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Mistakes You Should Avoid in Application Essays

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Mistakes You Should Avoid in Application Essays [#permalink] New post 21 May 2013, 07:45
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Well, the application season is over, and all the applicants I worked with (except one) have submitted their applications for R- 3 as well. I think now it’s time to reflect on the common mistakes I have noticed while working with applicants on their essays . Below are some of the common mistakes I came across.

1. Insufficient Time:

We have always enforced that application essays are the most critical part of MBA application package, yet some candidates approach them casually and begin writing them a couple of days before the deadline. Some applicants approached me a week before the deadline; this obviously did not leave them with enough time to strategize and think through their stories/ experiences. Working towards tight deadlines puts unnecessary pressure on the applicants (as well as on the consultant who works with them) which can be easily avoided if they engage with an expert early in the application process. Writing an admission essay is a creative and time-consuming process during which you need to go through multiple stages of the writing process (brainstorming, writing, revising, editing, and re-editing) in order to achieve perfection. You will find it extremely challenging to produce quality work if during that short period also, you are at work for long hours and work on your essays only at night when you are already exhausted from work. If you plan ahead and start on time, you will enjoy this process of reflecting on your experiences and translating them into memorable stories for the Ad Com.

2. Lack of stories/real life experiences:

A major issue with most admission essays is lack of stories or real-life examples . Some applicants just expand their resumes and rewrite them in a language filled with technical jargon assuming everyone would comprehend them, while some others compose an objective statement of purpose that reads like a newspaper article and completely fails to tell the reader who they are.

I have always insisted that the beginning of an essay should be engaging enough to hook the readers and make them want to continue reading your essay. For example, some applicants begin their 'Goals' essay somewhat like this:

“My career interest is in blending analytical thinking with business acumen to solve challenging problems.” or "My short term goal is....."

Beginning your essay like this is a killer and will fail to make an impression. However, you will hook the reader into your story if you weave your life story around your goals as shown in the example below:

“I grew up helping my dad, an Electronics engineer, repair television, radios and anything that needed to be fixed around the house, as I was naturally drawn to applying analytical knowledge to solve problems.”

Also, when brainstorming details for your story, please make sure that you have included all the relevant details with a beginning, middle, and end that would make complete sense to the reader. Do not assume the reader (in this case the Ad Com) to understand/ know what has not been relayed to them. One of the applicants I recently worked on her R-3 applications apprised me of the most significant detail of her ‘team work challenge’ story during the final stages of the review process, and that too casually in an email in response to my question. When I incorporated that information in the essay, it enhanced the overall impact of the story making it more powerful. Hence I would recommend that you share with your consultant all the minute details of your story so your stories can be developed into impactful essays.

3. Failure to comprehend the essay prompt:

When writing their essays, some applicants do not go deep into the essay prompt to comprehend its intent. As a result, the essay goes off track and completely lacks the underlying theme/ the main point of the essay. For example, if the question is about the contribution to the XYZ School, you do not want to discuss your reasons for choosing that particular B-school. They are not asking you about their particular resources that interest you; rather they want to know what value you will add to the school and in what ways they will benefit by accepting you. Thus, you need to think through the essay prompt and dig deeper before beginning to answer the question.While elaborating what value you will add to your target school, make sure you connect your skill-set, your professional (e.g. professionalism, leadership potential, team working experience, and innovative ideas), and personal attributes (e.g. integrity, accountability, humorous disposition etc.) and experience to the specific activities and resources (clubs, organizations ,team groups etc.) of the target school.

4. Lack of adequate structure/ organization of the essay:

I always recommend that you should pay equal attention to all aspects of the essay question. In order to answer the essay question holistically, you may break it down into multiple sub-segments and then build a structure around each sub segment. Some applicants go at length in addressing the first part of the essay question , leaving the other parts unanswered or unbelievably brief. For example, let’s take a look at Kellogg’s essay # 1 “Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans, and your motivation for pursuing an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management.” (500-750 words) In order to make sure that you address both the parts effectively, you may break it down into two parts, and then describe the first part (your career progression) in approximately 300-350 words and the second part (your future career plans, and your motivation for pursuing an MBA at Kellogg) in approximately about 350-400 words.

Also, sometimes applicants inadvertently skip one or two parts of the essay prompt. For example, question no. 4 in the Personal Statement of MiF, LBS has 5 parts, and it is likely that the applicant may skip 1-2 parts of it. In order to avoid that, you may number all the parts of the question and then address them one by one. After making sure that you have satisfactorily answered all the questions, you can always delete the numbers and restructure your responses in a paragraph format.

5. Grammar and Sentence Structure Errors:

Some applicants compose exceptionally lengthy sentences stretching 4-5 lines, while some compose awkwardly phrased and grammatically incorrect sentences. Please note that writing extraordinarily bulky sentences is not an evidence of good English. Your audience (the Ad Com) get only a couple of minutes to go through your essay, and you don’t want them to get entangled in the maze of your intricate sentences. I would recommend that you convey your message effectively in a clear, concise, and simple language that is easy to understand.

And please pay attention to your ‘articles’. The most common error I have noticed is – missing articles (‘the’, a and ‘an’)

Example: ‘ I aligned my team and generated first two test files from test server…’

In the above sentence article ‘the’ is missing at two places. The correct sentence is: “I aligned my team and generated the first two test files from the test server.”

6. Inability to adhere to word limit:

Undoubtedly, following stringent word limits is an arduous task and often becomes one of the biggest challenges for applicants. They find it hard to figure out how to prune their writing and end up producing 700 words essay when the required word limit is 400 words. The Schools provide you specific word limit for a reason; they expect you to adhere to it. So try to follow the principle of ‘less is more’ and be as precise as you can.

7. Use of Jargon:

It has been a common experience for me to review essays filled with technical terms of the applicant’s industry. Whether it is ‘leadership’ essay, ‘setback’ essay, ‘goals’ essay, ‘ethical dilemma’ or even ‘background ‘essay, most applicants inadvertently provide lengthy technical details which are comprehensible to their industry people only. In their enthusiasm to provide all the technical details of their experience, they often omit relevant information (eg ‘What were the main challenges?’ or ‘How was the experience meaningful?’ etc.) The use of excessive jargon makes it hard for the readers to comprehend your story. Therefore, I sugegst that you use only as much jargon in your essays as is required to convey your story.

8. Hiring someone to WRITE your essays:

As suggested in the beginning, you should give yourself enough time for creating stellar essays. Essay writing for B-schools is a time- consuming process and you will thank yourself later if you start this process on time. If you are planning on applying to 4-5 schools, you should set aside 5-6 weeks for preparation . Planning ahead and giving yourself sufficient time will not only help you produce memorable essays that project your candidacy in the best light, but will also prevent you from making that disastrous choice of hiring someone else for this job. One of the applicants I worked with during R -3 had signed up with me on time, but he sometimes failed to send me his updated essay drafts on time because of his long work hours. Unfortunately, he got sick four days before the application deadline, and in panic, he came up with the idea of hiring a professional writer for his ‘dinner party essay’ for Georgia Tech. He emailed me asking about my thoughts on this choice. I immediately called him to make him understand that no one else except he himself could create this essay (or for that matter any other essay) for him because it was about his views, his ideology, and his perspective, so no professional writer or admission consultant could do it for him. I then provided him ideas, pointers and guidelines to help him understand what the school was looking for through this essay question. I told him that he was the author of his life, and only he was capable of talking about people who had inspired or influenced him. Convinced, he worked on his essay as and when he got some respite from his fever. I quickly sent him my edits, and he was able to submit his application on time.

Summary:

To sum up, some of the common mistakes that the MBA applicants should avoid are: insufficient time to revise and edit essays, lack of real-life examples to answer essay questions, failure to comprehend the intent of the essay prompt and to structure the essay well, omitting 1-2 parts of the essay question, making sentence structure errors, exceeding the allowed word -limit, and using excessive jargon. Lastly, and most importantly, please do not ever ‘pay’ anyone to ‘write’ admission essays for you.

Good luck on your application.J
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Re: Mistakes You Should Avoid in Application Essays [#permalink] New post 21 May 2013, 08:15
An excellent post myEssayReview! :) ***Kudos :)

The above gave me quite a bit of an insight into the general guidelines to follow over writing application essays. But I do have a few queries in this regard. In your post you have mentioned, that the applicant should hand-pick stories and events in relation to the essay questions and corroborate them accordingly and the language needs to be simple and apt so as to keep the ADCOM interested and entertained. Are these stories supposed to be the guiding spirit of the essay question? In other words should they be more of a back-bone or just supporting information. Also, Should they be life-altering and vivid events or common place events of leadership and perseverance would also do? :)

Further, regarding the research to be done before the essays, Which information should the applicant pay attention to, in reference to the college history, motto and general guidelines so as to attract better attention from the ADCOM? Since there is a good chance many of the applicants might not have visited the college or have had a chance to have discussion with the faculty or the students, how can they proceed with the research to be done on the college in general, for the essays?

I believe there should be a balance between citing instances and explaining them in the essays. A content balance should be present between them so that the applicant can explain the significance of the event and the reason he/she mentioned them. Also, Please mention an approx time-line for a stellar essay to be written on an average :) This always seems to be the most important question as it becomes very difficult to craft the essays properly if there is a high number of college applications in mind.

Looking forward to your reply! :)

Regards,
Arpan
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Re: Mistakes You Should Avoid in Application Essays [#permalink] New post 21 May 2013, 09:53
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Hi Arpan,

Thanks for liking the post.

Here are answers to your questions:

1. Are these stories supposed to be the guiding spirit of the essay question? In other words should they be more of a back-bone or just supporting information. Also, Should they be life-altering and vivid events or common place events of leadership and perseverance would also do?

Ans. It depends on the essay prompt. For example, if the essay prompt asks you to describe a difficult situation or disagreement where your teamwork skills were required to resolve a conflict, or a situation in personal or professional setting where you experienced an ethical dilemma, the story would be the back bone of the essay comprising all the four components of your experience : (the situation/ challenge, action, outcome, and significance),your role in dealing with the situation being the most significant part of the story .

However, if the question asks you about your perspective about something ( e.g. What advice would you give to a foreigner moving to your home country? Why?) your story would provide ‘ the supporting information ‘ to substantiate your perspective and views.

2. Also, Should they be life-altering and vivid events or common place events of leadership and perseverance would also do?

Ans. Again, all your responses will be customized to the essay prompts. If the question is about a life altering event, you will definitely choose an experience that changed your life in a significant way.

3. Further, regarding the research to be done before the essays, which information should the applicant pay attention to, in reference to the college history, motto and general guidelines so as to attract better attention from the ADCOM? Since there is a good chance many of the applicants might not have visited the college or have had a chance to have discussion with the faculty or the students, how can they proceed with the research to be done on the college in general, for the essays?

Ans. If you are based in India, you are not expected to fly to this part of the world to visit a school in the US. There are various ways to do your research on the schools that interest you. Keeping in mind your profile, you can look at MBA rankings (US News, Financial Times, Business Week, etc.) for the range of programs you will be competitive for . For school selection, you will have to consider many factors e.g. geographical location, loans, scholarships, Key Projects/Courses/Competitions Employment Reports, and companies that are regular recruiters over the years. Also, you should research faculty, student groups, clubs, and organizations that match your interests/ goals. Another way to get information about schools is to contact students and Alumni and get their feedback via call or email. All this research is going to help you in writing your essays and later during the interview when they will ask you “Why our school?”

4. Also, Please mention an approx time-line for a stellar essay to be written on an average.

Ans. I have always enforced that admission essay writing is an extremely time- consuming and demanding process. When the applicants sign up with me on a 5-school package, I need 6-7 weeks of commitment from them so we can enjoy the process of creating effective and persuasive essays. Please click at the following link for details on the essay review process I follow.
https://myessayreview.com/howiwork.php

I hope I have answered your questions satisfactorily.

For more questions, you can also email me at poonam@myessayreview.com
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Re: Mistakes You Should Avoid in Application Essays   [#permalink] 21 May 2013, 09:53
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