Crossing the Essay Maze
Writing the application essays is probably the most daunting task of the entire MBA application process. A few guidelines may help you direct your essays to a safe harbor:
- Prior to writing your essays, spend a few hours preparing your positioning strategy. For example, you may use the following basic process for formulating your strategy:
- Lay out the evaluation criteria of the school. You may use the school’s web site, current students, alumni, admission books and application improvement services to achieve this. Try to evaluate the weight of each criterium.
- Write down what you have to offer on each criterium. These are your key messages.
- Assign each of your messages to one or more essays. Use the criteria weights mentioned above to determine the intensity and level of detail in which each message will be presented.
- Your essay messages should be clear and easy for categorization in the reader’s mind.
Life is complex and obscure. Trying to describe our attitudes, our past and our future plans often leads us to multifaceted, intricate explanations and descriptions. Essay readers, however, read hundreds of essays and have very limited time on their hands. Therefore, like any strong marketing tool, your essay messages should be easily identifiable and understandable rather than long, complex, blurred and multifaceted.
- Use transitional words and phrases such as therefore, however, nevertheless and moreover between words and paragraphs. Smooth transitions help portray an impression of a consistent, well structured essay. Moreover, such transitions help the reader keep track and stay focused on your essay.
- Use concrete, personal, factual examples to demonstrate your point. Avoid general statements, stereotypical expressions and cliches. Avoid stating the obvious or telling the readers what they already had read before numerous times.
- Use your thesaurus! Avoid repeating the same words over and over again. Tedious essays that use a limited, repetitive vocabulary are a recipe for disaster.
- In order to prepare the “Why Our MBA Program” essay, do your homework intensively on each business school you are applying to. Sentences such as “Your program is my number one choice because of its strong alumni network, distinguished faculty and excellent reputation” are an effective way to achieve rejection. In addition to the school’s web site, speak with students and alumni and use the IIMBA forum and other helpful forums to gather concrete information about the school and to explain why it should be your MBA program of choice.
- Write a unique, stimulating, personal essay. Ideally, the Admissions Officer will read your essay not only out of responsibility but also out of curiosity. Like any good writer, use suspense, headlines, a stimulating opening and a bit of humor to grab the reader’s attention. The last thing you want is an essay that sounds like five other essays that the Admissions Officer read that same week.
- As an Israeli, you probably have lengthy military experience. First, it is important to understand that your military service is valuable and relevant in terms of your candidacy. In most business schools, the military background is regarded as full time work experience and counted when calculating the length of your work experience.
Your military background comprises a legitimate, valuable work experience. Present it! And when doing so, you may want to keep these two guidelines in mind:
- The military experience is especially valuable for demonstrating teamwork skills, leadership capabilities, and perseverance. Admission committees tend to see the military service as a great opportunity for developing and practicing these three competencies. If you have impressive experiences along these lines from your army days, do share and emphasize them in your application.
- Try to present your military background in a “work environment” context, rather than in a military context. Discuss, in business terms, issues such as tasks and goals, organizational processes, training, management, teamwork and human resources. Put less emphasis on military terms and issues such as battles, hierarchy, command, weapons and military jargon.
- Emphasize any involvement that you may have had with large and well-recognized international corporations. From the perspective of most application readers, and especially American readers, your involvement with blue chip, big name organizations adds to your credibility and to the value of your experiences.
- Last but not least, obvious but critical: Answer the question. Not less than that, and not much more.