Posted on December 18, 2016

10 Key Tips for Creating Compelling Business School Essays

The Round 2 application deadlines are only 2-3 weeks away. Some applicants are already halfway through the application process while some are still at the beginning stage. Whichever stage of the application process you are in, you are still working on showcasing your best personal and professional stories. Indeed, your stories about the 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.

Here are 10 key essay tips that will help you highlight your multifaceted personality in brilliantly crafted essays that will set you apart from a gigantic pool of applicants.

Tip #1: Understand the Essay Prompt Before Brainstorming Ideas

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 prompt is “What are you most proud of and why?” you are not expected to narrate your career history and all of your accomplishments throughout your career; instead, you need to share a single accomplishment that makes you feel proud of yourself. Ross admission director Soojin Kwon explains in her blog: “Don’t write two paragraphs of introduction before stating what you’re most proud of. You can even start with, “I am the proudest of….”

Once you get an understanding of what the question expects you to discuss, begin brainstorming ideas/ stories to be able to address that prompt appropriately. You will have to do a lot of souls searching to identify the right stories/ experiences.

Click here for examples of comprehending essay prompts.

Tip #2: Address Each Part of the Essay Question

Often the essay questions consist of 2 or 3 parts, but sometimes, the candidates tend to ignore the second or third part of the essay question and delve into depth addressing only the first part of the question. There is a reason why a particular school is asking 3 questions in one essay prompt– they are seeking to evaluate certain attributes in their prospective candidates through their response to that part of the essay prompt. Hence your goal should be to pay equal attention to all those aspects.

In order to address the essay question holistically, you may break it down into multiple sub-segments and then build a structure around each sub-segment.

Click here for examples of addressing each part of the essay question.

Tip #3: Make Your Introduction Engaging

The beginning of your essay must attract the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading your essay. The members of the admission committee have to review thousands of essays, and they don’t have more than a couple of minutes for each essay, so you want to make the first few sentences interesting/ engaging to hook them into your story. First impressions are always said to be the lasting ones. Right?

You may make your beginning compelling in a variety of ways: a thought, a question, a dialogue, or a brief anecdote.

Click here for examples of engaging introductions.

Tip #4: Organize your Ideas Effectively

One of the key components of effective essays is- proper structure. It is the glue that blends together all the pieces of your story. Whether you are narrating your cultural experience, setback, or ethical dilemma experience or are discussing your career progression story leading to your goals and accomplishments, your story should contain a proper beginning, middle, and end. The key to a good story is an engaging beginning, a well-developed middle, and a compelling conclusion. Therefore, it is important, to sum up, all the key components of your story and tie them to your thesis i.e. your main point. You need to bring it full circle to give your essay a sense of completion. All the details of your story should flow so well that it is comprehensible as well as compelling.

When sharing your stories (setback, mistake, culture, background, accomplishment, or ethical dilemma, etc.), make sure to specify the time of the incident. In order to make a lasting impact on the reader, you should explain each logical step of your story without leaving any loose ends. Also, when writing self-revelation essays (failure/mistake, culture shock, setback, strength and weakness, ethical dilemma, etc.) don’t forget to share what was going on in your mind at that time. It is not enough to describe what you did; it is also important to explain how you felt when you found yourself in a particular situation.

Click here for examples of organizing your ideas well.

Tip #5: Provide Specific Details

One of the most common mistakes I have seen in admission essays is a lack of specific examples or details. In order to understand and appreciate your story, the reader needs to know the specifics of your story. The members of the Admission committee have to read hundreds of essays for evaluating the candidacy of their prospective students, so if you want your stories to make an impression, your writing needs to be succinct, articulate, and specific. By providing specific examples/ details about ‘what’, ‘why', ‘where’, and ‘when’ of your experience, and by sharing your thought process at that time, you can turn your stories into memorable essays. Additionally, in order to connect your ideas, please use transitional words and phrases (Use Transitional Expressions)

Click here for good and bad examples.

Tip #6: Do Not Use Jargon

When writing admission essays, the applicants should make sure to use minimum technical details that are specific to your industry. Please note that these technical terms/ details are comprehensible only to the people of the same industry. In their enthusiasm to showcase their technical expertise, they often omit relevant information such as ‘What were the main challenges?’ ‘How did you deal with the situation?’ or ‘How was the experience meaningful?’ etc. The use of excessive jargon makes it challenging for the readers to comprehend your story and distracts them from the ‘real story’. In order to create effective essays, you should aim at using only as much jargon as is required to convey your story.

Click here for good and bad examples.

Tip #7: Avoid Using Quotations

It appears to be a general perception that using quotations of eminent personalities who have made a positive impact on the lives of future generations (leaders, philosophers, and scientists, etc.) is a powerful way to impress the readers. Hence most applicants like to begin their essays with quotations. 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; therefore, using someone else’s words, no matter how eminent that person is or was, is often a waste of valuable words, and not a value addition. Another reason to avoid using quotations is that B-schools are already cutting down on the length of essays and the number of essays they require their prospective students to write, so each word that you use should add value to your essay.

Click here for good and bad examples.

Tip #8: Do Not Use Passive Voice

One of the key components of your admission essays is– a personal touch. When narrating your personal and professional stories, please make sure to be personal. Your stories of personal and professional accomplishments, no matter how brilliant they are, will fail to make the desired impression on the reader if they are not written in an active voice. I often come across essays composed in flawless English, but they still don’t create the desired impact because of the use of passive voice. The lack of personal touch in those stories gives an impression as if these stories are referring to someone else and not to the candidates themselves. By using passive voice, you will make your own personal stories so impersonal and lifeless that they will not only weaken your message but also turn your heroic accomplishments into lackluster ones. Please remember to use an active voice for narrating your stories. However, try to avoid excessive use of ‘I’. Even though these application essays are about you, you should not have more than two sentences in a paragraph beginning with ‘I’. You can very well provide the same details and convey the same message by phrasing your sentences in a different way.

Click here for examples of active voice and passive voice.

Tip #9: Choose Your Words Wisely

Every year, B-schools are cutting down on the number of essays and the word limits of essays they require their prospective students to write. By imposing strict word limits, the admission committee members evaluate you for your ability to make your point concisely and succinctly. Also, exceeding the word limit reflects your unwillingness to follow the guidelines.

However, following stringent word limits, and sometimes even character limits becomes one of the biggest challenges for applicants. Some students find it hard to figure out when to stop writing and end up writing 1000 words for an essay with a specified word limit of 400 words. On the contrary, some students limit themselves so hard that they hold on to many relevant details that the essay question requires resulting in many gaps in the content. Brevity is the key to creating compelling admission essays. With a little bit of brainstorming, you will find that you can achieve precision by replacing big phrases with their equivalent shorter phrases.

Click here for good and bad examples and some helpful tips to write succinctly.

Tip #10: Proofread Your Essay Thoroughly

After having written and revised your essay multiple times and ensuring that you have effectively narrated your story within the prescribed word limit, your last challenge is to proofread it for sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors. If neglected, these errors are a poor reflection on your candidacy and can jeopardize your chances of admission despite your great GMAT score, good GPA, and impressive work experience.

In order to bring variety to your writing, try to compose a mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences. Do not write extremely long sentences stretching 4-5 lines. Unduly long sentences might confuse the reader.

Click here for good and bad examples.

Lastly, I would highly recommend that when applying to US B-schools, the non-native applicants should proofread their essays for terms that US Ad Com may be unfamiliar with.

For specific proofreading tips for non-natives, you may refer to my Helpful Proofreading Tips for Non-Natives.

For more details on the differences between American English and British English, refer to my article American English vs. British English

To sum up, creating compelling and persuasive MBA admission essays is a skill that can be acquired with careful thought and preparation. You need to invest a significant amount of time in reflecting on your professional aspirations and life experiences. After selecting your stories, organize them coherently, and flesh them out with relevant details, keeping in mind all the above-mentioned tips. Since the essence of writing is rewriting, revise your essays multiple times to ensure that all the pieces of your story fit together, and then proofread them for any grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. I am confident that by following this structured approach, you will transform your stories into memorable essays that will help you secure admission to your chosen school.

Good luck with your Round 2 applications.

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs. (Poonam is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

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