Where’s the Poetry? The Secret Ingredient in Your Graduate Application Essays
Strategy will necessarily guide your selection of essay topics, anecdotes/examples, and structure. Yet an essay built on calculation alone, even if the strategy is spot on, will often disappoint. Logically it all makes sense. But it doesn’t take flight.
Poetry can be the secret ingredient to make your application essay sing – right into the heart of its readers. By poetry I mean a phrase, a sentence, or a short paragraph that captures some essence of you that the expository process can’t reach. Poetry reveals, and the reader “sees” the writer anew.
Poetry is NOT (unless you want it to be) flowery, ponderous, esoteric. It can be funny; it might even be something that at first seems out of place in such an essay.
To inject poetry in your essay, engage in “play;” experimentation, free expression. These processes take time – to maximize the potential impact of the poetic element in your essays, start them early and put them down, go back to them. You need time to play with ideas, explore experiences and thoughts, and then revisit the drafts more objectively.
Several years ago, I worked with an MBA applicant who was a highly accomplished female Korean-American engineer in a defense contractor firm. One essay question for a top-5 MBA program said to describe a setback or failure and how the applicant handled it. My client portrayed a simmering conflict with a supervisor that finally erupted. How did she deal with it? “Walked out at five, got home, poured a Campari, put on my eye mask, cranked up Cyndi Lauper.” I laughed out loud with pleasure on reading this; it was so her, so human, so real. Who could forget it? She then continued with something like, “When I was ready to deal with reality, I made the following plan to rectify the situation.” (Details have been changed for confidentiality.)
In fact, other readers of the essay later urged her to remove this short section, saying it was risky, inappropriate. I saw it as real, genuine, conveying humanity and personality – poetry in an application essay – and made my case for keeping it (my case included its deflating the Asian-nerd image). She did, and she also got admitted to the program, her top choice.
That raises one more point: keeping the poetry in can sometimes be risky. Yet most top MBA, law, medical, and other graduate programs value qualified candidates who are gutsy, confident, and have a point of view. But mostly they just want to meet a real human being. When they do, it’s magic. It’s poetry.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last thirteen years with Accepted. She can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and develop a winning admissions strategy.
This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.