Ncprasad’s MBA Story – Part 4 : The Essays
Prior to writing further about my experience writing application essays, I have to put up a disclaimer.DISCLAIMER
Please note that the tips and strategies that I am about to share are not necessarily the best way to go about the essay writing process. These ideas worked for me, but they may not for you. As with everything else posted on this board, please use your personal judgment. You and ONLY you can determine what’s best for you.A word about admissions consultants
I have often heard people stressing over essays and wondering how to write well. Many feel that an admission consultant is the panacea to all their troubles. But, then again there are a lot of folks who believe that admissions consultants are scam artists. My opinion is that the truth lies somewhere in between. I am sure there are good consultants who can make a tangible difference to one’s essays, but I am also sure that there are many folks who either have no idea how to help you or simply don’t care for anything other than their fees. If you do go the consultant route, have reasonable expectations and do a lot of research before hiring one.Improving your writing skills
Before I embarked on the application process, there was a poll about what everyone thought their achilles heel is, as far as admissions are concerned. I remember responding that the essays will most likely determine my B-school fate. Being from an oversubscribed Male Indian IT applicant pool, I knew I had my task cut out. There are those few smart and fortunate people who seem to write vividly and evenly with a lot of style, with ease. Unfortunately, I am not one of those. I am an average writer at best, who happens to have a fairly strong grasp of the fundamentals of the English language. By nature, I am a strong believer that preparation results in performance. This is probably why I believed that like GMAT scores, the ability to write well could be improved and polished so long as I put in the required effort. So, I enrolled in an expository writing class in the local community college. It was the best decision I made in 2007.
The course lasted for a few months, and cost me about $200. I figured even if I don’t get into school, I will at least acquire skills that can be transferred to my job. I learned a lot from my fellow students, and a good professor who was really passionate about teaching and writing. There were several class assignments that forced me to write on a daily basis. Believe me, this is a crucial aspect of the improvement process.
The best advice I got from my teacher was to “Write daily”. It doesn’t matter what you write about. Just write for 10-minutes non-stop everyday without fail. What you write does not have to make sense, be logical or even be interesting. Write whatever comes to your mind. By doing this, you quicken the time it takes for your brain to kick in when you really WANT to write. Practicing this exercise will help you get over writer’s block. There were several other interesting writing assignments I did for my class. One of them was writing summaries of the daily news. Basically, I had to pretend like a journalist and write my story based on what I hear in the evening news.
Sure, a lot of these things can be done without attending a class. But, I benefited from the structure and the sense of competition the class brought. If you are in the US, I suggest that you at least look into the possibility of taking a writing class in the local community college. Here are some tips and tools for writing well.
Check the readability of your essays using MS word's Spelling & Grammar feature. Your Flesch reading ease index needs to be >40 atleast. The scale is severe on run-on sentences and verbosity. For reference purposes, flesch reading scale indexes for popular publications are
Harvard Law Review - 32
Harvard Business Review - 42
Reader's Digest - Mid 60's and above (This is my gold standard)
Your average insurance policy - 10
Although, the scale helps you evaluate readability it still does not tell you how to improve. To overcome this, I use the utility available at http://www.online-utility.org/english/r ... mprove.jsp
The utility will not only tell you your index, but also help you focus on the 'guilty' sentences. For a section of this post, the utility gave me this result.
For other helpful tips, refer to http://www.fireandknowledge.org/archive ... ting-well/
There are also several books, related to application essays, in the market. I used Paul Bodine’s book and also read through the Montauk’s book. In my opinion, although both books have some good ideas, their sample essays are not helpful to average candidates like me. I think this is where the GMAT club essay vault can play a significant role. There are not a lot of essays in that forum currently, but interested folks can PM me or other contributors to obtain samples of successful essays from this application season. One book that I do highly recommend for everyone is the NewsWeek essay writing guide. This book was my constant companion and reference guide during the applications process.http://www.amazon.com/Essay-Writing-Ste ... 95&sr=8-36
Finally, be prepared to spend an insane amount of time on your essays. I spent 100 to 150 hours on each school’s essay. The first drafts of your essays will usually suck. Don’t be discouraged. Also, don’t squeeze the 100 hours or how much ever you spend on a school’s essays within a short timeframe. Essays need to marinate for while and generally your ideas will be refined if they evolve over a period of time. So, start with your essays in early July, if you are targetting R1.
I hope this write-up is helpful to all the 2009ers. Good Luck!