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I've reposted this from my blog, but I think it would be helpful for some of the readers here -- a set of principles that not only apply to b-school essays, but to any form of writing you'll do in your professional career.
Good writing first and foremost is not about style or polish. I think that's the biggest disconnect for many people whose office environments are overwhelmingly focused on polish and style that it messes with their notion of what is deemed "good writing." When asked to write outside a corporate context, it can be completely disorienting -- right becomes left, up becomes down.
What makes good writing?
The most important quality is CLARITY. Unless you're writing a diary for your eyes only, you write to be understood. Your main thesis, opinion, and intentions have to be absolutely crystal clear to a reader. Oftentimes, it's scraping away all the double-speak, buzzwords and cliche phrases learned over the years in an office. When in doubt, use the simpler word because it's likely closer to the heart (which is what an essay with a subjective voice is all about - you are writing in the first person after all).
Another important quality is SPECIFICITY. Without being specific about what you're talking about, you can't be precise in your insight. And if you're not precise, what you say has no substance, leaving no impact on a reader. Oftentimes, stripping all the sh*t away from one's writing into plain English can really reveal what you *really* know because you can't hide behind language.
ECONOMY is also paramount. Even award winning novelists (or their editors at least) strive for this. You cut out as much fat as possible - both the words and the content. The more succinct, the greater the impact.
And the last one for writing from a subjective viewpoint (first person narrative) is SINCERITY. Tonally, it's got to sound like a real person, not a robotic PR release. Aim for a lack of formality without being casual.
Your essays may not sound like the stylized writing you are used to at work, but believe me it will be miles better than the overwhelming majority of sh*t you'll see in powerpoint presentations, website copy and business correspondence. Corporate speak makes it harder to separate the clueless, incompetent, and spineless from the knowledgeable, talented and ethical - that's why it can be an invaluable "cover your ass" dialect in a bureaucracy.
One last thing. All of this doesn't mean that style is irrelevant. Highly stylized writing can certainly be fun to read especially in the hands of a talented writer with keen insight, but only if such writing is clear, specific, concise and sincere. In the context of b-school essays however, it's unnecessary and distracting. That's the underlying problem with language used in many office environments - it's a highly stylized form without the clarity, specificity, economy or sincerity one will see in truly good writing. _________________
Chinese American, Age 22 GPA: 3.07, BS. Chem. Engr., Top 10 University (US News), Graduated in 3 years GMAT: 740 Work Experience: 2 years at matriculation as a chemical engineer involved in commissioning/startups and process design. Worked for 6 months in Shanghai starting up a chemical plant with 3 different processes where I was given management roles and spoke Mandarin on a day to day basis.
I attended an advanced high school program which involved living on a college dorm and taking college courses full time during junior and senior years of high school. I have 66 hours of credits that do not have GPA due to being taken at another college. Accounting for those I have ~3.5 GPA. Not sure if business schools will look into this or if it's worth mentioning in an essay somewhere.
I would describe my undergraduate time as very unfocused. During the high school program, I found the classwork easy and rarely attended class. I was placed into chemical engineering by my school when I applied, and stuck with it. While classes were more difficult, I still had little to no direction in my studies. I tried a semester of research and played poker part-time to support myself. Not sure if I should mention poker as one of my work experiences as this was the first subject I was ever interested in and it involves some skills that translate to the business world. I didn't find out until my 3rd year how important work experience was in the engineering field and basically landed my job solely on my interviews.
My time in Shanghai drastically changed my career goals. I decided I did not want to be a career engineer, and I wanted to be involved in business development, specifically for emerging technologies and industries such as green technology or new platforms like cloud computing. This is probably the first time in my life that I've had any real goals, and I feel like I've just been going with the flow until now. I've taken a number of initiatives since then as a result of my newfound goals, including being a founding member of a green technology initiative within my company analyzing processes with green metrics. Additionally, I've spent a number of hours outside of work reading papers, books, reports, or anything I can about the fields I'm interested in.
I really want to get into H/S/W as I feel these schools will help develop the skill sets I lack. I am especially interested in the Wharton Lauder Institute program. How viable is my application for these programs? How should I structure my background? I feel like how I frame my past will vastly change schools' impression of who I am and what I am capable of.
To be blunt, I don't see you having a shot at H/S/W.
It sounds like you were in a rush (to nowhere) -- my hunch is that either your family, culture, or you yourself got it into your head that it's really cool to rush through high school and college (hence getting a head start in high school on college, and graduating in 3 years). That you can impress yourself and others on how FAST you can get through things, rather than how WELL you can do it (hence your crappy GPA - let's not BS here).
And this rush or hurry to grow up disoriented you, which is why you had a change of heart through school, and why it feels like you're only starting to get your grounding now (but then again, you're just 22).
In short, my guess is an adcom will see through your narrative (no matter what it is because the facts collectively speaking infer this story I've mentioned above - you're not the first Asian to have believed in the "fastest is best" theory only to fall off the train even temporarily) -- and they will feel that you won't be as mature as the other young folks that are applying.
In other words, you're competing against other kids 22-25 who have had their sh*t together for a while. And you've only started to get your sh*t together recently.
If I were you, I'd stay in the working world for a while. It still seems that you're in a rush -- just as you've gotten some grounding (as you seem to have inferred), you're ready to pick up and move again. Don't buy into the "race" that you need to have so-and-so by a certain age you're f*cked. At this point, you need that time and opportunity to accumulate experience and real world achievements (even if you think you have a lot now - you don't) before deciding what you want to do next with your life and career. _________________
Alex, thanks for your advice. Much of your analysis is correct. I was in a rush for a long time for no apparent reason and then just kinda drifted for a while. However, you are incorrect in saying that I am still in a rush now. I'm not in any sort of "race" to have so-and-so by some age. My concern now is moving in the direction I want to. I have analyzed my skills and evaluated what skills I am lacking to reach the goals I have set for myself. Most of the missing skills will be gained in the course of MBA studies. The rest of the skills will be found with work experience working in fields closer to what I want to be doing. Continuing with the job I have now will not allow me to gain anything but more technical knowledge.
The big question is really "Why an MBA now?" I definitely have an answer for that, and the answer is not that I want to be a CEO before age 30 or whatever. The answer is because that is what will develop my skill set the most.
All of us have had bad interviews in the past. We've stumbled, said stuff we shouldn't have said, behaved in ways we shouldn't have done -- most of the time, it's inadvertent (I've certainly been guilty of some of these no-no's in the past!). However, by being more aware of some of these inadvertent behaviors, hopefully some of you (and me!) can prevent these "character types" from rearing its ugly head - whether in an admissions interview, job interview, or business meeting.
Rather than describe these behaviors, I felt it's easier (and more fun) to just show you some of these character types or behaviors (while hopefully amusing and entertaining you along the way). So I've recently produced a web series INTERVIEW DON'Ts, loosely based on actual interviewees I have coached in the past. This is the first of 17 installments that I will release each week.
In this week's inaugural episode, we feature the Corporate Socrates - that person who no longer has the ability to speak English.
In this week's episode of "Interview Don'ts", we feature THE STALKER. Most of us google one another, but letting someone know you've googled them is just creepy. I've actually had people let me know they did this to me, and asked whether they should let their interviewers know that they googled them.
In this week's episode of "Interview Don'ts", we feature RODNEY DANGERFIELD - the guy with the chip on his shoulder who feels he gets no respect. Guys who are always on the verge of frothing at the mouth, taking everything as a potential affront or attack (Hm... if you remember a thread on here some time back where some guy went a little tirade because I told him that his chances at HBS were slim... you know that these people certainly exist, especially on the Internet! And no, this episode was certainly shot way before that even happened as I've encountered these folks each and every year).