Do Your Application Essays Reflect The Real You?

Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted, offers some Stanford GSB application tips

Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted

“Hey! You over there! Is that really you in your MBA application essay?”

Good question. You haven’t had to write anything remotely like them since… well since you applied to college. And they’re challenging– you’re trying to communicate something meaningful about your experiences and goals, while letting your authentic voice come across. If you’re to do them well, you need to customize for different schools; you can’t just copy and paste from application to application. And those word limits make the task even harder.


What are you supposed to include? How are you supposed to respond?

One of the things we at Accepted hear again and again from admissions committee members – both former adcom members on our staff and current adcom members who are now evaluating applications -is that too many applicants write what they think the adcom wants to read, instead of sharing something genuine about themselves that they want the reader to know.

In contrast, the essays that come alive for the readers – that make them feel like they’ve caught a glimpse of the writer as a person – are the ones that reveal something real and entice the reader to meet the candidate. The authors of those engaging essays are being sincere, being human, being themselves. Takeaway: Be yourself. And be your best self.

That’s the goal. “Easier said than done” you may be thinking!

Here are some key strategies we utilize with our clients; they can also help you write authentic personal statements that will make the adcom want to get to know you more:

Write about experiences that are meaningful to you.

Don’t choose a topic just because you think it fits a narrative that the adcom might be looking for. If it’s not something you’re passionate about, and if it doesn’t make sense in the context of your goals, it won’t wow the committee. Write about something you find truly meaningful – an experience that caused you to learn and grow. You’ll show the committee who you are and what makes your perspective unique.

Be honest.

Be honest about your experiences – exaggerating or lying will get you dinged. And be honest about who you are and what your goals are.

Write in your voice.

Don’t abuse the thesaurus. If you don’t know a word and wouldn’t normally use it, don’t use it. You don’t need to falsely inflate your language for the adcom – just write how you normally write in professional communications.

By the same token, if you’re not naturally funny, don’t strain to make jokes in your essay. Just tell your story.

You’re aiming for authenticity and clarity – not flowery or funny.

One way to check and see if your personal statement has done an effective job introducing the unique, inimitable you is to ask someone else to read it. What sense of you do they get from reading your essay? Is it what you intended? If not, take another stab at it. It might take several drafts until you get the tone just right, but the time spent will be worth it, because you’ll know your essay presents the real deal: You.

For more advice on submitting a compelling MBA application, including strategy, essays, and much more, download Accepted’s free guide – MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips.

Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached MBA applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Poets & Quants are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.