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Admissions Tip: 10 Basic Essay Writing Rules

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Before you complete your MBA application essays, it is worth noting the context within which they will be read. The adcom will be reading many essays in a short period of time. They may not have as much time as they’d like to reflect deeply on your content and ‘connect the dots.’ They will be trying to make subjective decisions in order to make recommendations regarding whether to offer interviews or admissions, the easy call, or whether to deny, which is a final, and often more difficult, call.

Given that, there are 10 basic rules that you should follow (in no particular order) to ensure that you present your best candidacy, to try to get that interview invitation, or that final positive decision.

  1. Answer the questions that are posed. Many schools use similar questions with nuanced differences. Schools have reasons for those differences, so make sure that you read each question carefully, and answer each question fully.
  2. Prepare your themes and stories before attempting to answer each of your schools’ essay questions. As you answer each question completely and fully, make sure that you support your themes and address the stories that best highlight your candidacy.
  3. As you answer each of the essay questions, be genuine. Don’t try to overthink what you think the schools are trying to extract from each question; they really do want to learn about you.
  4. Show, don’t tell. Make sure that you demonstrate your attributes and traits by illustrating your essays with examples. Don’t tell a reader that you are an effective leader in stressful situations, describe the stressful situation and your role in making sure of a positive outcome.
  5. Illustrate your examples with concrete results. Don’t be vague about your impact in your roles; if you have made an impact, tell the reader how significant that impact has been.
  6. Your first paragraph of each essay is the most important paragraph. It moves the readers forward and establishes context for the remainder of the essay, or it does not. You want to make sure that you gain your readers’ attention right at the beginning of your essay, so as they progress through the essay they have a good understanding of how things are unfolding.
  7. Shorter sentences are easier to understand than long sentences. That being said, strong writing is a dying art, so if you feel comfortable and are able to use longer sentences to express your ideas more eloquently, that is fine. Shorter paragraphs are better than long blocks of text. Try to keep a paragraph to a particular idea or theme.
  8. These essays are not an opportunity for you to demonstrate your wide vocabulary; make sure that your content is easily understandable and digestable by someone whose vocabulary might not be as well developed.
  9. Recognize that your readers are not only in a hurry to get to the next application, but they may not be overly familiar with your industries. Remove industry jargon so that your essays remain understandable.
  10. Get feedback. The writing process is difficult, all good writers need a good editor. Ask your friends, colleagues, someone who has an MBA, but get some feedback on your work. Throughout the editing process, make sure your essays retain your voice.

Good luck with the essay writing process. For better or worse, it is one of the most influential aspects of your application.

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