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5 Tips for Writing B School Admission Essays that Sell
by Total Gadha - Tuesday, 14 April 2009, 06:10 AM
  gmat 2009 essay tips b school admissionWhenever I visited my grandfather’s village in my childhood, my favorite pastime was to catch fish in the large pond lying next to my home. Although we kids had no nets to catch the fish and the water was too muddy to see them, we had devised a simple but effective method for trapping fish. We would dig a small hole in the swampy mud besides the water and connect it to the pond by digging a small watercourse in the mud. This would lead to pond water coming into the trench we had dug, and along with it came the fish. Then we would close the water channel and slowly empty the water in the trench with small containers, leaving the fish squishing over each other in the shallow hole. It was not always that we caught fish this way. If we were in a friskier mood, we would make fish hooks by breaking fence wire and chipping and shaping it with stones. Then we would dug up an earthworm and pierce it with out fish hook and dangle it in water with a string. We rarely caught any fish that way, but whenever we did, our screams used to shake the sky down.

If you have been reading this with interest till now, I have succeeded in drawing you in like those fishes by sharing a small incident of my life. And writing admission essays is all about sharing your life in a way that interests the admission committee members. Most GMAT takers write 20- 30 essays within a span of 2- 3 months. Some, who take their GMAT late, get even lesser time than that. And nearly every B School applicant dreads writing his admission essays. Reasons? Lack of confidence in his writing skills, confusion about what to write about one’s life, apparent lack of writable leadership/teamwork/achievement occasions in one’s life, etc. to name a few. I have been editing and writing essays for so many years that now I know that most of these reasons become non existent if a student spends time in reviewing his life and goals and researching about the B Schools and their requirements. 

“Sanjeev your writing is good but your grammar is pathetic,” said Dr. Makarand Panjape, my ‘creative writing in English’ instructor in IIT Delhi. He was reviewing my semi-autobiographical piece titled ‘The Pandora’s Box.’ To be frank my grammar was not pathetic. I had no grammar at all. But lack of grammar never prevented me from taking all those humanities or writing courses in IIT. Writing those short stories did not help improve my grammar. But it did help untangle my thought and dig deep into my wants and needs. And when any of you start writing your essays, you would have to go into deep introspection mode and ask the first question

Do You Really Want an MBA? In 2005, after I had cleared CAT and scored 770 in GMAT , I was fairly sure of getting a seat in some top B School. But I was still searching for answers to the ‘why MBA?’ question. When the deadlines for submitting my essays had come dangerously near, I called one of my colleagues in the test-prep industry. In response to his question, I told him my heartfelt desire- that I wanted to start an educational institute, and that I wanted to do an MBA to know about running a business. It was a poor answer and he told me so. He said I could start an institute on that very day itself and that I didn’t need an MBA for that. Although I protested, I knew he was right. And when I dug deep inside me, I knew I never wanted to work for someone else. I had always hated the 9:00 to 5:00 job scenario and an MBA would again drag me into that. Needless to say, I never went to a B School. After a year, I started TG.Com.

In TathaGat classrooms , on TG, and otherwise, I keep meeting aspirants trying really hard to make it to some coveted B School. And many of them have no idea why they want to do an MBA except for the moolah dreams they are carrying. Many of these aspirants are quite intelligent and talented in one thing or the other. And they fail to understand that if they work this hard in doing the things they are good at, they would earn probably bigger money than they would after doing their MBA. And they would earn it on their own terms.

Even if you don’t have any clear goals in your life, you still need to be clear about what MBA offers and do you really need to go through the process? Till the time you don’t answer this question (and no, crappy answers such as ‘I am interested in finance’ won’t do) you won’t be able to write good essays. And if you are not able to answer this question, maybe an MBA is not your calling. Here are some of the questions that you should think about yourself.

Who are you?
Where have you been?
What is unique about you?
What excites you?
What have you achieved so far?
Where are you at?
What would you want to do for the rest of your life?
Who are you going to be?
What would you do in the next two years/five years/ten years?
Where are you going to be?
Why would it excite you?
Why MBA?

If you still haven’t found the answer to ‘why MBA’ question, please do not read further.

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Assuming that you have done a lot of introspection and found the answer to ‘why MBA’ question, what are the things you should keep in mind while writing your essays? First, you will have to prepare answer to some basic questions that you are going to face in some form or the other-

  • Who are you? What makes you unique?
  • What leadership qualities have you demonstrated in the past? How?
  • Have you worked in a team in the past? How did you perform?
  • What have you achieved in the past? Have you excelled in your work/ academics? How?
  • What contribution have you made to your work/ society?
  • How have your past experiences prepared you for business school?
  • What are your future plans?
  • Why do you want an MBA? Why now?
  • What do expect to learn from your MBA? How would you apply this knowledge?
  • How would you contribute once inside the business school?
  • What are your biggest success and failures so far? What have you learnt from them?
  • What hobbies/ interests are you passionate about? Why?
  • Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?

Remember that answers to many of these questions will not be found easily unless you have achieved a high degree of self awareness. It is recommended that you start working on your essays 6-9 months before your submission deadline.

Once you have answered the above questions and get down to the actual task of writing these essays, there are some simple things that you need to keep in mind:

1. ANSWER THE QUESTION

I think I would start with offering an example about how students completely miss the point about answering the essay. This essay came to me last year for editing:

Describe a situation where you had to persuade others to achieve a goal overcoming resistance.

During my work experience as a module leader in a project at my organization, my team had to develop certain key deliverables within a short duration. The client's requirements underwent numerous alterations before the scheduled deadlines, some of which seemed unfeasible to some of the team members. This led to a drop in the team's motivation levels & lower productivity. I felt an urgent need to discuss the matter with my team and drafted a plan on timelines indicating resource allocation as per his/her skill sets. I discovered a lot of time was being consumed by manual testing which was one of the reasons behind the resistance shown by team. I then developed software which automated the entire process which saved a lot of time and made the entire process easier for the team. I felt my approach towards the problem was instrumental in overcoming the resistance shown by the team.

Great essay! See how cleverly the applicant has avoided answering question about overcoming resistance through persuasion. Would an admission committee member fall sucker to this one? Not really, I didn’t. And I haven’t seen as many essays as an adcom member has.

  • If an essay is asking about your performance as a team player, don’t write an essay on the time you worked in a team and how your team achieved some goal. Sounds familiar? Write about how YOU performed as a team player and what team skills you displayed.
  • If an essay is asking about your leadership experience, don’t just mention the time you were as a team leader in your company and how you prepared targets and time schedule for your subordinates and got the task done. Write about the difficulties you faced as a team leader and how you overcome them, how you motivated your team, how you handled various personalities in your team etc.

In your daily life whenever you ask innocuous questions such as “how are you?”, “where have you been?” etc. of your friend, colleague, or a family member, you take it for granted that they will answer it. Think about how you would feel if they gave evasive answers to all your queries and not answered you directly? Wouldn’t you feel exasperated?

Admission committee members also want you to answer the question. Don’t beat about the bush. Answer it.

2. TALK ABOUT YOURSELF, IN AN INTERESTING MANNER

If a student is asked to write ‘why mba’ or ‘what makes you unique,’ four out of ten times he would start be something as bogus as “my intense desire to excel…” or a very long statement laid with thick jargon and trite sentences. Essays like these are instant turnoffs. And they reek of falsehood. And they get thrown out of the pack instantly.

Students who are under the illusion that their essays will certainly be read by the admission committee members need to wake up.

Imagine a person who has to read 50 to 100 essays (the figure can scale up to as high as a 1000). Wouldn’t he get bored of reading same rubbish again and again? Do you think he would give even a full glance to essays which are full of claptrap? He will thrown them in the bin out rightly without a bother.

Here are some of the things that you should remember-

  • Be yourself in your essays: Do not assume personalities based on what you think a particular B School wants from you. Many of you may not realize this but an essay smells of a personality always. If someone is reading 4- 5 essays about you, he can feel what kind of personality you are and his sixth sense will spot all the inconsistencies and false portrayals. If you be yourself in your essays, you will invariably avoid these inconsistencies.
  • Be Interesting: “People don’t care whether you're good or evil. But no one will forgive you for being boring,” I used to tell my friends humorously in college. So be interesting in your essays. You don’t have to be a creative writer to do this. Imagine that you are going to tell something interesting about yourself to your friends. Then think about how you would narrate it. And then write it down. Also, read some tips on “show, don’t tell” theme.
  • Show the person that you are: I feel it strange that many students do not realize that adcom members genuinely want to know them as a person. They want to know what choices you have made in life and why. Essays are personal statements you can make about yourself. Keep your essays full of insight about yourself. Don’t keep your essays so superficial that someone reading them doesn’t have a clue about you. For this to happen, you need to go through a lot of introspection about yourself. The sooner you start the better.
  • Stay focused: While answering an essay question, do not wander into details that are irrelevant to the essay. Keep your focus and include only those details which are crucial to building your essay.

3. RESEARCH ABOUT THE B SCHOOL:

That does not mean that you go through a B School’s website only to pick up phrases or course names to drop into your essays. Researching a B school means speaking or writing mails to its students, alumni, professors, etc, finding out about the core beliefs of the school and what it expects from its students, finding out if the school is a fit for you or not. Even if the B School is in another country, you can find alumni of that school in your own country and talk to them. Find out what the experience is like studying in that school, what are the core strengths of that school etc. As Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions for the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan says in her interview to Business Week-

The first thing applicants should think about is the type of learning approach that they want. Do they want all case studies? Do they want all lecture? Do they want a hands-on experience? Also, they should think about what discipline or function they're interested in—do they want a general management school or a school that focuses on one area, like finance or marketing. And then the final piece that's probably a little bit more elusive is the kind of culture that the student will thrive in. Do you need an ultra-competitive environment to motivate you, or are you seeking a more collaborative culture? Or could you see yourself fitting in at a particular school based on the current students that you've interacted with, and we hope you do take that time to interact with current students, whether it's by e-mail or visiting on campus or going to an event.

I think a lot of students start their school search using the rankings, which is fine, but then many of them don't go on to do their due diligence by visiting the school or talking to students and alumni. So not fully understanding what the school is about beyond the rankings can be a mistake.

And then some students often let location drive their decision. They choose schools that are located in or near cities in which they want to work after business school. I'd recommend that students do research on which companies recruit at a particular school, or what other non-corporate paths…MBA graduates take, so they get a sense of, 'Can I get there from a particular school?' At any top business school, chances are that top recruiters will be there, so they should not let location limit them to a certain set of schools.

The part that they can control, obviously, is their essays, so their choice of topics and examples gives us a sense of what they consider to be important. And then their insights about their experiences and choices tells us a lot about their values and their priorities and their ability to reflect and learn. Their goals essay, where they talk about what they want to do, is very important. If someone says that they're only interested in finance and they're applying to a general management school, then it's hard to make that fit piece work.

So research about the B School thoroughly.

4. GET YOUR ESSAYS REVIEWED THOROUGHLY:

First, get someone to review the grammar. Then get 2-3  friends and colleagues to read your essays. Take the feedbacks constructively. Don’t be defensive. Listen to all the feedbacks and edit your essays. Remember that you would not be the ones reviewing your essays. It would be others. So look at your essays from others’ eyes.

5. KEEP TO THE WORD LIMIT :

You will almost always have essays that are a little longer in word limits and you would be in doubt whether to clip them further or leave them so. Two words- clip them. Keep your essays within the prescribed word limit.

That is all for now. In my next article, I would talk about how I went ‘spelunking’ in the hills around my town in search of treasure. Till then, you check out the new craze on TG- The TG Town!

Further Readings:

 


Re: 5 Tips for Writing B School Admission Essays that Sell
by Krushang Shah - Tuesday, 14 April 2009, 01:13 PM
  KUDOS... 

EULOGIZES... cool

EXALTS...
Re: 5 Tips for Writing B School Admission Essays that Sell
by Manika Tandon - Friday, 17 April 2009, 10:29 PM
  where was this piece of writing wen i was writing my essaysangry
Re: 5 Tips for Writing B School Admission Essays that Sell
by poonam thakur - Friday, 17 April 2009, 11:57 PM
 

Hi TG,

Evn I hav d same big PUZZLE in my head as to y an MBA I cannot say dat i wanna earn more n I myself cannot imagine a 9:00 to 5:00 job like u said,m in my FINAL YEAR BPHARM took CAT dis year bt gt royally screwed gt a MARKETING JOB in an AMERICAN PHARMACEUTICAL FIRM dis is 1 thing dat wud excite me coz u gt 2 meet highly qualified ppl n can also widen ur knoweldge so evn wen i do my MBA it wud b in d marketing field so hw do i frame an answer 4 dat pls help

Re: 5 Tips for Writing B School Admission Essays that Sell
by RAJESH TAMADAPALLY - Wednesday, 22 April 2009, 04:44 PM
 
Re: 5 Tips for Writing B School Admission Essays that Sell
by riaz yaser - Monday, 18 July 2011, 06:24 PM
  Hi,all very nicely explained but it wud be excellent if u'd explain it with a eg.smile