Monday, June 04, 2007

App Recap: The Essay

So really I am just looking for an excuse to ignore my to do list. I thought breaking down my app advice on the essay a little more would be a great way to procrastinate.

Disclaimer: As I said in my original app advice post - I applied to one school and was lucky to get in! I'm not an expert, this is just worked for me.

In my mind, the essays are really the most important piece of the application. Far more important than the GMAT. Your credentials are critical but the essay is the best way to showcase them. I ran into one blogger who actually posted his essays on his blog (!) and while I'm not that bold, I'm happy to detail my structure a bit more. If you want to know how to turn out 9 applications in about 3 weeks, this blogger is your woman. If you want to know about the turtle approach to writing an essay ... keep reading.

First, a few notes. I stuck religiously to the word limits and recommend everyone do the same. Shows you can follow directions and are respectful of the adcom's time. And frankly, most essays can always be pared down w/o losing their meaning. I don't like outlines and did a lot of rewriting. If you start with an outline and fill from there, you can probably be more efficient. I started my essays after Thanksgiving and finished them in early January. (Only one set of essays but while studying for/taking the GMAT.)

Explain the path that has led you to pursue an MBA as the next step in your professional and personal development. Describe your short and long term post-MBA career goals. What or who influenced your choice of schools, and how specifically will Chicago GSB help you succeed?

This is the big one. My general approach to writing is to do a big 'brain dump' and then revise revise revise. I had probably 2,500 words for this one by the time I decided I wanted feedback from a consultant. I ended up with 1,489 words (limit was 1,500).

This is the structure I ended up with:
  • Paragraph 1: Introduction - 5 sentences that sum up where I've come from, why I want to go to Chicago and what I want from the experience. First sentence alludes to my unusual background, but the rest is very cut and dried. 154 words.
  • Paragraph 2: First job - 4 sentences on my first job, what I did and most important skill learned. 117 words.
  • Paragraph 3: Second job - 4 sentences on second job, did/learned. 123 words.
  • Paragraph 4-6: Third job - more expanded description of my third and most recent job (held the longest), important accomplishments, skills learned. (3 paragraphs of 6 sentences/182 words, 3 sentences/97 words, and 6 sentences/130 words)
  • Paragraph 7: Addresses why I want to do an MBA at this point in my career. In 6 sentences I explain what I hope to get from an MBA that I haven't been able to get from working. 177 words.
  • Paragraph 8: A personal reason for wanting the MBA that is less about my career ambitions. 3 sentences, 73 words.
  • Paragraph 9: What attracted me to Chicago, 3 sentences, 75 words.
  • Paragraph 10: Expanded version of what appeals to me about the Chicago program and how it relates to my career goals. 4 sentences, 141 words.
  • Paragraph 11: Expanded version of what appeals to me about the Chicago community and non-academic aspects of the program and what I would contribute. 6 sentences, 170 words.
  • Paragraph 12: The end in a 2 sentence sum up, 50 words.

If the admissions committee were to interview one of your closest colleagues, what aspect of your personal development would this person say is especially important for the admissions committee to know?

I chose option A (above) rather than B because while I had lots of opinions on B (most important issue facing humanity) there was no way that I could relate it to my life, it would just be blanket opinions. Option A was a bear though and I did many many rewrites on this one. Since this one is a more unique essay and will not necessarily be found in a similar form in future years, I won't go into as much detail. I decided to elaborate more on my unusual background here (growing up extremely rural w/o electricity, running water, etc.) and how I felt it shaped my approach to studies/career. I picked 3 qualities that I felt came out of that background (self-reliance, persistence and a desire for community) and spent a paragraph on each with examples in my undergrad and career that demonstrated those qualities. The goal was to showcase my personality and motivations. A very self-centered essay! The antithesis of option B, unfortunately. But very sincere and hopefully helped make me a little more memorable since my career goals (finance) are very typical for Chicago. Word limit was 500. I came in at 505.

Now, for the fun essays. 100 word limit each:

What is the one thing that most people do not know about you?
I chose two of my extracurriculars that are not especially typical. 98 words.

What book, play, or movie would you recommend to the admissions committee? Why?
First I chose an Oliver Sacks book that I love (crazy stuff, our brain!) but that was too serious so I rewrote the essay using my favorite cookbook. It was a way to show the non-career/nerd/study-o-tran side of my personality. And it was just way more fun to write and I really love cookbooks so it was very sincere. 100 words exactly.

It is your first day of business school and people are selecting study groups. How would you describe the value you will bring to a study group?
I found this one a little harder than the other two 'fun' essays but satisfied myself by trying not to sound too cocky/I'm a born leader! The truth is that I'm fine to act as either a 'leader' or 'follower' depending on what I perceive to be what the group needs most and that's what I said, in 105 words.

Final comments:

  • Stick to word limits but a few words over is ok, especially if you're a few under elsewhere.
  • Answer the essay question precisely, not approximately.
  • Use books of essays for ideas if you're stuck
  • Use an admissions consultant for ideas if you're stuck
  • Use friends/family/coworkers if you're stuck :)
  • Unless you like the MBA app on speed approach, give yourself time to put them down and pick them up later with fresh eyes to do rewrites well before the deadline.
  • Use specific examples that demonstrate the qualities you want get across, don't just recite affirmations.
  • Brief, clear, concise sentences work best.
  • Enjoy the writing! Think of it as a beginning of a conversation with the adcoms. Be human, be sincere, be coherent, and hopefully they will want to talk with you some more ...

Good luck!

1 comment:

dream_er said...


thanks for the insightful post =)
i am applying to GSB for class 2010...
good luck with the school and also your first baby! =))