We’re reblahgging this post from 2015 because these are questions that many of you have — and these practices really haven’t changed much in the time since this originally went up. While schools are getting more scrutiny, and they are trying to make changes internally, it appears that things have only gotten worse. …
Aw man, here we go again. Yet another post from EssaySnark on ethics. You’d think we’d get sick of hearing ourselves talk about this.
Because it matters.
Especially in this mixed-up world we’re living in now. Ethics really really matters.
In case you missed it, our title says:
That thin line between being smart and cheating.
But that title lies.
There is no thin line.
It’s a bright red line that is really easy to see, and even easier not to cross.
Admittedly, it may be a tiny bit confusing, when there’s admissions consultants like the ‘Snark out there, helping you with developing your strategy for writing your essays to bschool. When it’s so open and accepted for MBA applicants to work with admissions consultants, then that may send mixed signals.
It can also be confusing when the accepted wisdom for smart Brave Supplicants is to work openly with your recommenders, to talk with them about what they might want to write, to even suggest some possible ideas or do some brainstorming with them about your qualities and traits. To remind them of the things you worked on together and the ways you did impressive things on the job. That too may send mixed signals.
But actually the line is very clear on how to operate ethically in constructing your apps:
Nobody but YOU writes your essays.
Nobody but YOUR RECOMMENDER writes the recs.
There. Done. Nothing else to say!
We still hear of applicants who went ahead and drafted a letter of recommendation for their boss because he was really busy and he wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Or she doesn’t speak good English so this just seemed like the easiest way. Or culturally it’s not really common to have a manager write a recommendation, so the only way you thought you could get one was to do it yourself.
Or for certain international applicants who have doubts about their own English skills, to just outsource the task and have one of those academic essay writing services write things up. Or heck, there are even unscrupulous and no-morals so-called “consultants” out there who will just create your entire application out of whole cloth.
Dang, there’s even a Resume Writing Service available at a major website that explicitly advertises that they will write your resume for your MBA app.
THIS IS NOT OKAY, PEOPLE.
EssaySnark is probably most miffed at the so-called consultants and advisors who market their services to do this kind of stuff, because they are totally and completely unprofessional and absolutely gaming the system. Yes the applicants are at fault too — nobody should be misrepresenting someone else’s effort as their own. No, it’s not as bad as Photoshopping applicants’ heads onto the bodies of athletes, but damn, it’s not really that different.
It is FRAUD.
So, just a (not) gentle reminder, Brave Supplicant:
If you’re applying to business school, you need to do so based on a presentation of reality. Your own work. Your own essays.
Yes, you can get input, help, education, coaching from others. There are experts who know what to do, and what to avoid. Use them wisely.
But paying someone to write your drafts? Or writing recommendations for your own application? These both are big no-nos and if you’re found out, you will be rejected for this reason alone.
It’s the same as lying on your resume and making up jobs you never held or degrees you don’t have. It is unethical and WRONG. Don’t do it, grasshopper. Just don’t. There is no justification in the world that makes any of this right.
Also, how odd to be posting a regular ol’ post today. Here we are, talking about getting into bschool. On September 11th. Like the most significant day that most of us Americans have lived through in our entire lifetimes. And yet, so much time has now passed from that fateful day…. Weird, how it can be just another day on the calendar now.
All the schools prefer that you get a letter of recommendation from your current direct supervisor, yet they know that that’s not always possible. If you don’t plan to have your current manager write for you, that’s fine, but you need to explain to the adcom why not. In many cases, this needs to be…
When they ask you on the app if you waive your right to view your records, should you say yes? This is not a consequential thing in the context of your actual app strategy. But it’s the type of thing that can cause applicants stress, and some recommenders may wonder about it, how it works,…
Choice of recommenders for your MBA apps is partially a strategic one (who can say the most insightful things about you? anyone in a position to recommend you who’s also an alum of the school?) yet it’s also an exceedingly practical one. Who meets the standard criteria that the top schools are looking for? 1….
Hopefully you’re celebrating with some big news of acceptances — at least one, and maybe multiple! We’ve been inundated with many happy emails and updates from excited Brave Supplicants who are headed to bschool in the fall, and we do hope that you also are in that position.
In the rush of your big news of successes then there’s one important task you should not forget about:
Remember all those people who recommended you for admission? The current and former bosses who spent all that time on your apps? Now would be an excellent time to say THANK YOU!! to all of those people.
And we don’t mean just the excited “OMG thanks!” when you announce to your boss you got in. Yes you will do that, obviously, but there’s more to be done at this moment of power.
Having a gesture with people who believed in you, who went out of their way to make effort on your behalf, is a way to close the loop and make sure they know that you appreciate what they did.
It’s not like those people did it because they expected to get thanked or gifted later on.
However, you’re in a moment of power — a big win has happened that you worked hard to achieve. There’s an opening with that, and if you stay humble, and appreciative, and capture some of this energy in a way that sends it back to people in your life that you admire and respect, then it is a way of honoring it, for yourself and for them.
You can say “thank you” in any way that feels right for you, that’s appropriate to the nature of the relationship. Maybe you’ll take your manager out for a drink, or sport for a really nice dinner. Maybe you’ll buy a round of drinks for everyone on your team. Maybe you’ll buy a formal thank-you card from a nice stationery store, and write your appreciate by hand. Maybe it’s a nice box of chocolates that she can take home to her family. Obviously the minimum would be a well-crafted email but our opinion is that this moment deserves more. Reflect on this person. Take some time to think of something meaningful to say. Do more than just thank them. Tell them what you appreciate about them. Share some way that they helped you to develop and grow. Include a small reference to something that they may not even have recognized that was meaningful for you. Make it specific, and personal. Highlight their value to you in some way. Make it explicit.
Or if that all seems like too much, then at least be sure you directly communicate your gratitude and appreciation. Do what feels right to you, based on the nature of the relationship you have with him or her as an individual.
Don’t believe us on the difference it can make?
Underrated: Sending a follow-up to someone who has helped you (e.g. made an intro, gave advice, etc) on how things went. I received two email updates out of the blue and it completely made my day.
— Linda Xie (@ljxie) March 19, 2019
Showing some class, and good manners, at these moments in life will make an impression, especially in this day and age when people seem to always cut corners and be in a rush and it’s easy to forget the niceties of life. But that’s not why you’re doing it. You’re doing it for you. These people did something for you when they didn’t have to, and they clearly did it well enough that the schools want to have you. They didn’t phone it in or just rattle off meaningless answers to the questions that the schools asked for in the recs. (Or maybe they did, but even if so, they still went to the effort of completing them!! and whatever they said didn’t prevent you from getting accepted.) So an acknowledgement and a heart-felt ‘thank you’ is warranted. That’s just about being a decent person.
But what will actually happen if you go to the trouble of doing something more than the minimum is you will capture the magic of this moment in your life, this phase when you’re flying high from your successes, and like embedding in amber, it will crystallize in very fine memories. Those you will have for the rest of your life.
Beginnings and endings are important. You’re in a moment of big transition and these moments will float by so fast. Having a gesture with the people who matter and who have played a role in your life at such times will change you. As they say, sweat the details. The details are all that we have.
Just to be clear, this post is not a veiled attempt to get people to say ‘Thank You EssaySnark!!’ — we’re always thrilled to hear of BSers’ acceptances and MBA wins so such emails and updates announcing your admits are certainly fun to receive, but that’s not what this post is about. If you wanna let us know you got in we would love to hear it! But if not, that’s ok too. You should still thank your recommenders, either way. 🙂
We frequently mention how underappreciated the resume is as part of an MBA application (really, truly, the resume you have on hand from the last time you were job-hunting is not optimized for this process). How much does job title matter in MBA apps? Do the adcoms care about how much you’ve been promoted? What…
Lots of people manage to get into bschool by winging it. Winging it with the essays, winging it with which schools they’re trying for, winging it by putting it all off till the end. Lots more people manage NOT to get into bschool BECAUSE OF winging it. If we tell you “You need a strategy!”…
Similar to our warning that a project is not an accomplishment, today we’ll talk about what may be less obvious but is nearly as important. Capturing promotions on the resume is super important — it’s actually one of the main opportunities for optimization we see over and over when people go through our Reworking Your…
Hopefully by now you’ve at least created an account in one or more of your target schools’ applications and taken a look through.
If you have not done so yet, STOP.
Click off this site.
Then go through it, page by page.
We don’t suggest actually starting to fill it out. Not yet. Instead, familiarize yourself with the full extent of what they’re asking. This is a great way to get oriented into the entire process and figure out what the schools look at. Every single datapoint that they ask about in the online application is important — else they wouldn’t ask for it! There are some fields that are optional and it’s up to you if you choose to include that data. This includes stuff like gender identity and how did you learn about this school and other non-core pieces. Typically we suggest entering every single item that they ask for, but we can appreciate that there may be situations where a certain tidbit should justifiably be omitted.
However, you’re not entering any of those tidbits at this stage, for two reasons:
1. If you start entering the data in a slapdash way the first time you’re in the system, then you are undoubtedly going to mess something up. Either you’ll enter in the data that you think is right, such as your start date at your current job, or your HR job title, or any number of things that you assume you already know. But it turns out to be wrong, and once the field is filled, it’s quite common for people to never go back and look at it again. Or, you’ll knowingly enter data that’s incomplete, just as a placeholder, and then you’ll forget to come back and fix it later on. Both of which would be real bummers if you submit your app with gaps and holes. It may sound obvious to say that but it happens all the time, so that’s why we’re trying to warn you about certain ways you can make things harder. Don’t enter your data until you’re tackling that task intentionally, with a significant chunk of time available to you to focus uninterruptedly, and to concentrate, and all the documents or reference materials you need available to enter it accurately, in one shot.
2. The purpose of the app review that we’re suggesting is not to do anything with the app. It’s to understand what the schools care about and get a tangible sense of the entirety of a “profile” in the context of MBA admissions. When schools say they do a holistic review, they mean “we look at everything you tell us” which obviously means they look at the stuff you submit in the app. When you understand what is within scope of this “holistic review” then it gives you more of a chance to optimize the entirety of your presentation. (We talk more about this whole “holistic review” thing here.)
Instead, take notes on what they’re asking for — including details. Especially if you’re a reapplicant! For example, many schools require reapplicants to submit only one recommendation, and some (e.g., Columbia) require that it be from someone new, who didn’t write for you last time. Other schools don’t care who you pick. (Pro Tip: If re-using a recommender from last year, make sure he or she knows not to re-use the recommendation!!! The letters of recommendation need to be fresh and new for a reapplication.) These details are often only revealed in the actual application.
In addition, many schools aren’t so great about keeping their websites up to date. We frequently see schools post one set of requirements on their website or use a particular phrasing in an essay prompt — or, as recently happened with Wharton, one word count for an essay (400 words for Essay 2). Then in the online app, there are subtle or not-so-subtle differences (Wharton’s essay 2 this year allows 500 words, but their website was only updated with this information last week). The online application is the final say (except in the case when it’s not! argh! such as happened with Booth earlier this season).
We’ve even seen BSers build out complicated spreadsheets tracking all of these items, though frankly, that seems like an exceptionally awesome way to totally procrastinate on doing any actual work on actual applications.
This pre-review step is also critically important for, say, the HBS essay. The Harvard essay question is basically saying, “Talk to us about stuff we didn’t ask you to talk about.” There’s many ways you can approach that, but fundamental to it is understanding what else they’re asking for, so you can get a sense of what content would be new. (We have an entire MBA admissions guide for Harvard Business School which goes into much greater detail on what to do with that challenging question, in case you want some significantly more detailed guidance!)
There are many commonalities among schools’ online applications but there’s also striking differences as well. Some are really long and involved. Some ask questions that may surprise you, or that you are unsure on what to do with. Some may require research or investigation.
We have additional tips and advice on maximizing the online application dataset in the ‘snarchive so don’t overlook those, and if you have a question on a specific school’s question on the app, hit us up in the comments, we’d be happy to offer some input on what they are asking for and how to deal with it.
If you're applying to bschool in Round 1, a great task to complete today is to go through at least one online app form in its entirety. Get familiar with what the schools are asking. It's an excellent way to get your feet wet in this daunting process!
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) July 29, 2018
We tweet tips like this sometimes!
The twittersnark will be more focused on essay strategies and specific school advice as we move towards Round 1.
And finally, a blatant upsell: If our comments about letters of recommendation for reapplicants got you worried about who you’re choosing and what they’re gonna say, our Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator is the perfect solution!