We got such an overwhelming response to our invitation to critique the answers from the politicians! (not) That’s OK. We don’t really have a heavily interactive community, and we don’t mind. It’s fine for all of you to come here for your daily dose of ‘Snark and move on. We know you’re busy. Besides, critiquing…
…getting a gift like this dropped from the heavens cannot be passed up.
You probably did not watch the Democratic debates last night but apparently there was…. an essay question asked of the candidates?
A classic format for many top schools is to ask you to talk about a significant challenge and what you learned from it. This question pops up from time to time in actual essay requirements for different bschools, and it’s a frequent question in MBA interviews too.
Well guess what? THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WERE ASKED THIS!
Here’s the entire clip – it’s almost 10 minutes but truly, it’s worth watching with an essay-writing hat on.
As you watch these, keep the question in mind:
You might even want to jot down notes on what each candidate said – not because we’re evaluating candidates, but because we’re evaluating answers.
We encourage you to watch; even though the video is edited, it’s still insightful to hear people answering in real time. If you don’t have time for a 10-minute video, the answers are also captured in this Washington Post article and here is a locally saved PDF of that in case you can’t get behind their paywall (sue us, WaPo, for illegally distributing your content if you want — we’re just trying to help essay-writers get better!): Washington Post: Presidential candidates at Democratic debates asked about recovering from a setback (September 12, 2019)
When that question was asked, there must’ve been admissions directors around the country scrambling to write it down.
Because it’s a good question!!
Does anyone want to comment on the answers that the candidates gave?
Would love to see you folks use your analytical minds to see how well they did!
The comments are open if anyone wants to
procrastinate on writing essays contribute some insightful thoughts over the weekend.
We’ll come back with thoughts of our own after letting you BSers chime in first if you want.
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.
Actually this tip applies to any essay for any MBA application, but it’s especially important to do this for the Stanford GSB MBA essay about “What matters most and why?” That’s because that’s typically a longer essay (recommended in the 750-word range by the GSB adcom) and because longer essays sometimes take on a life of their own.
What happens is, they start out in one place, with a particular statement about what matters to you in this crazy and mixed-up world… and they….
But it’s not evolution in the context of adaptation to a positive good, like Darwin and how our species is now walking upright. It’s not about being a better fit to the environment, where we’re good at breathing air and we’ll let those fishes continue breathing in water. Oh no, it’s not evolution like that, in favor of life. Instead, as this beast of a draft, this essay-as-organism wanders down the page, it mutates. It shifts. It undergoes this weird slithery transformation. (Some — not naming names — might even call it a regression.)
We’re not sure what kind of dark alchemy you’ve done in your draft, but frequently, by the time we get to the end of it, we’re like, “Whu?”
The ending of your essay bears no resemblance to the beginning.
It’s like one of those hydra monsters, or a Medusa of snakes, each one writhing in its own independent direction.
(Can you tell we’ve been reading too many essays today? The ‘Snark brain is fried. Forgive us our many metaphors.)
Where were we.
The tip for testing your Stanford Essay A is a very easy test for internal consistency.
Read the last paragraph of your essay.
Now go back to the beginning. Read your introduction.
Do they match?
Or did your answer to “What matters most?” wander off into the thicket of confusing ideas somewhere in the middle and get hopelessly lost, never to be heard from again?
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We wrote a how-to guide for applying to Stanford!
Or at least, sort of. Now, we’re not trying to blame the person being interviewed here. This is not her fault. But check out this short video from Stanford GSB: https://youtu.be/kSfwsS2OfPE It’s also posted on this page of their admissions website . OK great. Now, let’s examine the title of this video. On that admissions…
Reblahgging this from a few years ago because it’s RELEVANT! The comments are preserved including our “Huh??” exchange with a BSer which probably explains why so few of you ever post questions to us here lol – were we too harsh on that dude? maybe. Sorry, Mr JackStack BSer Man. Hope you’re enjoying your MBA!!
and OH YEAH THIS POST HAS A MAP TO COLUMBIA ESSAY 1 ON CAREER GOALS!!!
Wanna know the longest route to a solid first draft?
Open MS Word and start typing.
That’s guaranteed to end up making this process rocky and difficult.
When you begin the task of answering the question that a particular school is asking, there is NO WAY you will know what you want to say.
Sure, you can start typing, and see what comes out. If you keep typing — and keep referring back to the question, as a reminder of what you’re supposed to be talking about — you may, eventually, come around to something worth saying.
But there will be a lot of useless words spit out onto your screen before you get there.
It’s just how things go.
Any good writer in the world will tell you, first drafts suck. That’s what they’re designed for. You don’t know what you’re saying or how you want to say it. The task of a first draft is to get the ideas captured on the page, and then you can start the real work of figuring out what it means and what actually belongs.
Most good writers don’t even harbor any fantasies that their first drafts will be usable. They KNOW that they’ll need to come back for revision. They EXPECT to do massive rewriting, and then are ready to throw writing away. Whole chunks of it. Sentences. Paragraphs. Sometimes the full draft.
You can do your MBA essays that way if you want.
Or, you can just write out a draft, and run spellcheck, and submit it.
Both methods are pretty much guaranteed to be doomed. If you submit a first draft, then we have a confidence level approaching the value of 0 that the essay will invite an adcom reviewer to look twice at you. That’ll put you on a fast path to rejection. If you start your first draft by just writing-writing-writing, then we also guarantee that that draft will be near-useless as a final document that appropriately answers the question and demonstrates who you are as an applicant. That first draft will need to be rewritten. Probably from scratch. As in, a start-over File->New clean-slate rewrite.
So what other options are there? How else would you do it, if you’re not writing a first draft of your essay?
The other method of building your MBA apps is to construct your essays.
You take the first question you’re answering.
You parse it out to its separate components.
You tackle each one of them individually — through a process of research and discovery and self-reflection.
Take Columbia’s Essay 1 on career goals:This special nugget of advice is offered to our blahg members. If you’re seeing this message and you have an active blahg membership then please log in to view the Columbia essay question breakdown. Otherwise consider becoming a member! (end special nugget o’ Columbia essay 1 dissection)
Really what we’re saying here, Brave Supplicant, is break down the question, examine each piece individually, and then go off and think about it for awhile.
Taking each prompt apart and answering each element separately is super important. If you don’t do that, then you’re nearly guaranteed to be writing an essay that is half-baked and unfinished.
Each part that you answer needs significant attention, and brainstorming, and planning. It’s not a matter of dividing the page into sections and blah-blah-blahhing for each part of the question for a couple hundreds words, and you’re done.
Crafting out the nuggets from your background, and polishing up each individual item you will be presenting, will let you have these bite-sized chunks of material that you can then ASSEMBLE into a meaningful whole for your reader.
If you do the groundwork and lay the foundation in this manner, you will have significantly more ammunition at your disposal to apply to all the different essay questions that will be thrown at you this season.
(And oh yeah, shameless plug: The Complete Essay Package guides you through this whole process! Start to finish! We help you with the exercises for brainstorming and the techniques for examining your ideas in separate contexts, so that you have the building blocks you need to tackle all of the essays you’re trying to
write assemble this season.)
When you have your first drafts assembled, then they will still need some revision. They are not going to be “done” just because you built them up from those nuggets. But they’re much more likely to be much closer to your target than if you’d just freewheeled it with randomness. Then, you’ll have a shot at making that multidimensional presentation to the adcom we’ve been advocating.
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This post is actually going to be more specific to Harvard, but it applies universally. This was captured in a recent exchange with a BSer, but we had a near-identical exchange with a different BSer about a week ago, so we figured we’d toss this out to all of you! The question comes in many…
We’re not talking about your life.
We’re talking about your essays.
Which, at this point on the calendar as we head into Round 1, may be (should be!!) one and the same!
We realize that some of you just rolled out of bed and looked at the calendar and rubbed the sleepboulders from your eyes to realize that, “Oh. Hey. Aren’t some applications due pretty soon?” And you haven’t really begun the heavy lifting of writing any essays yet. (If that’s you: You still have time to go through all the steps of the Complete Essay Package and come up with a strong pitch!)
But others have been writingwritingwriting and despite our many warnings about DON’T DO THAT!! you wrote a full draft for Harvard’s open-ended question, or about Stanford “What matters most?”, as your very first project.
And now you have a frankenstein monster that’s 2,000 words and has every single thought that you’ve thunk in the past three years referenced somewhere.
As much as it pains us to even suggest it: It might be better to start over.
We see signs when this might be the best (only) way out of an essay morass with things like this:
- The introduction says stuff that’s never referenced again anywhere in the essay. Ever.
- The same story appears in multiple places, but only in bits and bobs.
- There’s timewarping out the gazoo.
- The essay is 3x as long as it’s allowed to be by the school’s instructions.
- The essay commits the #1 worst mistake in all of essays to bschool ever.
These are just some of the signs, and it’s certainly not an exhaustive list. But if even one of those is present in a draft, it is a good indication you may be headed for trouble.
It’s possible to do open-heart surgery on a draft that’s in trouble, but usually, it just makes a mess and gets guts on the floor and the patient ends up dying on the table anyway. And then the surgeon is exhausted and goes out to have a cigarette and doesn’t come back for two days.
That’s inefficient and non-productive (and dangerous: somebody’s gonna slip and fall in that mess of guts you left behind).
So yeah. We’re saying to put this beast out of its misery and start over.
But you know what?
If you do this, it may be painful at the beginning — just because that decision to drop what you’ve started and abandon all the words you wrote seems like a defeat.
But very, very soon, if you do this and ditch the too-long/overfraught/impossible spaghetti-mess of a document that you’ve constructed, and you do that horrible little step of “File->New” in Word, and stare at a pristine blank page that’s seemingly laughing back at you…
If you have the bravery to do that, then guess what?
It’s highly likely that the same good ideas you had before will still be there. Those good ideas will still make their way to this draft. And very soon, after going through some emotional angst in the difficult decision, you’ll start to see sunlight again, and you’ll get energized.
That is, provided you don’t repeat the same process that got you the Frankenstein before.
You need to start over and do the first step differently.
Don’t start over by writing a new draft.
If you do this, then you need to START OVER WITH OUTLINES.
Figure out EXACTLY what the answer to the question is first. This needs to be YOUR FIRST STEP.
Now that you’ve written a bunch on this topic, you will have a whole arsenal of ideas to pull from. The step that many people skip is ORGANIZING THOSE IDEAS. Selecting the best ones, and leaving the others aside for another essay on another day. Structuring your thoughts. Putting things in their proper place. Sticking with the skeleton form of an essay first. Not writing it.
If you just start writing, the draft will end up looking like the inside of your brain looks: a frenetic upchuck of random crazy thoughts and ideas that may be tangentially related but really don’t make all that much sense. (Isn’t that how your thoughts work in your head? Lots of pingponging? Associations and tangents? Snippets and memories and muddiness and distractions? We often see essays that are a direct representation of the thought patterns going on in the person’s brain. Revealing that to the adcom is not actually a good way to get into bschool. 😉 )
Here’s some actual honest-to-goodness real-life feedback we gave to a BSer after coming to the conclusion that this person’s Harvard draft was similarly unsalvagable:
(Such feedback — and plenty more like it, that’s actionable and specific and very very detailed — is given through our Essay Decimator Essay Review service, in case you were wondering.)
Remember, writing essays is not a writing exercise.
There are very, very few people who know what they want to say before they start writing — yet they start writing anyway. And then they have an essay that doesn’t know what it’s saying.
Don’t be that guy.
Sometimes the quickest way to where you want to get is to slow down, or even, sometimes, to start over.
You may also be interested in:
Sometimes we come across a draft of an essay written by a BSer that’s technically sound — no typos, sentences are clear, proper length, answers the question. It has all the elements that we suggest go into an essay of that type — appropriate references, using an example, talking about X or Y or Z…
There is no formula to writing essays. Yes, a good essay for Columbia question 1 will have certain components, and in our Columbia Essay Guide we even map out an ideal structure. But that doesn’t mean it’s a formula. You cannot take one essay and tweak a few ingredients and have it work as well…