reflection of who you are, well, sorry but that does not fly.
Same with this classic (and useless) excuse about academic performance or results of a standardized test.
When you trot out this “does not reflect” line, you’re basically insulting your audience. You’re saying, “Look, this happened, OK? Much as I’d like to pretend that it didn’t, and have tried to hide it, now that it’s out in the open and part of the record, I guess I need to deal with it. But you shouldn’t judge me on it. Why not? Because I say so.”
If you find yourself in a situation that you need to explain something negative from your profile to the adcom in your MBA applications, then…
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THAT is how you handle a difficult situation from your past. THAT is how you neutralize a negative in your profile – or even, best case scenario, turn it into a positive. THAT is how you avoid insulting your adcom reader’s intelligence with the fallback and totally transparent and empty claim that everyone says when they’re busted with something that they shouldn’t have done, but they did.
To bring this around to a positive and mention the original reason for the Snarkville debate on whether or not to reference this man on the blahg: Everyone by now has heard him speak. What struck us even a year ago and continues to this day is his speaking style. He speaks in short, declarative sentences using simple language and structure. Most of his sentences are of the basic form: subject -> verb -> object. (Usually with some big adjectives and adverbs thrown in.) This style has been evaluated as speaking at a third-grader’s level , or by others in a more rigid analysis, a sixth-grader , which to some sounds like a criticism, but it’s actually a technique that invites clarity.
We are not about to suggest that anyone model their MBA essays on this person’s style – but we will say that writing more simply is usually an advantage in your applications. (We will leave the question of the content of this person’s speech for you to evaluate.)
You should be able to reuse the core content from one optional statement to another school but recognize that the actual submission may need to be tweaked or tailored to the specific school based on their differing requirements. It’s getting a little more complicated in the case of the Optional Essay because schools are starting…
Maybe “discouraging” is the wrong word. But most adcoms are doing their darnedest to get you to think about whether you really need to include an optional essay at all. There’s only one school that encourages the optional essay, but MIT is weird. 🙂 Assuming they keep things the same this year, they’ll allow for an extra submission that can be pretty much anything – and they encourage applicants to use that opportunity.
In certain other applicant situations – which can vary by school – the optional essay is necessary. It’s a total case-by-case situation.
It’s important to remember that the optional essay really is optional.
In some cases, the “essay” part even is.
With the new Ross essay questions for the Class of 2019 came this addition to their application instructions :
This section should only be used to convey information not addressed elsewhere in your application, for example, completion of supplemental coursework, employment gaps, academic issues, etc. Feel free to use bullet points where appropriate.
They’re not even calling it an essay anymore!
The key message though: It’s not meant as an, “Hmmm, there’s this other essay available, I think I should tell them how much I really want to go there!” Or “I didn’t get to use this story about this project I’m on, and that my boss is going to promote me at the end of the year, so I’ll write about that in this essay!” or whatever other random thing sounded like a good idea. It’s not another opportunity to lay out more stuff to your adcom reviewer. It’s if there’s something that needs to be explained that’s not covered elsewhere.
The 2016 Columbia MBA app also says that bullet points are fine for the optional essay.
These schools are trying to signal that a) this part is optional, and b) if you do one, maybe you don’t need to do an actual essay for it.
The Harvard and Stanford apps have long worked this way; heck, they don’t even give you an opportunity to submit any extra essays. If you have something to explain to them, you need to include it in a very small Additional Information field that they allow in the app form.
If you have what we’ll call a global issue in your profile – the common ones being a rocky academic history (aka low GPA), or a gap in employment (aka you were laid off) – then all the schools will need to hear from you about what was going on at the time. In most cases, the place to provide this information is the optional essay/statement. Other cases that traditional required the optional essay, such as an explanation why you’re not getting a letter of recommendation from your current supervisor, now can be included within the application for some schools. Other schools still want this in the optional essay. You will have to investigate each school’s requirements carefully before deciding what needs to go in the optional essay for that school – but the most important point is that you should NEVER submit more than the required essays UNLESS YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION WARRANTS IT.
Just like when you’re couchsurfing, the watchword is, “Don’t outstay your welcome.” You don’t want to become the guest who wouldn’t leave, with essays and a resume that are way longer than the school asked for, and more essays than you were requested to send in.
The restrictions in field length from HBS and Stanford, and now the new explicit instructions from these other schools that bullet points are OK, are explicit ways to tell you that this should be SHORT!
If you’re working with us through the Complete Essay Package or one of our Essay Decimator essay review services, then you’ll get lots of opportunity to solicit our advice on whether or not the optional essay / statement is needed for your situation. Sometimes some juggling of content among the different essays is necessary between first draft to second draft. It’s even possible for some applicants to do away with the optional essay if they can cover the core issue appropriately in their base essays. That can be a nice way of trimming down your submission, if you can pull it off.
However, please don’t take all of this to mean that there’s a stigma against applicants who submit additional information. There’s no shame in using the optional essay when it’s appropriate. In fact, if the optional essay is indicated based on your exact circumstances and you DON’T submit one, then that’s going to cause way more problems for you.
The schools want you to exercise your best judgment. HOW you approach the elements of the application, and the decisions you make in how you present yourself, is almost as important as what you say when you write those essays.
People make mistakes all the time.
Making a mistake is not an ethical issue.
A pattern of mistakes can raise questions about character, and judgment, and maturity, but that in and of itself is not automatically some ethical violation.
For example, say you were out of control for a time during your college years, intoxicated with the newfound freedom of being on your own at school and away from your parents and all their downer rules. You were living large, and maybe you weren’t placing a priority on your grades. You were partying. Having fun. And maybe somewhere in the mix you got a DUI.
Getting a DUI is not an ethical issue.
We’re not saying that this type of thing is unimportant in the context of your apps to business school. Many adcoms ask you to disclose any arrests or convictions when you submit your app. You will need to let them know what happened, usually in a separate explanation within the app or sometimes in a formal optional essay. We frequently work with BSers who made mistakes like this in their past, which don’t prevent them from getting into a good MBA program. From the adcom’s perspective, it’s not that you made a mistake, it’s what you can say about it now and how you present it to them.
They want to see maturity in who you are today.
Now, there are times when issues like this mount up. If you have a series of incidents where you exhibited poor judgment – or if you intentionally tried to get one over on the system and got busted, like from shoplifting, or if the tussle with the law was due to bar fights or some type of assault charge – then yeah, these things may matter a lot more in the adcom’s eyes.
If you were laid off from multiple jobs in a row… Again, not an ethical violation per se, but certainly something that the adcom will notice, and will need a reasonable explanation for.
The MBA admissions committees are excellent readers of behavior. What we mean by that is, they’re able to look at a pile of papers representing who you are – academically, professionally, your written statements – and make interpretations from them. No applicant is perfect.
If you have a significant blemish in your background, like a layoff (or two), or an arrest, then you MUST handle it carefully in your application. If you’re wondering about how to handle a tricky one-off situation like this, our Private Consult service is a great option.
Don’t assume that the adcoms won’t notice stuff. They will. They’re eagle-eyed that way. They’re excellent at identifying patterns and making inferences. It is their JOB to read between the lines. If you don’t explain things, then they’ll make assumptions – and those are unlikely to be in your favor.
Oh, and by the way: Not disclosing such an issue is completely playing it the wrong way. That, in and of itself, would be an ethical issue. When the application asks, “Have you ever…”, then you must answer truthfully. Own up to it, and offer an explanation. Be mature about it. That’s really what the adcoms are looking for.
Making a mistake is just that: A mistake.
Not learning from a mistake – or making the same mistake over and over – that’s when you could get yourself in trouble.
This post is part of an informal series on ethics that we ran in early 2016 – first post, “What are ethics”, is here.