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Posted by Chioma Isiadinso
Numerous books have been written on the subject of writing winning MBA admissions essays. An Internet search brings up a bewildering array of blogs, articles, consultancies, and essay-writing guides.
With such a breadth of information available, it’s enough to make your head spin. So let’s keep it simple. These are the universal ‘must haves’ for your essays, as well as the ‘avoid at all costs’ tips.
Before the tips, it’s important to understand why the essays are such a critical piece of the admission application.
One of the roles of the admission board is to ensure that accepted applicants bring further glory to their specific MBA programs by going on to fulfill far-reaching career goals once they graduate.
While many applicants possess similar undergraduate GPAs and GMAT scores, as well as qualified career backgrounds, only a fortunate few are accepted by top schools.
This is because the application essays help the admission board dig beyond the quantitative data and gain an understanding about the person who is applying: the essays allow the board to determine if this person is someone who will shed positive light on the program following graduation.
That is why the MBA admissions essays are important. Very important!
As you start to tackle the essays, it is helpful to view each as a unique sort of interview.
Unlike a face-to-face interview, which requires quick thinking and can easily let you down due to nerves or other variables, essay ‘interviews’ afford valuable time in which to strategize the way you present yourself to each admissions committee.
The essays are your opportunity to share who you are with the board without the pressure of time or the pressure of spontaneity.
Top Seven Essay Writing Tips
Now, let’s now deal with how it is possible to maximize your chances of gaining favor over the thousands of applicants per program, per year.
1. Reflection. This is vital. Do not begin writing your essays without taking time (well in advance of admissions deadlines) to think about why you are motivated to complete an MBA program and what you hope to achieve during your time in the program.
Also, consider the implications of what such a commitment will cost you in terms of finances, career interruption and your personal life.
Such realistic reflection – coupled with the determination to proceed – will only strengthen the overall tone and thrust of your essays. Passion is important. So is candor.
Taking the time for personal reflection will reveal your courage and individuality, presenting you as a person with clearly defined goals and a personal or career-related background which lays a clear foundation for future goals.
Admission committees are also naturally interested in why you feel their program is the best ‘fit’ for you. You must present a powerful tailor-made case to each program you apply for.
Do not attempt to present a uniform case if applying to a number of programs. It will be noticed as programs do range significantly in terms of branding and focus.
2. Strengths and Weaknesses. Schools may ask you about your strengths and weaknesses.
Even if they don’t ask you for this information directly, it may be implied as they evaluate how self-aware you are.
Ensure that your self-assessment lines up with that of past employers or others who may be questioned about your background. Carefully analyze your selected weaknesses.
Committees are impressed by mature self-awareness. Describe how you have learned from past mistakes and continue to correct ongoing problems.
Reveal a readiness to be corrected by oneself and by others.
3. Leadership Potential. You will definitely be judged according to how the admission board views your leadership potential.
This can include career-related experience as well as ‘unofficial’ leadership experience in which you collaborated effectively with a team.
Select one or several leadership situations that are most relevant to your application.
Choosing good examples requires good judgment and you may even want to consider running various options past people you trust as you analyze each situation.
Were objectives clearly established and determined? Did you communicate well and motivate your team? How did the project evolve and what was its final outcome? It is vital to discuss both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ outcomes.
4. Write clearly and concisely. Do not pad. Respect the word limit and all specified form and formatting rules.
5. On Creativity. While there is certainly room for creative flair, this is not a writing competition.
That is, tell your well-selected and relevant stories in your natural voice. Evoke vivid images without being flowery. Don’t use unnecessarily formal vocabulary as this can appear pompous.
On the other hand, absolutely do not write in a casual tone or use slang – except in context. If necessary, enlist the help of a good writer who understands the nature of such applications and who will edit accordingly.
6. Walk Away. Having done all of the above, let each essay sit for a while. Come back refreshed and take another look at it.
Ensure your essay powerfully highlights your personal branding and is slanted in such a way as to attract the specified admission board.
7. Reflection . . . is key. Take your time. Be yourself. Reveal ‘heart’. Select content carefully. Position yourself strategically. Write simply but evocatively.