Writing An Original Essay: A Snapshot Of MBA Applicant Trends

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Ann Ford of Admissionado

“Anyone else notice how … everyone does photography?”

We were in the thick of Round 1 and the Admissionado editors were wrapping up a monthly meeting. The deadline for Fuqua was fast approaching, so we were seeing a lot of “25 Random Things” essays come across our virtual desks. As the new kid on the block, I had assumed it was a wacky coincidence that all of my clients were passionate enough about photography for it to make the cut for their tightly curated lists of 25 facts.

Turns out — not a coincidence, but rather, an understandable but all-too-common pitfall that we see on a lot of first tries with the personal essay: In an effort to stand out, you inadvertently end up making yourself look the same as every other MBA applicant.

How does this happen, you ask? As I say to my clients, let’s crack this open …

USING FIRST DRAFTS AS DATA POINTS 

Admissionado has thousands of data points, those points being our applicants’ first drafts. They shape our knowledge base for what’s going to wow an admissions officer who has to wade through 3,456 applications. We know what will garner reactions like “Sweet, never seen that before!” and more importantly, we know what will garner the opposite, “That’s been done.” So let’s take a look at what we found.

A SAMPLE OF 9 FIRST DRAFTS FOR FUQUA’S ’25 RANDOM THINGS’ ESSAY

Because it started this whole line of inquiry, let’s start with photography. From 9 samples, the word “photography” shows up … 9 times. In a perfect world, where each “fact” is truly distinct from another, we’d only see the word once across 9 drafts.

So this could mean two things:

  1. Someone uses photography for more than one “fact” (which is a completely separate boo-boo, to be discussed at a later date);
  1. Most folks referenced photography at some point in their draft.

Drumroll please … 5 separate people used “photography” somewhere in their draft, suggesting a 55.5% occurrence. But does this extend beyond that one “coincidence”? Sure does! Out of the 9 drafts we sampled, here’s where the topics clustered, based on associative words:

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Over the course of my editing career I’ve noticed a few reoccurring themes that really give me the ol’ “here we go again …” reaction. And if I’m saying that, just imagine what an MBA admissions committee member is thinking!

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.