A Few Tips to Beat MBA Essays Word Limits

By - May 10, 12:00 PM Comments [0]

Business schools admissions committees review thousands of applications every year. It would be practically impossible to read each essay with required attention if all applicants had been answering the questions with an intention to write the 4th volume of “Atlas Shrugged.” Schools want you to be concise, and that is why they set strict word limits, for instance, giving you only 250 words for a cover letter, like MIT, or to share your passion, like Columbia GSB. Use these words wisely.

First, analyze each sentence. Does it respond the question asked? Is it a strong argument that supports your position? Or a smooth and logic transition to the next part of the essay? If all answers are "No," you should probably erase the sentence. Indeed, many applicants tend to overuse generalities and platitudes, including statements like: "Harvard is one of the best business schools in the world." Do you really think that the adcom does not know that and will consider it as a surprising compliment? Remember: essays are probably the only chance to show the admission officers who you are (except interviews, which you need to be invited for). Therefore ensure that you are sharing your personal experience and opinion rather than one that could be stated by anyone else.
Your next step is to go deeper by omitting any repetitive content, replacing big phrases by shorter ones and naturally weighing every word. Here are several examples of possible reductions:

  • Perform an analysis of -> Analyze
  • Come to the conclusion -> Conclude
  • Despite the fact that -> Although
  • In addition to -> Besides
  • On the grounds that -> Since

Moreover, although there is no finalized list of so-called “stop-words” for MBA essays, the following verbal instruments should also be revised and eliminated, if they are not necessary:

  1. Cliché: some expressions have been used too often, so they sound like you are expressing someone else’s thoughts.
  2. Quotes: again, admission officers want to hear your voice, not other famous people.
  3. ‘It goes without saying,' ‘needless to say’: If there’s no need to say something, why say it?
  4. Empty adverbs (‘very,' ‘quite,' ‘really,' ‘totally,' ‘already,' ‘fairly,' ‘actually,' ‘much’): These words do not enhance your meaning and are frequently redundant.
  5. ‘Ironically’: Appreciation of irony differs across cultures and between individuals, so it is better to avoid labeling something as such.
  6. ‘In order to’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘nevertheless’: Sometimes it's appropriate to use ‘in order to’, when ‘to’ alone can cause misunderstanding, but these occasions are rare.
  7. Informal language: Slang, poor word choices, contractions and incomplete sentences can kill your writing and destroy the positive impression you want to make.
  8. ‘Etc.’: It is hard to think of at least one instance in which this abbreviation could be used appropriately in MBA essays.

To conclude, you can always tell all relevant details of your story while staying within the word limit constraints. Follow the principle that less is more and remember - brevity is the soul of wit.

If you would like to receive a personalized support in crafting your essays and create a winning application package, you are welcome to review MBA Strategy offers or schedule a free consultation. Good luck!


By Polina Artemenko, MBA Strategy Application Consultant



Our team has successfully developed and managed over 2 thousand applications through the entire process: from initial reviews and evaluation of each candidate’s profiles to personalized and scrupulous school selection processes and rigorous interview preparation. We are ready to answer your questions, evaluate your profile and school choices, and give comprehensive advice on your application.

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