Business school essays are an extremely important element of the application; unfortunately, however, I often see candidates not giving the essays the attention that they deserve. Remember that through your essays, Admissions Committees will begin to piece together your story: who you are, your values, your goals and aspirations, and how an MBA from their school fits into the picture.
Below are five common mistakes that arise in business school essays – be sure to avoid them as you write your essays.
Not answering the question
One common mistake that comes up often is not answering the essay question. Before writing, make sure that you understand the essay question and every aspect of what the question is asking. For example, one of Stanford GSB’s essay prompts is “What matters most to you, and why?” – so there are really two parts to this question. It’s always a good idea to read the essay question multiple times to make sure that you are not missing anything.
Candidates are sometimes tempted to write about what they think business schools want to hear instead of answering the actual essay question. Don’t make that mistake! After writing your essay, refer back to the question and make sure that your response clearly addresses what is being asked.
Focusing too much on the "what" and not the "why" and the "how"
The “what” in essays focuses on the facts; it is the “why” and the “how” that provide additional color and help business school essays come alive. There is a tendency for applicants to simply state achievements/accomplishments and any other examples in their essays without providing additional context, relating them back to the question, or helping the reader understand why they’re important. The detail in your essays that encompass the “why” and the “how” is what will differentiate you from other candidates and help you stand out as someone who is unique and authentic.
Using industry jargon
Another mistake that applicants make is using industry jargon in their essays. Always assume that your reader does not understand language that is specific to your industry (this includes industry specific terms and abbreviations); everything should be written in “layman’s language” with words that are easy to understand. Note that given the volume of applications that are received, Admissions Committee members spend 15-20 minutes per application during the initial review. If they are struggling to understand what you are saying, they are likely to move on to the next application. The onus is on you to make everything easy to understand.
Using the same essay across multiple schools
Many applicants think that they can utilize the same essay across different applications – don’t fall into this trap. Admissions Committees are aware of the essay questions of other business schools, and therefore, can tell when a candidate has simply cut and paste his/her responses. Make sure to take the time to thoughtfully answer each question. While you may be able to leverage some material from one application to another, it is extremely important that you tailor that material according to the question being asked.
Not proofreading the essays
After all of the hard work that you’ve put into the essays, the last thing that you want to do is submit them with typos or glaring grammatical errors. Admissions Committee members are human at the end of the day, and therefore, these sorts of errors can unfortunately leave a lasting negative impression. Make sure to allocate some time before submitting to review your essays and your application; it’s also a good idea to ask a family member or a friend with a fresh set of eyes to proofread your materials.
By avoiding these five common mistakes, you will be well on your way towards writing strong essays – if we can help you craft your essays, please reach out!
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.