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GMAT Club Essay Review 3: Describe yourself in 200 words or fewer

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New post 22 Jul 2015, 22:25

GMAT Club Essay Review 3: Describe yourself in 200 words or fewer


Thanks for reading and welcome to the third post in GMAT Club’s Essay Review Initiative brought to you by Critical Square. Every week or so throughout the summer we’re going to review, comment, and tear apart a real essay from last year. The streets will run red (with ink)! So grab a cup of coffee and read on – this is a great way to see how our admissions consultants, and effectively, an admissions committee looks at your essays. What we like, what we don’t like, and how to avoid mistakes that can sink your application.

If you missed the first reviewed essay on Career Goals, you can catch up [here]!

If you missed the second reviewed essay on Story, you can catch up [here]!

So, without further ado, our third essay!

Our third essay is an “off-the-beaten-path” essay. It’s one of those strange essays that don’t fit neatly into a predefined notion of what an application essay should be and that can be difficult for applicants. This one is short, ambiguous, and filled with traps. The question seems simple enough – “describe yourself in 200 words or fewer”. It is anything but. And, as you’ll see as we break down this essay, the applicant really botched certain parts of it. In a BIG way.

(By the way – this is the IMD essay prompt and it’s being reused this year so FYI!)

So let’s dive into this week’s essay and, at the end, you’ll find some general advice you can apply to these kinds of essays – regardless of the school and the exact prompt!

“In Adversity, lies Strength”
I grew up listening to stories of my father’s struggles as a young boy in supporting his family after my grandfather’s untimely death. His journey from a destitute child to the highest serving rank in Indian police has always inspired me to push boundaries, deriving strength from adversities.

Ok, so we’re 52 words into a 200 word essay (> 25%) and we’re talking about this applicant’s father. Don’t get us wrong, it is fine for the applicant to be inspired by his/her father! We sure are. But that isn’t the point of this essay. The point of this essay is to talk about the applicant. Let’s keep going with this example for the purposes of this edit but so far, for those of you keeping track, 1) we’ve wasted a lot of real estate and 2) we haven’t really said a whole lot.
To adversity I owe my greatest strength - my creative mind-set. A silent victim of sexual abuse, I became an unconfident, withdrawn child.
Hold the phone – say WHAT?! This is a cardinal sin for application essays. Some of you have gone through some incredibly difficult situations and we are truly sorry that those things have occurred. Whether it’s an addiction or the loss of a close family member or, such as this case, an utterly inexcusable crime, these are not things you share with an admissions committee. No matter how much they shaped you – and they obviously did. This example takes it to a whole other level but even if you want to talk about overcoming something like alcoholism – don’t. Leave those personal issues…well, personal. Moving on…
Discreetly, I made collages out of discarded objects and found an unhindered voice in design. Transforming inconsequential things into beautiful products helped me regain my optimism. I decided to become a designer who would design not just products & organizations but the very lives of people.

Our comments here are a reflection of the structure and the tie in this has with an application – NOT with this applicant’s coping mechanism. This individual has clearly shown bravery coming out the other side of this horrific situation with their morale and personality intact and that is quite an accomplishment.

But, that said, this statement is confusing. First off, the connection between the coping activity and a future career is weak. But, beyond that, the statement that they “design lives” is…strange. We’re not sure what the profession of this applicant was exactly but, no matter what it is, this probably doesn’t accurately describe it. It’s actually just too much. When you write essays, be careful not to go off the “prose deep end”.
From ‘quest’ to questioning
Due to my father’s frequent transfers, I travelled extensively which instilled a spirit of curiosity and enquiry in me.

As far as introductions to a particular character trait goes, this one is perfectly fine. It is to the point, logical, and sets up the rest of this section well. Could it be rewritten to strengthen it? Of course – we’re not a huge fan of its structure, word choice, and literary vehicles but that’s editing – not a fundamental issue with the content itself.
My explorative journey from a jewelry designer to a strategy consultant has been possible due to my unrelenting passion to learn something new each day.

This section is difficult to truly address without a better understanding of the overarching strategy of this applicant’s application but a few thoughts. Firstly, if this is the first time they have discussed their career background then this isn’t sufficient (keep in mind IMD’s other essay prompts which don’t quite lay out a place for the applicant to do this). It’s confusing and, while interesting, raises more questions than it answers. That said, learning something new each day is a great personality trait and we agree with its inclusion. We just disagree here in terms of execution.
I have always put myself in demanding situations to accelerate my learning process and donned multiple hats as a salesgirl for Oriflame, freelance fashion model, designer, teacher, entrepreneur and strategy consultant.

To a certain extent, this repeats, with a few more words, and steps, what was written previously. It is also more of a claim than a true example. You could argue that the list of professions is an example in and of itself but still – not a true example. Also, when talking to a business school where they ask you what your goals are, what you want an MBA for, etc. – calling attention to a checkered and disparate background probably isn’t the route you want to go.


Overall, this essay does one thing correctly. It focuses on just two examples and tries to build them out rather than cramming in a million things. Whenever you’re dealing with short essay prompts such as this one, the imperative is to balance depth with breath. After all, you need a certain amount of raw words to properly communicate an idea and support it.

Now, that said, this applicant also made two critical errors. The first was the inclusion of an extremely personal and raw example that an MBA application simply isn’t designed to handle. The second issue was the digression from “inquisitive and explorative” to a career nomad. What started out as a good example quickly became the exact opposite and showcased traits a business school doesn’t want to see. They want drive – vision.

Lastly, make sure your themes, traits, and examples tie to what the school is looking for. IMD values an international perspective, a desire to make an impact, strong leadership skills, and the ability to work closely and effectively with others. EVERY part of your application needs to speak to these key themes. Don’t fall into the trap with personal “tell us about you essays” to talk more about what it is important to you than what is important to them.

In conclusion, be purposeful in your examples. Know what you want to communicate, and make sure your examples support those points logically. Don’t leave the reader with more questions than answers and definitely don’t make the reader uncomfortable!
Next week we’ll review another “off-the-beaten-path” essay with Duke’s 25 Things so be sure to check it out!
- The folks CriticalSquare

If you think your essay or resume could use a review or two, check out our Essay Editing and Resume Review services. Not sure where to start? Sign up for a free consultation instead!
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GMAT Club Essay Review 3: Describe yourself in 200 words or fewer   [#permalink] 22 Jul 2015, 22:25
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