One of the best ways to make a crappy set of essays is to write what you think the schools want to hear. This post is not about that. Instead, this is a follow-on to our previous post about theme. If you want to figure out how to position yourself in the best light possible…
The whole notion of ‘theme’ in MBA applications is a slippery one – and frankly, it’s not something you need to actively worry about too much. Not that active worrying ever accomplished anything, anyway. Getting a handle on what theme is can help you know what you’re aiming for, but we don’t propose that you…
A recent talk by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg at Stanford reminded us of why the concept of branding is not a great one when it comes to putting yourself out there in your MBA apps, or whatever professional context the term is bandied about.
See what she says:
Want to see more of our thoughts on the topic?
This post on branding from 2011 is semi-related.
We’ve been talking about authenticity as part of the MBA application process this week – in case you missed it, here’s the first post, and then one specific to Stanford but which offers an exercise that may prove interesting in general. Then we had another on sharing who you are with the adcoms, and finally…
We understand. But we hate to break it to you, Brave Supplicant: You can always fit it. There are very very few situations where a two-page resume is warranted in an MBA app. Yours is probably not one of them. There’s two main issues with “I can’t make it fit!” (poutyface) complaints, as far as…
There seemed to be a trend hitting Snarkville last season, particularly in Round 2, where we had all these BSers writing in their essays to the top business schools about how “humble” they are. While we certainly appreciate that quality in a person – no really, despite the snark often coming from our direction, we…
Some time back* we got this inquiry from a Brave Supplicant: I have begun the essay writing process and based on what the blahg posts I have read, you always recommend starting with a “strong” first sentence for the essays. Are there guidelines on creating these statements – say if I don’t have anything of…
We got a question from a Brave Supplicant awhile back and thought we’d share the exchange with all of you.
Here’s what was asked:
“I really liked the “4-school set”. It seem to have everything I want (or need/must at this point) to submit the best possible applications.
“But I have one question. The menu of offerings included in this package seem to be modules. They can stand on their own and provide value to the final application.
“I also want to help with more high-level cohesive strategy/themes/story for the whole application. Am I right in assuming that this package (even with comprehensive review) won’t help me in identifying and synthesizing themes and stories to tell in my essays and in the overall application?
“That is a long question. Thanks in advance for your response.”
That question wasn’t too long! It’s also a good question – though it also reflects a common misunderstanding of some key points.
Your application “theme” is a nebulous concept. We believe it was introduced by some admissions consultant somewhere as a way to intimidate poor BSers who already feel overwhelmed and confused.
“I not only have to worry about the GMAT and writing essays, but now I have to figure out my ‘theme’ too? Oh no, I’m doomed for sure!”
It’s just like “brand.” “Theme” sounds sexy, but it’s intimidating, and it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s what we said back to this particular BSer:
Themes are only communicated through individual examples told in strategic places in the application assets (primarily essays, also resume). There is no such thing as developing a “theme” separate from the constituent parts. The components of the Complete Essay Package (which is the underpinning of the 4-School Set) taken individually lead you to developing a holistic strategy for your essays – which means, your application as a whole. That’s how you convey your “theme.” The “theme” thing is an abstract notion that some people get hung up on. Just keep in mind that it is difficult for most people to identify a “theme” independent of working through the steps in a process like this.
Another way to put it:
Your application “theme” is the articulation of who you are and why you are applying to bschool.
While you may intellectually have the answers to those questions in your head (who I am, why am I applying) before you write a single word in an essay (hopefully!), it is difficult for most people to do the “articulation” part of it without digging into the raw material of your life, and exploring different ideas and options. That’s what our proven MBA admissions consulting methodology is all about.
Thus, to reiterate the answer to this BSer’s question: Yes. You can be assured that our Complete Essay Package, which underlies the 4-School Set, will provide the tools you need to develop your theme.
And to hopefully further reassure you: Don’t worry about the theme. When the process is approached correctly, it will reveal itself to you as you tackle the work of presenting yourself to the adcom.
Yes, it’s Christmas, and yes, EssaySnark is trying to spend time away from essays today, at least a little. But we are definitely around in Snarkville and we wanted to share this since OMG the new Star Wars movie is awesome!!! We got a great question from a BSer who was going through the feedback…
A better way to put it: A kitchen-sink strategy is not a strategy.
Your goal in applying to business school should not be to dig up every little detail and aspect of your life, academic and professional and extracurricular, over the past ten years and cram it in somewhere in the application – or cover it all in your HBS essay. You’ll end up with a Frankenstein monster if you do that. Or you’ll look like this guy:
Is he armed and ready for the most amazing Labor Day party that’s ever been?
Or is he preparing to go live under a bridge?
No matter what, we see that guy on the sidewalk, we’re crossing to the other side of the street.
Your goal is to craft an impression of yourself for the adcom to hang onto as they read through your application materials.
Just because there’s five random things that you could share about yourself does not mean that you SHOULD share them. (Unless the school has asked for a list of “Random Things”, in which case, obviously you should!)
If you’ve worked at three different jobs in the past four years, then you’re at risk for being perceived as a drifter.
If you’ve been helping out with your family business on the side, then you should only incorporate that fact into your pitch if your contribution has been meaningful, and long-term, and if you can show how it’s relevant to what you say you want to do in the future.
The other oddity that reinforces the “kitchen sink” feeling is all the stuff we sometimes see jammed in an online app under the Extracurriculars section. Often, many of the things cited don’t really seem like extracurriculars. Lists like that can sometimes come across as a little desperate. This is especially true when the majority of them are 5+ years old, like from college.
Or this real-life example:
It’s great if you served as advisor to your buddy’s home brew operation. Do you include that in your app?
Sure, if this home brew thing is a fledgling business, and if you added real value to getting it off the ground. If it’s just a hobby? And your contribution was taste-tester of the brews? Well…
Consider what impact each element of your application will have. The whole needs to add up to greater than the parts. Sometimes what we see from applicants is a jigsaw puzzle – unassembled, just the pieces tossed in a pile. It’s up to YOU to develop the messaging that shows the reader – someone who’s never met you, who’s forming opinions about you based on what you share with her – you need to show her who you are and why those elements are important, in the context of getting an MBA and potentially making a contribution to her bschool community.
The goal of an application is not to shove in every last bit of data about what you’ve ever done with every waking moment of your life. It’s to craft a picture of yourself for the adcom. Which you do, based on what you include. We recommend doing so INTENTIONALLY.