We mentioned this in our resume mistakes post recently, and even though this is probably in the category of “Not useful until you need it” we’re gonna blahg about it today anyway. Most of you reading this are either long done writing essays — Hallelujah! — or procrastinating writing essays — no comment — and…
Saw some rando social media post from some stranger recently which said:
We have to say goodbye to my parents dog and needless to say I’m literally balling my eyes out.
Not to be ColdHeartedSnark or nuthin but…
You are NOT “literally” doing half the things you claim to be.
Your eyes are still in their sockets — balls and all.
Even if you’re bawling, they’re still in their sockets.
If you’re balling, hopefully they also still are! 😯
You probably won’t be using such words of emphasis in your MBA essays, but if you’re prone to this particular verbal hiccup, then it’s quite possible you’ll inadvertently use it in presenting a story in your MBA interview.
And that would be bad.
Not BAD-bad, as in, “OMG you’re totally getting rejected now!!” bad.
Just more like EEK-bad, as in, “Wow, that admissions person sure is smirking a lot, I wonder what I said???”
If your interviewer is trying to stifle a laugh as she’s taking notes on the things that you’ve said, that can really throw you off of your game.
So, to clarify 100% what this post is about and remove all room for confusion:
What the mother effing F___ is that second definition?!!!
Okay whatever. You people win.
But just in case you end up interviewing with some Old School Adcom who thinks like the Snark, you might wanna drop the misappropriation of this innocent little word in the way that you have become accustomed to appropriating it.
For the love of G. Now people say things wrongly and they just change the DICTIONARY?!?
Who makes these rules?
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…
Have you ever had someone push their phone in your face to show you a picture — and for the life of you, you could not figure out what you were looking at?
Don’t make your essays be like that.
When someone has a photo on their phone, chances are that they’re the one who took it. They’re the one who was at that place at that time, looking at that thing that they decided was important enough to capture forever. (Or at least until Apple decides to push an iPhone update that bricks their phone and makes them lose everything that had not been recently backed up. Because THAT never happens. Effing Apple.)
Sorry, where were we?
Oh yeah. Someone’s all, “Look, isn’t this great?” And they’re waiting for a reaction and you’re just staring at the phone, trying to get oriented.
Or even worse, they pull it away and swipe to another one. “See?”
And you’re all, Nope, nope, nope, can’t see a thing, no idea.
And if it’s a new acquaintance, you smile and nod and say “Cool!” and pick up your drink.
Well guess what? The equivalence of “Cool!” from your adcom reader’s side is, “Whelp, don’t know what THAT is supposed to be about, let’s move on,” and they swipe left — to the next application in the stack.
One of the most fundamental problems with the essays you’ve written is that YOU’VE WRITTEN THEM.
Meaning, YOU know what they’re about.
You were there. You had the experience. You can pull it up instantly in your head as a memory.
(Or at least, we HOPE you can! If you’re fabricating essay topics out of whole cloth then that’s another problem entirely.)
For anything but a career goals or “why MBA?” essay, good essays are stories used in response to the question.
And even for those other essays, stories are often required to do a good job in answering!
But for the majority of schools, you’ll have essays that almost entirely are comprised of a story. Berkeley Haas’ 6-word story essay is a prime example.
How do you make sure that your essay is not an undefined blur of a picture for your adcom reader?
1. Start by answering the question. This may seem soooooo basic but trust us, it’s really going to help you make sure you’re writing on target to what has been asked. There are other ways to do it, including what this Kellogg applicant attempted, but oftentimes those types of approaches are being creative for creativity’s sake. Or trying to be clever or cute. Or some other motivation beyond just being direct. If you are direct in your essays, you cannot lose.
2. Include details. You need to think like a reporter when you’re setting things up. Remember, your adcom reader does not know you. Don’t be like the guy flashing his phone in your face to show you his photo.
All of this may seem overly simplistic and totally obvious when we write it out here — but please don’t discount this advice. Add this post to your favorites (see that little button at the bottom? Active blahg members get access to the Favoriting system which is our on-site bookmarking tool). Come back to it later. Examine your draft – test your writing against what we’re saying. Because apparently this is not so basic.
If all of this were so obvious as you seem to believe, then why do so many of your essays suck worse than black jelly beans?
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You don’t have to care. So we’ll take it back and not say you “should” care. But you might want to care – at least in the context of writing the best essays you can, which means clearly saying what you mean to say and not saying something ridicjulous.
Good news everyone! Though shockingly deeply lodged in my ear canal, my trauma-nurse sister was able to extract the loose silicon earbud cover!
Wait hang on, let me back up. So it turns out that earbuds can break in your ear on the train.
Or so I’ve heard.
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) September 13, 2018
That particular thread is pretty funny because that guy is pretty funny, but if you didn’t notice, what he wrote in the second sentence is actually nonsensical.
Here’s the reply-tweet that pointed it out:
Was she a trauma nurse before she got lodged in the ear canal, or because she got lodged in the ear canal?
— Glenn Hansen (@HansenHouse) September 13, 2018
These are the types of writing errors that not everyone will notice. Usually, the thing-you’re-saying can still be figured out from context. It’s probably true that most all of you reading today knew that the ear bud is what was stuck in the guy’s ear, and that the sister only helped to extract it. But technically that’s not what he wrote.
Being precise with language is more important in some contexts, or with some statements — such as the classic Eats Shoots and Leaves from the wonderful book by the same name.
Getting this wrong in an MBA essay won’t be the end of the world, or the end of your chances of an admit.
But sometimes these errors are funny, which actually is funny/not-funny because what’s funny to the adcom is decidedly not-funny to you when you realize the error happened on an app that’s already been submitted.
So just a reminder today — AGAIN — that grammar counts! And your fifth grade teacher Ms. Henderson is now smiling that FINALLY you see the value in all that she tried to cram down your throat.
And the other reminder that EssaySnark is available this weekend!! In case you have dangling modifiers that you need pointed out.
We’re reblahgging this from a few years ago because it’s timely! and relevant! and hopefully helpful!!
Today’s post is about two totally unrelated things, except that they both came up for us multiple times over the past few weeks in the marathon of essay-reviewing we’ve been doing.
- close-knit community
- diverse student body
- collaborative students
- strong alumni network
- leadership skills
- business acumen
Or you could say close-knit student body and collaborative community and — well, you get the point.
Maybe we should develop an MBA Essay Generator — just enter the name of the school you’re targeting, your short-term goal and long-term goal, and push a button, and out pops the essay!
‘Cuz people, all of yours have been sounding the same. May as well be a fill-in-the-blanks type proposition, like Mad Libs or something. Wants us to sit around the office playing Buzzword Bingo as we read the essays. Hmmmm… wonder if that every happens in the admissions offices at these schools? It’s gotta be tempting.
Hopefully you have some REAL reasons for wanting to get an MBA and your essays include more than just these tired old cliches and boring buzzwords. Granted, “business acumen” is a pet peeve specific to the ‘Snark – it’s unlikely any of your adcom readers will react quite so negatively as we do when they see that — but none of those just ain’t gonna get you noticed for much.
What might get you noticed but for oh all the wrong reasons would be some of these:
Really Bad Typos
Yes we actually saw these recently.
- “It is not time for me to get my MBA.” (presumably they meant “now”?)
- “I defiantly want to go to Wharton.” (you sure about that?)
- “I am quiet confident that Duke is the best place for my MBA.” (well, confidence is always good!)
- “I can better asses a situation like this in the future.” (oooo we saw this in more than one BSer’s drafts)
- “My goal is to shit my career into consulting.” (our personal fave!)
- (new for 2018!) “Launched a mentoring program to improve faulty efficiency” (coming from someone working in education — presumably they meant “faculty”? but maybe not!)
Writing something like THAT will surely get your adcom reader’s attention. You’d even likely elicit a belly-laugh from them.
When you’re in a sleep-deprived caffeine-adled fog of essay-writing delirium, the eye is not to be trusted. Proofreading is a special task that you should honor and treat with care. Do it separately from any editing process. Put everything aside for awhile and then come back to it again when you’re fresh. When we see mistakes like this in an essay, we will tell you that there are writing errors that you need to watch for… but we won’t necessarily correct them. EssaySnark is not an editor. It’s your job to make your puppies perfect.
Not that any of you are ‘fresh’ right about now – not after all the late nights you’ve been pulling!
On the topic of proofreading and polish, here’s a couple of posts that may help you … at least, if you’re not now in active panic-mode as you rush to pull up the versions you’ve already submitted, to make sure you didn’t commit one of these major faux pas.
- Tips for cutting it down to size (overlimit essays)
- Formatting your MBA essays
- How to write a conclusion
- And one more related to the “buzzwords” thing: Words that appear only in essays and resumes
Nobody’s gonna get rejected for a typo in an essay… but it’s not going to endear you to your adcom reader, either. Attention to detail, people. It’s a beautiful thing.
UPDATE! This “buzzword” thing prompted some questions in the comments, which we’ve responded to in a series of follow-up posts, starting here!
- Wrong school name: Talking about how much you want to go to Wharton in your essay for Columbia
- Not using spellcheck: Obvious spelling errors
- Relying on spellcheck: Obvious spelling errors
- Reusing another school’s essay that clearly doesn’t fit the question: The schools know what their peer schools have asked
- Going negative: Throwing shade at a boss or a colleague when presenting your story
- Being boastful
- Thinking a first draft is good
- Getting too much input into your essays
- Not getting any input into your essays
- Not answering the question
(Hint: As you can see, we have posts on each of these topics all over the blahg — some in the very last week!!)
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Or maybe even those for whom English is a first language should do this!
When we give feedback, we capture comments on EVERY dimension:
- Does this answer the question?
- Does it make sense?
- Is it a GOOD answer?
- Does it fit what the adcoms are looking for?
- Is it grammatically clean?
Often the feedback can be a little overwhelming at first! There is always a lot to absorb. And what you can do is to help yourself manage all of that advice in a few simple ways.
One way is to spend time with the feedback on multiple different days. It’s very common for the comments we make to not make much sense at all, mostly because you’re learning new techniques of writing and presentation and you know how hard it is when you’re learning something brand new! But also because often the brain closes down or freezes up when faced with criticism. We are never TRYING to criticize, but it is at its core a critique. And the ego doesn’t like it! So often, when someone originally receives this influx of (seeming) negativity, they shut down and have trouble taking it in.
So coming back to it repeatedly will help. It allows the sting to soften and the ego to relax its guard and start to accept the idea that change may be needed, and to better understand where those changes can be done.
Lost in all of this may be corrections in that last category, about grammar.
If you’re an international applicant where English is not your first language, then it’s likely we will be pointing out some common patterns or repeated instances within your draft where you make the same mistakes in your writing. The most frequent issue is a dropped article (missing the word “a” or “the” when writing a noun). Another is improper capitalization (words that are not proper nouns are still capitalized). There are others, too, but those seem to be what we see the most frequently.
You’d never be rejected over something like this; the adcom readers are tolerant of writing errors from candidates coming from other languages. They’ll also in most cases have a TOEFL score for you and they’ll be using your interview to further evaluate your ability to communicate in English. So a writing error or two like this on an essay is not going to prevent your acceptance. (If you’re an American, native speaker or not, that’s less likely be true! Making your essays absolutely perfect is obviously much much better — and remember, you need to do this work on your own! Hiring an editor or having a writer friend do a red-line review on your essays is not appropriate!! That’s too much input into your work and it’s a violation of the standards that the schools are expecting you to meet with your apps.)
Anyway, so what are we suggesting you do?
KEEP A LIST.
If you get feedback from us and we point out these errors in grammar or writing that you have a tendency to make, jot them down. Make a checklist of issues that you will do a pre-submit review to hunt for.
If you know that you often drop the article, then before you upload your essays, after you are sure that everything you’re saying is sound and that the content is exactly as you want it, then do one more pass through them where you look specifically at every single noun, and make sure it has an article identified correctly.
You’re noun-hunting. You’re not reading for content. You’re not checking for spelling. You’re only looking at nouns, and examining each one to make sure that it’s referenced correctly.
Here’s a tip that everyone should use regardless of your native language:
You already know that spellcheck sucks and will betray you all the time.
Specifically though: Spellcheck often does not check words that are written in all capital letters. So, on your resume, if you have headers or have used ALL CAPS for the names of your companies or the name of your college, you must go look at each of those all-caps entries individually. Very often we see ridiculous typos in these headers that are totally face-palm worthy. In just the past few weeks we’ve seen someone who graduated from SMITH COLEGE and another person who had a section on her resume showing she was SELF-EMPOYED.
Can you say “ouch”?
Talk about a way you can instantly un-impress your reader!
Having a separate proofreading step — or several! — is really important. Your essays become too familiar to you; your brain stops seeing what’s literally on the page. (This is actually why it’s so helpful to have a qualified third-party reviewer, to make sure that what’s in your head is what’s literally being said!)
This is in the category of “avoidable
misteaks mistakes” or unforced errors.
You don’t want to discover them later, after the app is already in!
You may also be interested in:
- 3 Last Minute Mistakes That Will Make You Feel Totally Stupid
- Nobody’s perfect. But your app needs to be.
If you really study the techniques that we proffer then heck, if this bschool thing doesn’t work out, maybe you can become a screenwriter! We recently talked about Star Wars and Top Gun and today we’re going to tell you about Chekhov’s gun . We often say “Every word counts” which is true but maybe…
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”