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MBA Candidates: Your Audience is not “the Adcom”

Amerasia Consulting Group 1


By Adam Hoff, Amerasia Consulting Group

One question that we get a lot from clients is "what does the adcom want to hear?"  Not only is this the wrong way to approach the process in terms of being an authentic, introspective, and interesting candidate, but it also completely misunderstands who is reading your file.  We don't believe in trying to play pin-the-tail-on-the-admissions-officer when it comes to your essays, but we do believe to writing to your audience.  Sending out essays that don't understand the end user is a dreadful mistake indeed.  If you are imagining a room full of ponderous people smoking corncob pipes and debating each file, you are not understanding the end user.  Not even close.  Put another way: when you imagine your audience, you do not want to be picturing the admissions committee (or "adcom," as everyone is fond of saying).

Okay, if the audience is not a room full of people, who is it?  The way files are reviewed in an admissions office is almost universal: applications are batched and rendered complete by a records department, put into a queue for a reader, and then reviewed out of that queue by a single admissions officer.  THAT individual is your audience.  Yes, there are other steps that follow (an initial decision made, interview invites, admissions committee reviews on pending admits, etc.), but the one person who will most control your fate - by rendering your initial decision and by potentially becoming your advocate in the process - is the person assigned to your file on the first read.  That person is your audience. Not the whole school.  Not an abstract collective.  Not the "adcom."

So … now that we know who your audience is, how do you write to that person?  Here are three steps for "writing to your audience":

1. Know what you can't know.  Sounds like armchair philosophy, but this is an important point, worthy of being placed first on this list.  You have to come to grips with the fact that you simply can't know what makes this person tick.  You won't know his or her interests, passions, or beliefs.  I have had clients hesitant to write about things that truly matter to them (religious views, family experiences, etc.) because they worry that others might not agree or might be offended.  Well, that other person might also hate bankers, or misunderstand what consultants do, or despise the college you attended because of the basketball team.  You have NO IDEA what they like and don't like, so why even worry about it?  This is to say nothing of the fact that most people who read files are professional enough to set their own viewpoints to the side; what they want is honest, introspective, and passionate content, not "stuff they agree with."  So please, don't try to figure out what other people want to hear; write what is inside of you.  What makes you tick, what inspires you, what molds you, what you are good at … make this process about who you really are, not what you think someone else wants you to be.

2. Write with incredible clarity.  Have you ever wondered why good admissions consultants are so successful, able to boast of amazing results?  Surely, it is either luck, smoke and mirrors, unethical practices, or fabricated results, right?  After all, how else could the simple addition of a consultant so radically alter the results that people experience?  Allow me to offer one explanation: a good admissions consultant demands and ensures clarity in essay writing.  From overall structure to easy-to-find career goals to use of thesis statements to paragraph balance to respect of words counts, good consultants know how to make an essay easy to read.  And crafting an essay that is easy to read is the most critical thing you can do to respect your audience - and therefore, write to your audience.  Imagine if you had to read 50 or 100 files a day.  Now imagine that a majority of them are full of esoteric concepts, paragraphs of massive length (or, worse, tons of scattered paragraphs), buried answers, and "creative" writing (that goes nowhere).  Pretty frustrating, right?  Pretty exhausting, no?  Now imagine that an application pops up that is incredibly easy to read and follow.  That person is basically twice as likely to get in, just on this fact alone.  We honestly can't state strongly enough how important this is to your chances.

3. Write like a human being, for human beings.  Do not write a jargon-filled essay.  Do not write like an MBA Bot created in a lab.  Don't try to impress people with how smart you are.  Look, I can say it 10 different ways, but the point here is you want to humanize yourself through your essays - and to do that, you need to humanize your writing.  I would say one of the most common mistakes I see from otherwise strong candidates is that they write in a really dense, overly complicated style.  Don't picture your boss or a famous investor when you write - picture a college buddy, a fun aunt, or maybe your favorite coffee shop barista.  How would you explain your goals to those people?  How would you share a key moment from your life with someone like that?  Let that be your guide.

4. Understand the DNA of the school.  We're taking a slight turn here.  So far we have stripped away the idea of trying to "figure out" the person on the other end of the process, instead focusing on introspection and then structured, clear writing.  Now though, we fold back in the idea that each school is indeed different.  We still don't know what the admissions officer at MIT might be thinking relative to the second-year student at Booth, so there's no use trying to understand them on an individual level.  And we still don't want to think of the file as being reviewed by a boardroom full of people with nothing but time on their hands. However, we do want to contextualize our individual reader.  We know that this person is a professional, wants to read essays about the real "you," and that he or she craves clear writing.  Is there anything else we can know without truly knowing this exact person?  Yes.  We know that they - in all likelihood - have great affinity for the school at which they work.  Why else would they take this job?  And not only do they love the school, but they subscribe to a viewpoint of that school that differentiates it from the other top programs.  The surest way to take your personal, clear, human writing and and elevate it for your audience (to make this person fall in love with your candidacy, basically) is to make sure you hit the DNA of the school in question.  Know what makes that program special and unique.  Know how they see themselves on the spectrum of MBA programs.  Really showcase your desire to be there, beyond "I want to take Class X from Professor Y."  Make them read your file and think, "wow, this person is PERFECT for our school!"

If you are able to follow these four steps - and you have handled the basics (proper career goals, strong business school themes, overall merit and qualifications) - you will enjoy incredible results.  This is because you are no longer just another qualified applicant with a decent set of essays, but someone who is connecting directly with the person who controls your fate.  You will be "writing to your audience" … and it has nothing do with figuring out what the "adcom wants to hear."



We believe that we understand how to write for the audience better than anyone out there and - more importantly - we have the talent, experience, and work ethic to back those theories up.  To find out why our clients are doing so well, please email us at for more information and to request a free consultation.


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