Seems like we’re writing a lot about Stanford just lately. (Even those posts weren’t explicitly about Stanford — yeah, they’re about Stanford.) It’s because the Stanford essays are so hard! If you’re trying for Stanford, then first step is to pick up our Stanford Essay Guide. Because we go into a lot more stuff there…
Authenticity is just a concept. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. It’s not like a question on the GMAT, where there’s only one correct answer and you can find out if you did it right (or at least, on a practice exam you will find out). Because it’s a concept, authenticity is not…
“When I look around I always learn something, and that is to be yourself always. Express yourself and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it. Start from the root of your being and ask, how can I be me?”
Sometimes we give feedback to BSers and we can just see the eye-rolling that it triggers on the receiving end. We get really down into the weeds with you when we’re going through something like a career goals plan or reading an MBA essay. A common example is when someone says something like, “I want…
We hate to paint with such a broad brush but as you very well know, there’s a whole segment of the bschool applicant population with very similar profiles. And a big segment this is. The competition among the Indian contingent is fierce. One of the challenges is that it seems like half the Indian engineers…
The first two sentences of this paragraph are OK but they are a little hyped up and they sound like they are written as marketing materials for the school, instead of grounded explanations for what you value or why. It’s OK, but it is coming on as very complimentary (the school already knows how great they are, they don’t need you to tell them in the essay) and we’re not getting any sense of what your “self development journey” is about or how Duke specifically will be a part of that. These sentences could be literally written for any school.
Skip the hype. Skip the a55-kissing.
Simmilarly, when you profess how awesome the school is and how “unique” its community is or how “unmatched” the diversity there is, it just comes across as, well, disingenuous.
How do you know it’s “unmatched’? Have you done a survey of all the schools and are deigning this one the best in this regard? (this type of writing does not actually help you – it just sounds like you’re sucking up).
When you want to come across as authentic, then that means writing in natural language without a bunch of empty compliments.
This is just like the other warnings about tone we’ve offered recently.
First you need to know what to say in your essay.
But then you need to figure out a way to say it, where you don’t come across like a posturing baboon.
*We found a posing baboon pic but it was actually NSFW so this will have to suffice.
You do not need to be fixed.
You definitely do not need to be packaged or branded.
You don’t need to be spun, or promoted, or polished up to a shine. (OK, maybe you need a shower, but…)
The problem with this process of applying to business school is that it sends the signal that who you are now is not good enough.
Average GMAT score? Not enough.
Decent grades? Not enough.
You pour your heart out into your essays and you still get rejected?
Clearly the schools are saying, You’re not enough.
You’re not good enough.
You’re not talented enough.
You have not done enough interesting things.
But hold up.
Let’s look at this.
From our perspective, sitting on the snarky side of the fence, there are only two requirements for getting into a good MBA program:
1. You must be willing to work hard.
2. You must give yourself enough time.
If you’re rushing, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to have as much success in this process as you could if you’d
not procrastinated the entire fall season away started on the process earlier and kept working diligently until it was done.
But guess what? You didn’t. You had noble intentions, but then Life got in the way, and you had trouble motivating yourself. You were probably THINKING ABOUT your apps nearly all the time since the summer, but you too often got faced with that demon of “ohgawdidontknowhowtodothisorwheretoevenbegin” and you flinched, and you escaped into Netflix again. And that’s what happened to the month of August, and September, and then again in November. That’s not a personal failing. All that is, is being overwhelmed by what seems like a monumental task (WRITING ESSAYS UGGH!) and then the pesky habit of Time took the months away.
When we boil this down, it actually ends up revealing itself to be #1 in disguise.
For most people, procrastination is not a sign that you are a loser. It does not even mean that you’re lazy. It’s just the simple human reaction when faced with fear of the unknown. The brain is wired to seek comfort; to run from risk.
Our ancient ancestors had a thought like this:
“Ooo look there’s a tiger!”
The human brain got deeply wired to react with:
“OMG GET THE F. OUT OF HERE!”
Applying to bschool is just our modern-day tiger.
You’ve set this very big goal for yourself — you want to go on the hunt! Shoot an animal for dinner! Provide for your family!
So you set out on the savannah to find an antelope or a buffalo or a wildebeest.
You make all the preparations. You sharpen your tools (study for the GMAT). You get ready for the expedition (take the GMAT). You learn about your prey and its habits (stalk the adcoms on twitter and facebook). It rains, so you adjust your plans (take the GMAT again). You have all your gear, and you’re committed to the task, and you head out onto the plains, and you scout your targets (decide on which schools to apply). You put yourself in position. You’re all ready to go, you’re going to definitely make a run for it now, and —
“Oh crap what is that oh sh!t no it’s a lion. It’s a lion? YES IT’S A LION RUN RUN RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!”
Well dang. That didn’t work like you’d hoped. Stupid lion. You tried for a gazelle. You end up nabbing a warthog. At least you’re not going to starve tonight.
You’re just super embarrassed when you have to go back to the village without the prize you went out there to hunt.
Talk about ruining your self esteem.
Talk about a great way to make you feel like a total idiot.
You talked up a good game, but when push comes to shove, what do you have to show for yourself?
Now you have to ask your recommender to do more recommendations. Now you have to admit that you failed.
We are here to tell you that you have not failed.
You simply have not succeeded yet.
Getting into bschool is about picking the schools that are right for you, and then working diligently on creating a set of application materials that present who you are authentically.
That is the secret to getting in.
It’s not about saying the right thing or figuring out a formula (except to the extent that yes, this is a competitive process, and things like GMAT and GPA do matter).
It’s not about coming up with the right wording that that school will respond to.
It’s about spending the time and effort to figure yourself out.
How do you know what schools to apply to?
You need to know yourself.
How do you write an essay that the school will respond to?
You need to know yourself.
What is the only fundamental requirement to make all of this happen?
You need to be willing to do the work.
Or really, a truer statement is, you need to be willing to go into the unknown.
Writing essays is facing the tiger. It’s saying, “No no no, I know your tricks. I know you’re just an oversized pussy cat.”
This is true in ALL things. In ALL of life.
Unless you’re someone who is literally hunting her meals on the plains every day. In which case, a tiger is actually a tiger, and we hope you will run from it!!!
But in modern-day life in the 21st Century, in the challenges that most of us humans are facing, the tiger is not really a tiger.
The tiger is only in your mind.
When your brain conjures up thoughts of “Oh sh!t I don’t know what to do, this is a very big project and the whole thing of me going out into the world and doing something this big and this important scares the holy eff out of me” then all of a sudden your brain is seeing TIGER!!!! when one doesn’t exist.
The only thing stopping you from getting into a great MBA program is your thoughts. If you are letting the fear of the tiger prevent you from doing the work that’s required, then let’s go back to square one:
From our perspective, there are only two requirements for getting into a good MBA program:
1. You must be willing to work hard.
2. You must give yourself enough time.
If you did not give yourself enough time, then with almost 100% certainty we can tell you, it’s because you let the FEAR OF the tiger get in the way.
There is no tiger.
You just imagined there is one.
And you reacted as any sane person facing a tiger would do.
So #2 is just that you got confused, and you let fear win.
So what about #1?
If you’re interested in an MBA then you have already been successful to some degree or another in life. At minimum, you have successfully completed college — which sounds basic, but remember, not everyone does that. You know how to work towards a goal. You know how to apply yourself and be productive. It’s also likely the case that you have taken the GMAT at least once and scored something decent, which again shows that you are able to put in the effort to achieve a purpose. You studied for the test (even if haphazardly) and you got a score that is in range for a top MBA program.
So right there, we have two datapoints to prove it. We know that you are CAPABLE of working hard.
Then what could the problem be? If you’re CAPABLE of working hard but you have not yet managed to get into a top MBA program, it boils down to:
A. You’re CAPABLE of working hard on other things, but you DID NOT REALLY work hard on your apps (you may have PRETENDED to work hard, by writing a few essays and sending them in, but you know in your heart if you REALLY worked hard on them or not). If it’s this, then it’s a problem of self-delusion. You fooled yourself. No big deal. We do that all the time, on all sorts of things! (“This first bite of Ben & Jerry’s tastes good! This second one tastes good too! I’m just gonna keep eating it!! [ 5 mins later…] Ugh I should not have eaten the whole pint omg this feels awful.”) The remedy? Work harder!!
B. The fear of the tiger got in the way, which is another way of saying, you weren’t WILLING.
When fear comes into your skull, it seems like there are no options.
You WANT to achieve this thing, but dang. Real life. Overwhelming. It’s too big.
Or whatever the fear-thoughts manifest as in your own specific incarnation.
If you got stymied by B — not being willing to work hard (which is another way of saying that you were deterred by the fear-thought, since we already have established that you WANT this for yourself, and you are CAPABLE of it) — then we have a trick for you.
You don’t have to know how to do it.
You don’t even have to know how to be willing to know how.
You just have to be WILLING to be willing.
If you’re reading this and it’s not making any sense, that’s OK.
But if you’re reading this and it’s clicking for you in some way, then good.
Most people reading this now are either in an egg nog stupor of celebration around the holidays and having already gotten into one of their top-choice MBA programs, and they’re simply still in the habit of reading the ‘Snark every day.
But there’s a whole slew of others of you who are coming here with a sense of dread and mild panic over all of the work to be done, and many doubts and insecurities about this whole process.
You don’t have to know how to get in. You just have to identify one thing to be done at a time, and go do it.
Maybe that means writing an outline. Just one. For one school. Map out your ideas. Put some structure to it.
Maybe it means figuring out your career goals, and making sure that they are detailed and specific enough.
Maybe it means re-examining your list of schools and making sure you’re tackling the right schools for you, based on the reality of your profile, that you really have a chance of getting into.
Maybe it means filling out the app form for one school. Or going back over the app and verifying and validating the data.
Do one thing. Right now. Be like Nike and just do it.
Then make a list of all of the others.
And when you’re feeling stuck, and overwhelmed, when staring at the screen full of words that you don’t feel are right and aren’t making any sense and you’re doubting whether any of it will work anyway. And you’re tempted to just close the whole thing down and go back to your WoW game. When you’re feeling discouraged — or just unable to tear yourself away from the party and go upstairs to work on the essay. Even though you told yourself that that’s what you were going to do this weekend, that you’d spend time with your family for awhile but then you were determined to make progress on your apps in the evening, yet here it is, “evening” and you don’t feel like doing it.
Just remember: THE TIGER IS NOT REAL.
The only thing you need in order to be successful with getting into bschool (or getting to any other huge major success in your life) is you have to BE WILLING.
You have to see that it’s your thoughts that are holding you back.
If you are WILLING, then you don’t need to know how to do it. You simply become open to trying.
If you don’t feel like you’re willing — if you feel like the fear of the tiger is too strong — then there’s a solution for that, too.
You just have to be willing to be willing.
Anybody can do that.
And please do not forget.
This process of applying to bschool — even when you’re rejected — this is not a referendum on who you are.
You are perfect. Already.
You don’t have to package yourself up into somebody else in order to get in.
You just have to do the work of uncovering who you are. And sharing that on the page in an essay.
And the only way to do that is to be willing.
We don’t post sample essays – for the same reason that the most transparent admissions director in the world does not.
Who is this most amazing admissions director?
It’s Matt Clemons at Harvard Kennedy School.
He maintains a Tumblr which is an incredible resource to the applicants to his school. Maybe we like him because he’s upfront in stating how important the essays are to an application. 😉
Here’s part of a post from this season :
“I think sharing samples would likely do more harm than good. In my case, when I see a sample of something it is hard to get the sample out of my head. Following sample essays is not a good idea because you want your essays to be distinctly YOU, something that will leave a lasting image in the mind of the application readers. Following an essay template is likely to make an essay clunky, for lack of a better term.”
We agree. The temptation to model your own essay on one someone else wrote is just too great — and many people get in DESPITE of their essays. If you have a buddy in bschool who’s willing to share his essays with you, think twice before accepting the offer. (And please think many more times than that before accepting their advice on writing yours!!)
Seeing sample essays will not help you be more authentic. Essays are your best attempt to present YOU. Another person’s essays presented THEM.
The worst type of essay you could read is one for Yale or Stanford. If you hear about someone else’s answer to what matters most or their biggest commitment you cannot HELP but get caught up in a trap of thinking about the question one way. That one way is the way that that person answered it. These questions have no one right answer! The only right answer is the answer that comes from YOU.
The most frequent time that we get a request from a BSer to “see a sample” is after we have given them two or three rounds of feedback where we have had to say “nope.” They’re at the place where they’re stuck. They are spinning in circles and they’re getting frustrated. They keep sending us stuff that is not progressing and still off the mark. They’re at the place where they need to dig in and do the mental work of figuring out what we’re saying to do, where they need to change course and try something new. But instead of doing that digging-in, they want to see a sample of how someone else has done it. We get it, that might seem like a good solution, but it’s then that we point them to the many posts on the blahg about why we don’t post samples. When you’re seeking examples from outside, it’s actually because you’re right on the precipice of actually figuring something out on the inside. Stick with it. Keep reading our site for posts like show, don’t tell, and the essay guide, and whatever App Accelerator tutorial you’ve subscribed to. Do some brainstorming. Make lists. Step back from the material. Then come back to it again when you’re fresh.
We promise, if you keep working at it, it will make itself clear to you. The lightbulb will go on and it will pop into place.
Reading someone else’s finished product is not how to make that happen.
When the most transparent admissions director in the world publishes everything about the admissions process EXCEPT sample essays then that should be a clear signal to you on their relative value – or potential to do damage.
You may also be interested in:
- Pitching the adcom with career goals that work
- “I need to figure out the equation for my schools”
- The Strategy of Authenticity
OK cool! That’s a noble inclination.
And you think being a Product Manager at Facebook will let you do that?
[letting that sink in]
Nothing wrong with being a Product Manager at Facebook. However, putting that career goal in the same essay with “I want to make a difference” creates some cognitive dissonance for this here ‘Snark.
How about some of these ideas?
Battery Technology – to get all of us off of fossil fuels
Urban Mining – the term used for the process of recycling rare metals out of discarded electronics
Food Supply – focusing on farming technology particularly in preparation for drought conditions that are predicted in many parts of the world
Infrastructure – especially remediation for flood zones and critical highways
Oh hey. Several of these things seem related to public health – and there’s a degree for that! The Master’s in Public Health offered at places like Columbia and UC Berkeley is for tackling these big problems. Columbia’s interdisciplinary Earth Institute showcases a bunch of different master’s programs related to sustainability and development in light of these changes.
Or look! You could go into the policy side by pursuing a MPP or MPA at a place like Harvard Kennedy School or at Woodrow Wilson at Princeton.
There’s lots more ways than an MBA to get real change happening in the world.
The MBA is obviously a great choice too, and it’s very possible to pursue an MBA with a noble cause in mind.
Maybe you want to work at the World Bank, or Gates Foundation, or World Health Organization. There are plenty of opportunities, and considerable need all around the world. You can apply your skills and your smarts to help others in many different ways.
Here’s a quick example of an Army vet who went to Columbia and is now helping other vets run for office.
The MBA can take you in all kinds of directions.
Just don’t make stuff up for the purpose of applying. If you’ve got a noble purpose in mind for how you want to devote the next phase of your career, and you’re looking for an MBA (or other graduate program) to make that happen, make sure to pitch it effectively.
There’s a reason that adcoms are skeptical of such goals.
It’s challenging for anyone to pitch a “change the world” goal — especially those where there hasn’t been such a focus in the past.
You’ll need a platform to build off of, if you’re going to make a convincing argument to be headed in such a different direction from everything you’ve done before. You need to show continuity in some way, shape or form. It can’t be a clean break from all that you’ve done in the past and still be believable.
(Shameless plug: This is where our Career Goals App Accelerator can help!)
So today’s post is just a reminder: A common theme among Millennials everywhere is that they want to make a difference.
A common theme among bschools everywhere is that they’re marketing the “make a difference” theme.
Saying you want to make a difference is not the same as SHOWING how you’ve made a difference in the past, or how this newfound interest in [insert trendy social cause here] is a legit and viable goal, that will be realistic for you to pull off.
This is where the pitch needs to come in.
The exercise of coming up with the goals you’re presenting in your essays is not about staring out the window with a finger alight on your lips, eyes unfocused on the distance, until you think of some incredible-sounding idea that will surely impress a stranger when you claim that that’s what you want to do.
If you REALLY want to make a difference, then first examine your skills and your strengths and what you like to do. And then examine what matters to you, and where the world needs help, and what you are excited about, and where there are problems that need to be solved.
Not just trendy ideas like this idealized notion of fintech bringing access to financial markets to the everyman. (That’s really not happening, as far as we can see.)
Or edtech as revolutionizing access to education and changing poverty and fighting issues of socioeconomic injustice. (Ditto.)
These are certainly interesting areas that may be worthwhile for you to focus on, and you can layer in a “make a difference” marketing pitch along with your stated goals to pursue them.
But if you REALLY want to make a difference, then is an MBA even necessary? Why not go out and do difference-making things? Like, today?
Or are you just saying in those essays what you think will sound good to your reader, so that they think you’re a very high-minded and motivated young whippersnapper, and they’ll be more inclined to admit you?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a Product Manager at Facebook.
Just be real with yourself.
And in your apps.
This is what the adcoms mean when they say that they want you to be authentic.
You may also be interested in:
** DISCLAIMER: This post is not about one specific person. ** Why are we offering that statement? Because we suspect that multiples of you who will read what we are about to say will assume that we’ve written this about you. We have not. This is simply a pattern we’ve observed over the years. Everyone…