What is an admission committee’s message, intent, behind limiting an “essay” answer to 100, 200, or 300 characters? Just the facts, please. In fact, just the key facts.
No adornment, no backstory, no extended rationale.
Columbia Business School has had such a goals question for a few years, Darden has had a 140-character Tweet question, and now HBS has a couple of these mini-essay questions. Yes, it’s a trend.
In working with clients on such questions, I’ve been struck by how hard providing “just the facts” really is – it’s counterintuitive, it’s letting go. It makes the writer feel, well, a little naked out there. Adornment, backstory, rationale – those are the comfortable “clothes” now in a heap on the floor.
OK, but how do you give them what they want – while simultaneously serving your goal of creating a compelling application that differentiates and distinguishes you?
Here are some unadorned tips to answer that question.
• Read the question carefully and weigh each word, to make sure you’re answering the exact question. (Seems obvious? I’ve witnessed many very smart people misread the question, with predictable results.)
• Short doesn’t mean easy. The opposite is often true. Allocate and devote some up-front thinking time to what you’ll say. The fewer words you have, the greater weight each word has.
• In this thinking process, decide the 1-3 key points you must convey. Don’t even consider anything else.
• Also in this thinking process, consider the application overall. These mini-essays must work within a larger whole. For example, if you only have 200 characters to write about your goals, and you’re planning to shift careers, look for other places in the application to indicate that you have relevant skill sets, understand the industry/function, etc.
• In drafting, write a little over the limit and pare down.
• Make sure each word is meaningful. Stick to nouns and verbs. Use short, direct sentences, which allow you to “squeeze” the most out of the limited characters.
• Avoid repeating the question (if it’s about post-MBA goals, the reader will know what you’re referring to, you don’t have to say, “Post-MBA I plan to…).
You know the expression “short and sweet.” Turn brevity to your advantage. A short statement can have great power, propulsion. The key is to do it right.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.
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This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.