Essays are the most critical parts of the business school application that can set you apart from a gigantic pool of applicants. B-schools use essays to know who you are outside of your typical academic and professional environments. Indeed, your stories about the various aspects of your professional career (goals, accomplishments, leadership, teamwork, etc.) and personal life (background, cultural experiences, values, etc.) play a crucial role in determining your chances of admission to your dream school. Therefore, you must invest a significant amount of time in reflecting on your best stories and then developing them into appealing and persuasive essays.
The following overarching essay tips will help you highlight your multifaceted personality in brilliantly crafted stories that will distinguish you from other applicants.
1. Understand the Essay Prompt: First and foremost, comprehend the essay prompt and tailor your story to the essay question. We often see applicants writing essays that do not address the main underlying point of the essay. Read the essay prompt carefully and try to gauge what the school wants to know about you through this question. Stay focused on the theme without going off track.
For example, if the essay question asks you 'what you would like your learning team to know about you,' it means the purpose of the question is to gauge your team working skills. The admission committee wants to see what skills and aptitudes you have that will make you a worthy team member, how you function in a team setting, and what value you will add to the learning team of an XYZ school. They are not expecting you to detail out a single accomplishment- the mistake some people make.
2. Brainstorm Ideas/ Choose your Best Story: Once you understand what the question expects you to discuss, begin brainstorming ideas/ stories to be able to address that prompt appropriately. To brainstorm ideas, you may use any prewriting technique that works for you (freewriting, mapping, questioning, outlining, etc.) You need to do a considerable amount of soul-searching to identify your most exceptional stories/ experiences. Please note, self-reflection is an essential component of MBA essay writing. To tell the Ad Com who you are and what motivates you, and what you want to do, you must reflect on your personal and professional experiences and how those experiences have shaped you as a person and a professional.
3. Organize your Ideas Effectively: Once you have figured out your best story, flesh out the details, organize, and arrange them. The key to a good essay is an engaging beginning, a well-developed middle, and a compelling conclusion. Do not assume the Ad Com would know what you have not relayed to them. To make your story compelling to the Ad Com, fill all the gaps in your story, explaining each logical step. When writing a situational essay, (e.g., describe a time when….), formulate your ideas following the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result), so you do not miss out on any vital components of your experience. Do not forget to give the reader sense of time and place. Keep in mind your audience and purpose and give all the essential details that the question asks you about your professional and personal accomplishments to help the Ad Com determine your fit with that school. Use Transitional Expressions to connect your thoughts.
4. Address Each Part of the Essay Question: It is vital to answer the essay question in its entirety. Some essay questions have 2-3 parts, and sometimes, applicants tend to ignore the second or third part of the prompt. By asking three questions in one essay prompt– the schools seek to evaluate specific attributes in their prospective students through their response to every part of the essay prompt. For example, Kellogg's 'growth essay' that it asked two years back was pretty broad, and it covered a lot of ground. The first part required applicants to discuss their personal and professional growth in the past, and the second part expected them to explain how they intended to grow at Kellogg. With a 450-word limit, applicants often missed the personal aspect of the question and focused only on professional growth. To pay equal attention to all aspects of the prompt, we advised applicants to discuss their personal and professional growth in 200-250 words and their plans to leverage Kellogg's resources for their growth in 200-250 words. To answer the essay question holistically, you should break it down into multiple sub-segments, and then build a structure around each sub-segment.
5. Make your Lead-in Engaging: First impressions are always said to be the lasting ones. So, the beginning of your essay must catch the readers' attention and make them want to keep reading your essay. The Ad Com has to review thousands of essays, so you want to make the first few sentences engaging to hook them into your unique story. You can use a variety of ways to make your beginning compelling: a thought, a question, a dialogue, or a brief anecdote. Keep your lead-in brief and attention-catching to set up your thesis.
6. Avoid Generic Details- Be Specific: The most common mistake I have seen in application essays in the past nine years is -the lack of specific examples or details. Specificity is the key to MBA admission essays, so avoid vague generalities. To attract and hold the readers' interest, you must provide precise specific details and make each sentence contribute something interesting to the discussion. Provide examples/ details about 'what,' 'why,’ 'where,' and 'when' of your experience and share your thought process during that experience. For example, it is not enough to say that you would be a great contributor to the program; you must explain how you will add value by getting involved in the school's specific clubs/ student organizations.
7. Minimize the Use of Jargon: You must minimize technical details to translate your narrative into winning essays. Please note that these technical terms/ details are comprehensible only to the people of your industry, and not to every member of the Ad Com. You are an expert in your field, so it is natural for you to showcase your expertise and technicalities of your work. However, B- schools are framing these essay questions to learn about your motivation, values, career aspirations, personal and professional traits, and accomplishments. The use of excessive jargon not only makes it challenging for them to comprehend your story but also distracts them from the 'real story.' To create compelling essays, use as little jargon as is required to convey your story.
8. Be Personal/ Use Active Voice: One of the most common issues I have seen in applicant essays is a lack of personal touch. While narrating their personal and professional stories, applicants often use passive voice, which makes their impressive personal stories impersonal and lifeless. Your meticulously crafted essays will not leave the desired impact on the Ad Com if you write them in the passive voice. The use of the passive voice makes the reader wonder if these are the writer's experiences or someone else's. I strongly recommend to personalize your personal and professional experience and accomplishments; you must use an active voice. However, try to avoid excessive use of 'I.' Beginning every sentence with 'I' will make your writing monotonous. You may use a variety of sentence structures to enliven your writing.
9. Show Not Tell: One of the common mistakes I see in applicant essays is that they try to spoon-feed the reader. You do not need to say everything explicitly; let your story speak for you. Follow the principle of 'show not tell.' For example, you do not need to say that your manager was quite impressed with your work, so he gave you a promotion. The fact that you received a promotion indicates that your supervisor appreciated your excellent work, and he rewarded you with a promotion or an award. Instead of saying, "I believe I have a talent for accounting which can be proved by my academic performance" You can just say, "I passed all five of Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accounts unified exams with high scores in my first attempt, though the passing rates for these exams are less than 10%.”
10. Avoid Using Quotations: It is a general perception that using quotations of eminent personalities (political leaders, philosophers, writers, and scientists) is a useful tool to enhance writing. Hence, most applicants like to begin their essays with quotations. I strongly advise against using precious space to quote someone else. First, the purpose of MBA essays is to gauge your motivation, values, beliefs, career goals, and accomplishments to determine your 'fit' with the school; therefore, quoting famous personalities may not be a value addition. Secondly, considering the increasingly stringent word limits of B- school essays, you must use each word to throw a spotlight on YOU, not on someone else.
11. Be Precise: Every year, B- schools are reducing the number of essays and words, so you need to be as precise as you can. Follow the principle of 'less is more' and learn to use fewer words to describe you. Avoid repetitive content, get to the point, and replace the long phases with their shorter equivalents. By choosing your words wisely and judiciously, you can achieve precision in telling your stories. For example, you may replace 'with regard' by 'about', 'in order to’ by 'to,' ‘made a decision to,’ by 'decide,' 'despite the fact that' by 'although' and so on. No matter how short your essay is, you must finish strong and end the piece with a powerful concluding sentence.
12. Proofread for Grammar, Punctuation, & Spelling Errors: After significant introspection, writing, and rewriting, you have finalized your essay. Your last challenge now is to proofread it for sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors. These errors are a poor reflection on your candidacy and can hurt your chances of admission. Also, please avoid overpacking your sentences. Do not write extremely lengthy and complicated sentences stretching 50-60 words. Break them down into two sentences to make them easily understandable. Bring variety to your essay by writing a combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences. Lastly, when applying to US B-schools, the non-native applicants should proofread their essays for terms that US Ad Com may be unfamiliar with. Click here for specific proofreading tips for non-natives.
To sum up, MBA admission essay writing is a highly time-intensive and challenging process that requires self-reflection, planning, preparation, and a significant amount of writing, and rewriting. It is a process of self-discovery that enables you to put together all the pieces of your story into compelling and persuasive essays. If you allow yourself sufficient time and follow the tips mentioned above, you will transform your experiences into memorable essays that will help you secure admission to your chosen school.
Good luck with your application.
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