Posted on May 21, 2014

Developing Engaging Stories for Your Essays – Week #1 -Tip #1

The next application season is fast approaching, and B-school aspirants have already started gearing up for putting together various aspects of their application package. Some of you must be preparing for your GMAT while some must be busy researching schools and reaching out to the alumni/current students to get their perspective on schools. After earning your desired GMAT score and finalizing your list of target schools, the next challenge for you is to develop relevant stories for your essays.

When working with the B-school applicants on their application essays in the past three years, I have noticed that one major issue most applicants face with their essays is- coming up with relevant stories/real-life examples or an inability to present them effectively. Some applicants just expand their resumes and rewrite them in a language that is filled with jargon, assuming everyone would comprehend them, some compose an objective statement of purpose that reads like a newspaper article which completely fails to tell the reader who they are, while some others try so hard to impress the Ad Com with their language skills that the essence of the story is lost somewhere in the maze of those ‘robust’ words.

Indeed, the stories you tell about various aspects of your professional career (goals, accomplishments, leadership experiences, etc.) and personal life (background, cultural experiences, setback/mistake, etc.) play a key role in determining your chances of admission to you dream school. Therefore, you must invest a significant amount of time in reflecting on your best stories and then developing them into engaging and persuasive essays that will set you apart from a gigantic pool of applicants.

You can master this skill if you keep in mind some key components of the story development process.

Starting this week, myEssayReview will be providing “one tip” every week to guide you through this process.

Week #1: Comprehend the Essay Prompt

Understanding the essay prompt is the first step towards tailoring your story to a particular essay question. Read the essay prompt carefully and try to gauge what the school wants to know through this question. Without understanding the intent of the essay prompt, your story will go off track and will fail to convey the intended message.

For example, if the essay question is about the contribution to the XYZ School, do not discuss your reasons for choosing that particular B-school. They are not asking you about their particular resources that interest you; rather they want to know in what ways they would benefit by accepting you. While elaborating on what value you will add to your target school, make sure you connect your skill-set, your professional and personal attributes and your experiences to the specific resources (clubs, organizations, team groups, etc.) of your target school.

To cite another example, let’s take a look at the first job essay question of INSEAD.

Briefly summarize your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of the budget, clients/products and results achieved. (350 words maximum)”

This job essay question does not require you to share your accomplishment story at your current job, the challenges you faced, and the actions you took to achieve the desired results. (one of the applicants I am currently working with made exactly the same mistake in his first draft). Please note that the essay prompt requests a snapshot of your career at present. Keeping in mind that this will be the Ad Com’s introduction to your materials, you might also provide the reader the context necessary to understand your place within the organizational structure and the work that occupies your days. I would encourage you to stay focused on the details of your present job and avoid drifting away to your greatest achievements. You will get an opportunity to do that in Motivation Essay question #2.

For questions, email me at

 Stay tuned to the next step/tip in this process next week.