Essays: The Most Difficult Part of the Application

It is through your essays that your application comes to life.Through your responses, you are able to position yourself, highlight your professional, academic and personal accomplishments and explain any red flags you may have. And, you will likely have to do all of this in fewer than 2,000 words.In our work with business school applicants each year, this is the part of the application process where most candidates flounder. There are four critical parts to writing powerful essays.

Before you sit down to tackle the questions, look at your candidacy objectively:

Develop your message:

Before you look at the essay questions, figure out what your overall message will be. What is your 30 second elevator speech? How would you sum up your past experiences and use them as a launch pad for your professional goals? These essays are an opportunity to sell yourself which means making sure that all of the important facts you need to include (academic achievements, professional accomplishments and community service experience) fit into a larger strategy. Think of it less as reporting on all of the pieces of your experience and more crafting a story into which you will weave all of these critical details.

Developing your message is best done before the essay writing begins otherwise you might be confined by the particular question you are being asked. One tool that might be helpful is crafting a 1 minute speech about your candidacy: what have I done, what do I intend to do and how will business school (specifically) help me get there?

Once all of the essays are written for a particular application, read through the whole application (including your resume and recommendations) and be sure that it tells a consistent and coherent story. It should read as though you are describing ONE person.

Identify key highlights and supporting facts:

Essays are the opportunity to flesh out your message and should connect your academic history (grades and extracurricular activities), resume, future career aspirations and your business school goals. Once you develop your message, take a step back and look at the pieces of that message: your past (accomplishments and skills), your future (professional work and the required skills) and business school ambitions. What does the adcom need to know about you so that this message comes to life? What evidence do you have for each of these stages?

Have a list of examples that you want to be sure to mention throughout your application ? these can and should be echoed throughout including your resume, recommendations and interviews. Have a broad array of examples and make sure that the highlights are mentioned in every application. If you list an accomplishment on your resume, it should be important enough to highlight in your essays. This list will be helpful when you begin working with your recommenders.

Once you sit down to write:

Answer the question ? the one that is being asked

We frequently see candidates jump to conclusions about what an essay question is asking. And, frequently, they entirely miss the point of the question. What might look like a simple ?tell us about yourself? essay might have a more particular angle and that is what the adcom really wants to explore.

Another essay writing pitfall is that candidates often answer parts of essay questions but then ignore other sections. Tease apart each essay question and be sure to answer each and every piece. And, focus as the adcom has asked ? if the question says ?answer briefly? or ?elaborate? do so. Do not spend a great deal of time on a topic that they ask you to ?briefly? discuss. Take the adcom?s lead on what they find most important.

Pay attention to nuances ? and implicit messages

Buried in your essays will be implicit messages that you should manage carefully.Develop a ?business perspective.? If you don?t have business experience, be sure to frame the work you do from a business perspective. Write in terms of how your work impacts the overall organization or helps the firm meet its objectives/goals. Be results-oriented and help the reader understand how to gauge your success/accomplishments (this should be easy as your resume should reflect this angle as well).

Please avoid industry jargon. Appearing too ?techie? and failing to explain how the micro work you do impacts the overall organization will not make your application attractive to the adcom: your work experience does not appear to be connected to the business world in any way and the adcom will find it difficult to envision you in a business environment.

Infuse a bit of the rest of the world in your applications. Recognize that the adcom will likely read hundreds, if not thousands, of applications each season. Use interesting (and applicable) quotes, mention books you have read (and the impact they had on your development/long terms goals) or extra-curricular activities/community service you are passionate about. Breathe some life into the image you are painting of yourself.

Related posts:

  1. Essays
  2. Recommendations
  3. Application Overview
  4. Stern Essays
  5. Resume

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