Posted on July 25, 2014

Developing Engaging Stories for MBA Essays- Week #10 – Tip #10

Avoid Using Quotations

When writing admission essays, most applicants tend to use quotes of famous and distinguished people (leaders, philosophers, and scientists, etc.). The latter has made a positive impact on the lives of future generations. It is a general perception that using quotations of eminent personalities is a powerful way to impress the readers. I, however, do not recommend using precious words to quote someone else. These essay questions about your goals, accomplishments, leadership experiences, cultural experience, background, setback, and life experiences are designed to evaluate YOU to determine your ‘fit’ with the school, so using someone else’s word, no matter how eminent that person is or was, is often a waste of valuable words, and not a value addition.

Let’s look at an example from a student’s optional essay. The essay prompt specifies that you may use this essay to provide any additional information regarding your educational background, leadership experiences, or unique accomplishments.

Bad Example:

Life lesson has taught me “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” and the plan is to first pursue EMBA to get a solid footing. I know the journey will be tough, but I have already gone through some of the changes and survived. I am confident that I can do it again. As I read in Dr. Nancy L. Nolan Admission Guide- For Student everywhere, “May the size of your dreams be exceeded only by your tenacity to attain them.” I have not given up yet.

In the above example, the writer has quoted from an Admission Guide and has also made some generic statements about his goals, which does not add any value to the essay. The goal of this essay is to provide additional information about the candidate’s educational background, leadership experiences, or unique accomplishments, and the above details fail to accomplish that.

Now let’s look at the revised version minus the quote:

Good Example:

In my current Job at XXXX as a senior project manager, I was looking for an opportunity to create a platform where teams could collaborate. I decided to use some presentations from my MS classes to foster team learning, and I started doing these presentations in front of the team during lunch hour. Gradually, these presentation sessions turned into a formal one- hour ‘Lunch and Learn Program,’ and the casual nature of the session attracted more people to bring up current issues for healthy discussion. Now, this has become a great team-building activity that has earned me accolades from senior management.

In this revised version, the writer omits the quote and shares one of his leadership experiences in his own words, which makes complete sense and is far more impactful than the previous version that is filled with generic statements and a quote.

Bad Example:

Here is another example from another optional essay where the student starts his essay with a quote:

"Sacrifice is a part of life. It's supposed to be. It's not something to regret. It's something to aspire to.” Interactions with professionals in the Quality Assurance Consulting industry and workplace mentors confirmed my passion for consulting, and I chose to follow it. Therefore, I decided to develop the necessary skills and get the opportunity for career growth through Information Systems.

In the above example, the writer starts his optional essay with a quote from someone before starting to discuss his passion for consulting. There is a disconnect between the quote and the following statements. Please note that in the first 59 words of his essay, the writer could not even provide background information for his optional essay.

Now let's look at the revised version:

Good Example:

I would like to draw the attention of the Ad Com to an important aspect of my candidacy that is relevant to the evaluation of my candidacy, i.e. my employment gap. I understand that applying for graduate college is a time-consuming process, so I made a conscious decision to fully dedicate myself to the preparation of the Master's program towards achieving my goals. In order to put in my hundred percent to my application, I quit my job at the XXX in October 2013.

In the above-revised version, the writer begins his optional essay with a direct statement about his reasons to take a break from employment and thus captures the reader’s attention right away.

Thus, using someone else’s words does not necessarily enhance the quality of the essay. However, if you feel that an eminent leader, philosopher, writer or any other illustrious personality's words of wisdom have played a significant role in shaping or influencing your personality, you may use it, but make sure it is directly aligned to your story and supports it in an effective manner.

With B schools reducing the word limits of essays and the number of essay questions every year, each word that you use should count. The word count constraints hardly leave you an option to use up precious space by using someone else’s words, no matter how renowned they are.

So ‘quote’ only if you MUST.

Stay Tuned for Tip #11 of the story development process next week.

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