Believable MBA essays are about craft and attitude
Craft is a question of mastering a skill – the skill of writing.
Attitude is how you use that skill to express yourself.
Craft is essentially a mechanical act: it consists in simplifying, pruning and striving for order. In terms of craft, there is no excuse for losing the attention of your reader through sloppy writing. Then again it’s understandable that writing is not everyone’s forte. Having your MBA essays edited is insurance against a lack of technical mastery.
In terms of what attitude to have in writing your MBA application essays, you must first ask yourself the question: Who am I writing for? The most common response being: I’m writing for the admissions committee member who will review my work. It’s natural to assume that writing with a goal to impress the admissions committee member is the approach most likely to produce that very outcome. Yet when it comes to writing genuine and compelling MBA essays, this rarely works.
The question of who you are writing for is a fundamental one, and it has a fundamental answer.
You are writing for yourself.
Honesty is relatable
Don’t try to visualize the admissions committee members. Don’t try to guess what sort of thing they are in a mood to read. Write for yourself and don’t be gnawed by worry about anything else.
Whether the admissions committee member reads your essay and likes you, or likes what you are saying or how you are saying it, or agrees with it, or feels an affinity for your sense of humor or your vision of life, don’t give him or her a moment’s worry.
You are who you are, he is who he is, and either you’ll get along or you won’t.
When attitude is a genuine act (as in an undertaking) – you express, in a very relatable way, who you are, what you stand for and who you hope to become. When attitude becomes an act (as in a charade or facade), your essay will inevitably sound contrived – because you will have schemed it into something you think someone else wants to read instead of the statement you feel genuinely compelled to make.
Write like you talk
Don’t say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. If you are not a person who says ‘indeed’ or ‘moreover’ then don’t write it. Likewise, if you really have no intention of going into finance after you earn your MBA, then please don’t make up some convoluted scenario in which you morph into a financial Master of the Universe thanks to Professor Lowe’s private equity course.
The admissions committee member will know if you are putting on airs. They read thousands of essays each year and have a keen sense of what is authentic and what isn’t. They want to read essays (and admit candidates) that are genuine. Well-meaning friends and parents can sometimes interfere and sabotage your essays. You can hash out your ideas with a trusted friend or admissions consultant but ultimately it is your business school application and you should use your own best judgement (and gut instinct) in choosing a topic and writing your essay.
Don’t oversell yourself or try too hard
Some MBA candidates manage to squeeze every accomplishment they’ve ever had into a single one-page essay. Others explain emphatically how much they really, really want to attend a school. Don’t take such a desperate approach; just be yourself.
Don’t rehash information that can be found elsewhere in the application
The MBA Admissions Committee is already aware of your GPA, GMAT scores, academic awards and honors. Use your limited essay space to discuss experiences that aren’t revealed anywhere else. Consider your essay to be an informal interview, your exclusive one-on-one time with the committee. Show them why they should accept you into their MBA program’s academic community.
Don’t let your essay morph into a position paper on an issue. Be original
Each year, MBA Admissions Committees receive hundreds of essays that discuss the horrors of nuclear proliferation and the dangers of global warming. Sadly, those essays don’t reveal anything that (most people) don’t already know. If you choose to discuss a meaningful issue, do so in the context of your demonstrated commitment to change it, either through your career or volunteer work. Don’t confuse passive idealism (or future intentions) with productive action. A demonstrated commitment to a cause is worth writing about; passive idealism is not.
Don’t be gimmicky
Avoid using definitions to begin your essay. Avoid using cute or meaningful quotations, unless they perfectly fit the character and tone of your essay. Quotations are terrific if they are seldom-quoted and deeply relevant to your chosen topic. All too often, though, their usage is cliche and the resulting essay is unimaginative.