With Round 2 deadlines for MBA programs fast approaching (deadlines range from November to January), business school applicants often find themselves scrambling to finish applications.
In the mad dash to edit, refine and restructure their essays, candidates occasionally lose sight of what a committee is really looking for in an essay, and just how important this element of the application is for their candidacy.
I often tell people that the essay is the single most important element of the application because it gives the applicant a voice and a chance to humanize his or her profile for the first time in the process. Additionally, a great essay can often help overcome other weaknesses in an application, like a lower GMAT score, GPA, or limited work experience.
While the essay helps committees’ evaluate candidates on a number of fronts, the three most important things an essay can do to improve your chances are:
1. Reinforce and expand on your most significant accomplishments.
Up until this point in the application, your strongest accomplishments or life moments are often only captured as a bullet point on a resume, as a quick sentence in the informational section, or as a mention in a recommendation letter. However, the essay is your chance to expand upon these stories and communicate the actions you took to achieve an outcome and the learning you took away from this experience. This is what schools really want to understand—how you think through complex issues and how these life experiences have shaped you. Use your essay(s) to weave in stories that deliver on this message.
2. Display strong communication skills.
Business leaders are strong communicators, and strong communication skills can be displayed both verbally and through the written word. While the interview will prove your verbal communication skills, the essay is your chance to prove you have this ability in your writing. Structure, grammar and flow are the three defining elements of a well-written essay.
Structure your essay, or stories within your essays, as you would answer an interview question. First, set up the context of the situation so the story will make sense to the reader. Next, talk through the actions you took in that situation. Then conclude with results—ideally quantifiable results.
Grammar is a no-brainer. You should have no grammatical mistakes in your application. Read, reread and have someone else proofread all your essays to ensure this.
Good flow means the essay is easy to read and draws a reader through your story in a seamless way. To accomplish this, use transitions, simplify your language, and tell stories to prove your points.
3. Let your personality shine through.
Finally, it is important to reflect on the fact that business schools are looking to admit people, not robots. There is nothing more tedious for a committee member than reading essays filled with overly technical or irrelevant details about a work project, or reading canned responses that candidates think committees want to hear. Always ask yourself, “Would someone who doesn’t work in my field or industry simply and quickly understand what I am communicating?”
Also, let your voice come through in the essays and, most importantly, show passion. Show passion for your future goals, for the school you are applying to, and for all the extracurricular activities in your life. At the end of the day if it comes down to you and another candidate for the final seat in the class—all else being equal—the committee will admit the candidate who shows more passion every time.
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