Tackling application essays for business school is a daunting task. They’re a critical part of your sales pitch. Your application may be read by a bleary-eyed administrator who’s already waded through hundreds of files that day ‒ with only yours keeping him from turning in for the night. So how do you grab his attention? We’ve seen many candidates do this spectacularly well. Many more have done it unforgettably badly.
Before you get started with any writing, we’d like you to take some time to step back and reflect on the big picture, thinking about the kind of content that will make sense for you to include. Our first tip is that being original and distinctive is good but being too quirky or oddball will definitely not score you any points. The applicant who chose to describe his murky sex life in his opening essay did catch the eye, and raised a few laughs, but he also went straight onto the “wall of shame” that many admissions offices have. You don’t want to end up on it. You need to take some time to think deeply about some fundamental self-reflective questions. What are your professional strengths and weaknesses? What career will you pursue after graduation? And where do you want to be in five, then ten years? Having clear plans will help you put together a compelling picture of where you’ve come from, where you’re heading, and why an MBA is critical for getting you there.
Another way to start thinking about your personal story is to brainstorm all of the factors that have driven the direction you’ve taken in your personal life and professional career. You can trace the story back as far as you like, but you should ask yourself the following questions:
– What have been your passions, the things you’ve loved doing the most? This could be in high school, in college, or since you started working.
– What or who has influenced the decisions you’ve taken, such as what to study, and which career to pursue?
– What experiences have been turning points in your life, and what do they say about you?
– What other information would you like Admissions to know about you that may not come across in other areas of your application?
Authenticity is essential. If you pretend to be something you’re not, experienced admissions officers will sense it and trust you less. Candidates who present an image of what they think the business school is looking for fail miserably because they come across as phony. Business schools want to understand what is special about you. Don’t fake it.
In the next step in this series, we’ll address come popular themes that recur in the application essays.