Cover The Basics
Demonstrate Effective Communication Skills
Tell A Story
Cover The Basics
No matter which specific question you are answering, there are a few fundamental goals that need to be accomplished when you write. Admissions committees do not specifically look for these basics because they are expected and should be transparent in good writing. To make sure you have addressed these fundamentals, use the following checklist for each essay that you write:
When you have finished an essay set, or all the essays required for one school, step back and take a look at them as a whole. Make sure that you have done all of the following in at least one of the essays:
Demonstrate Effective Communication Skills
Another function of the essay is to showcase your language abilities and writing skills.
"Your essay doesnt need to peg you as a future author or scholar, but as a future leader in management. That said, the ability to communicate ideas and to present them skillfully is essential to success in the business profession, and good writing stems from good overall communication skills."
Again, good writing skills are not sought they are expected. A beautifully written set of essays will not get you admitted to business school, but a poorly written set could easily keep you out.
What the committee really seeks in the essay is simple: more than any specific background, characteristic, or skill, they want to see a person. Admissions staff are adamant about wanting to feel that they know the human being behind the numbers.
"We are searching for some intangible quality in the application that no number could ever reveal. We hope to find it in the essay. Never squander the chance to tell us who you are in the essay. It helps us to reassure ourselves that the process is human and that what we do for a living matters to another human being."
Knowing this, it might not surprise you to learn that the number-one piece of advice from admissions officers and business students regarding the essay is almost always the same. Although it was expressed in many different ways (be honest, be sincere, be unique, be personal, etc.) the advice is always: "Be Yourself!"
"Business applicants get so caught up in wanting to seem like something: a leader, or mature, or, god forbid, business-like, that they forget to be something. We never get to know them."
The only way to let the admissions committee see you as an individual is to make your essays personal. When you do this, your essays will automatically be more interesting and engaging, helping you to stand out from the hundreds of others the committee will be reviewing that week.
Because this is such a crucial factor in all good essays, most of the essays included in our database use a personal approach. The essay provided as a sample is a good example of this. As you read, are you able to picture the writer? When you have finished, do you feel like you have gotten to know her? She accomplishes this by integrating personal experiences and using details to bring it all to life. She is straightforward and honest but relates her points in a light, informal and almost confidential tone, more as though she was talking to a good friend rather than writing for a group of evaluators. Taking the personal approach to this extreme can be risky, but when done with the skill and confidence this writer possesses the result is an extremely memorable and captivating essay.
To make your essay personal, take your cue from the writer of our sample essay and use plenty of details. An essay without details is like pizza without sauce. It might fill you up, but who wants to eat it?
Details provide the color, the spice, and the life of the essaysGenerality is the death of good writing.
Each and every point that you make needs to be backed up by specific instances, examples, and scenarios from your experience. It is these details that make your story special, unique, and interesting. Look at the detail used by the writer of one of our sample essays, in her essay entitled: "Learning to Surf." She moved in "August 1992," lived in "Paris for 21 years," averaged "90 hours a week," started "bright and early on a sunny Saturday afternoon" despite "pale skin and weak arms." This could have easily boiled down to: "I moved from another country to the United States, and because I was working long hours I decided to learn how to surf." This is the difference between a fun, interesting treatment of a story, and a yawn-inducing account that could be attributed to any of a thousand different people.
It is also a good habit to back up all your assertions and claims of success with detailed descriptions of results. Use actual numbers and statistics if you have them. Another of our sample essayists, for example, asserts "I was quite successful as a tutor." That statement standing alone would not convince anyone. It would probably, in fact, seem like little more than an inflated (and pompous!) claim had it not been followed up with: "One young man increased his Math SAT by 150 points. Another student improved so dramatically in geometry, her test scores jumped from about 55% to over 90%, that her teacher kept her after class and asked if she was cheating."
Being different is easy after all, you are a unique person. Showing how you are different is harder, but this is what will make you stand out. To accomplish this, it pays to take calculated risks.
If your background is off the beaten track, dont play it down. Given comparable experience and success, an unusual background gives you a distinct advantage. One of our sample essayists, for example, knows how to take advantage of his uniqueness, and makes it the subject of his essay by stating in the first paragraph: "Because I am one of the worlds few Catholic, Egyptian Mississippians who went to an Ivy League School, the particular set of influences affecting my development has been distinctive." Do note, however, that the writer of this essay does not get lazy by relying on this distinctiveness alone to carry him through. He still makes the connection of why, exactly, this distinctiveness has made him a better, more qualified candidate and how it will allow him to contribute to the business school community.
Even if your background is not markedly different, you can still be creative and come up with an interesting slant on an ordinary life event. One example from our database is an applicant who would have appeared very typical with a standard investment banking background had he not pointed out that he "choose a slightly different route from most accounting majors at Wharton" by not "joining one of the Big Six accounting firms after graduation." In doing this he makes his otherwise standard background seem non-standard and makes the reader want to know why this (suddenly unique) person chose a different path.
This point should be upheld without exception. Nothing about the application process could be more simple, more straightforward, or more crucial than this: be honest, forthright, and sincere. Admissions officers will not tolerate hype. Do not try to create a larger-than-life impression of yourself or, worse yet, of someone you think the committee would accept. You will be perceived as immature at best and as unethical at worst.
"If you think you know what we want and youre trying to write to that, forget about it. There is nothing more obvious, and more humiliating, than doing a bad job of being someone else. Just be yourself and let us do the deciding."
"After 15 years of reading hundreds of essays a year, you develop an amazing ability to see straight through the bull."
Some essayists go so far in being honest that they admit to weaknesses, mistakes, and other instances that could be seen as drawbacks, even when they are not specifically asked to do so. One essayist, for example, admits that she was "never much of a student" and indulged in the "occasional prima donna fit," and another writes that "some friends are quick to label me a dork." But being sincere does not mean that you have to admit to your every folly. Drawing attention to negatives is not a requirement of truthfulness you can be honest and still be completely positive about yourself and your qualifications. Ultimately, it is a very personal decision. If you do call attention in any way to your drawbacks, be sure to get plenty of objective feedback. You should feel confident that you have addressed these weaknesses with finesse and have not weakened your stance.
Tell A Story
Make sure that your essay is readable. Dont make us work. Give your essay momentum make sure the parts work together and move to a point, carrying the reader along.
Use a conversational style and easy-to-understand language to project a genuine, relaxed image.
Humor is a powerful tool, so use it wisely. Gimmicks are a big mistake, and a sarcastic or flippant tone will often offend, but real humor, inventiveness and dry wit are always in good taste.
Three ways to utilize the above advice are to 1) write your entire essay in the form of a story, 2) use a story to introduce your subject, or 3) use an informative, conversational, or humorous tone as though you were telling a story. Some admissions officers cautioned against including this advice, but others so enjoyed receiving a good "story" essay that we decided to include it with a caveat: this approach can be effective but is best accomplished by candidates with proven writing abilities. No matter how good a writer you are, be sure to get feedback and advice from as many people as possible before submitting an essay of this type. Even if the story is entertaining, you still need to communicate your motivation, ability and maturity.
Some essayists take the first (and most risky) approach by writing their entire essay as a story. One of our essayists, for example, wrote one of his essays about running and placed it in the context of pure action. There is literally no explanatory text offered (and none needed!) anywhere, which is very rare for this genre of writing. Even his last sentence: "Because I know that Im my own toughest competitor, and Ill always have to run a little bit faster if I want to keep up" where he communicates his main point, is still within the context of the activity.
The more common method of integrating a story into an essay is to tell the story first, then step back into the role of narrator and explain why it was presented and what lessons were learned. This is a safer approach and more broadly employed, but still very effective. One essayist, for example, presents a very touching account of an experience during a trip to a lesser-developed country. The author steps out of his story only in the last paragraph, summing up his failure and subsequent resolution in retrospect. The result is very powerful and believable narration. Another example is the essayist who employs a similar method using a very different type of experience: a hockey game. He even breaks his story into titled segments: "The Lead-In," "The Situation," "The Test," and "The Decision," mirroring a sports-like use of the play-by-play to heighten the sense of action.
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