Business school students face a uniquely difficult challenge, because most programs require a series of essays rather than a single, comprehensive personal statement. This fact alone should indicate the importance that business schools place on your written responses. Part of the reason for this extra required writing is that business schools also place a stronger emphasis on practical experience. Academic ability may still be the number-one factor, but it’s not enough to get you into a school, just as it’s not enough to guarantee your success in the business world. Business schools pay close attention to personal qualities, including your leadership, communication skills, initiative, vision, and many more. Grades and scores do not explain this side of you, and neither does a resume.
Thus your admission will depend largely on your ability to convey your experiences and goals in written form. Self-assessment is a significant part of this process, as is a careful review of both your life and what you have done professionally. Many successful professionals have simply never had to articulate their accomplishments before and now for the first time must communicate this information in a very clear, concise, powerful manner that is accessible to anyone, even without knowledge of their field. Being able to convey both the substance and significance of one’s work life is crucial for all applicants.
This article has been written to help you avoid the most common essay flaws. If you remember nothing else about this article, remember this: Be Interesting. Be Concise.
Nearly all applications will feature a question that asks about your reasons for wanting to obtain an MBA at this stage of your career. Some will explicitly ask you to tie these reasons into your background and your goals. Even for schools that don’t offer this specific direction, you should plan on such a discussion of past and future, as it provides essential context for your application.
“Why MBA?” is often the first question asked and without a doubt the most important essay you will write. It includes essential information about whether you’re qualified, whether you’re prepared, and where you’re headed. The other essays fill in details about these fundamental points, but a strong answer about, for example, how you overcame a failure will not revive a candidacy that failed based on a lack of career focus.
Every answer should contain the following elements, unless the application has separate questions addressing them individually:
- Your long- and short-term goals.
- Your relevant past experience.
- An assessment of your strengths and the gaps in your experience/education.
- How an MBA program will bridge your past and future and fill in those gaps.
- Why this particular MBA program is a good match for your needs.
There are no groundbreaking reasons for pursuing an MBA. This is not a place to aim for bold originality. Rather, you should focus on articulating detailed reasons that are specific to your situation. Moreover, there is plenty of room to distinguish yourself when discussing past experience and future goals; the reasons themselves, however, come from a more limited set. That said, you should not try to drop buzzwords for their own sake. Make sure you tie your specific objectives to other aspects of your application.
HERE ARE SOME BUSINESS SCHOOL ESSAY WRITING TIPS:
1. Don’t Use Company Jargon
As a prospective business student, you have probably spent the past few years in a corporate environment with its own in-house terminology. Remember that you are writing for a reader who hasn’t attended your company’s meetings or contributed to its products. You should certainly describe various aspects of your professional life--your leadership skills, your career trajectory, your triumph in the face of obstacles, and so on--but do so in language that is as accessible to your reader as it is to you. Imagine that you are composing a document for a customer who must decide whether to buy a particular product: you. Write clearly and personably.
2. Don’t Bore the Reader, Be Interesting
Admissions officers have to read hundreds of essays, and they must often skim. Abstract rumination has no place in an application essay. Admissions officers aren’t looking for a new way to view the world; they’re looking for a new way to view you, the applicant. The best way to grip your reader is to begin the essay with a captivating snapshot. Notice how the blunt, jarring “after” sentence creates intrigue and keeps the reader’s interest.
3. Use Personal Detail--Show, Don’t Tell!
Good essays are concrete and grounded in personal detail. They do not merely assert “I learned my lesson” or that “these lessons are useful both on and off the field.” They show it through personal detail. “Show, don’t tell” means that if you want to relate a personal quality, do so through your experiences without merely asserting it.
4. Do Be Concise, Don’t Be Wordy
Wordiness not only takes up valuable space, but also confuses the important ideas you’re trying to convey. Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct and to the point. Certain phrases, such as “the fact that,” are usually unnecessary. Notice how the revised version focuses on active verbs rather than forms of “to be” and adverbs and adjectives.
5. Do Address Your Weaknesses, Don’t Dwell on Them
At some point on your application, you will have an opportunity to explain deficiencies in your record, and you should take advantage of it. Be sure to explain them adequately: “I partied too much to do well on tests” will not help your application. The best tactic is to spin the negatives into positives by stressing your attempts to improve; for example, mention your poor first-quarter grades briefly, then describe what you did to bring them up.
6. Do Use Active Voice Verbs
Passive-voice expressions are verb phrases in which the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. Passive voice employs a form of the word to be, such as was or were. Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting.
7. Don’t Wander, Do Stay Focused
Many applicants try to turn the application essay into a complete autobiography. Not surprisingly, they find it difficult to pack so much information into such a short essay, and their essays end up sounding more like a list of experiences than a coherent, well-organized thought. Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to support one central theme.
8. Do Revise, Revise, Revise
The first step in an improving any essay is to cut, cut, and cut some more.
John Pollard is a freelance writer
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