ESSAYS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
“Use essays to not simply create a story, but to fill in the gaps of your story. If you are coming in with strong statistics but your background is traditional, use your essay to humanize your application and lend vulnerability. Similarly, if you are concerned about your numbers and your background is non-traditional, use your essay to prove why business school is necessary. Focus less on a smooth narrative and more on straight reasons on how you provide unique value and why business school makes sense for you.”
“My advice for future business school applicants, when writing application essays, is to be sure to actually answer the essay question! It may sound silly, but the process of applying to business school requires a lot of soul searching. Therefore, the first time you put pen to paper and begin articulating your aspirations, you tend be highly emotional and (in my case) unnecessarily verbose. Often, you start answering questions that the school has not even asked (i.e. your personal philosophy on life and the business world) and you have not provided any tangible answers to the questions they have asked.
Nonetheless, it is important to go through that process of getting a first draft down on paper, even if it ends up being a stream of consciousness you use as a cathartic release instead of a submission essay. But force yourself look at the draft critically, compare it to the initial prompt, and throw it away or edit significantly. If you can, enlist a few people you trust to look at the essay without the prompt and ask them to tell you what they think the essay prompt is. While business schools are mildly interested in your creative writing abilities, they are also wanting clear and concise responses to the essay prompt.”
“I highly advise applicants to tone down the technical language and jargon in the resume and essays. If possible, do a mock interview with a friend who knows nothing about your industry. Most of my interviewers were not familiar with product development process, and the interviews would be ineffective if I’d spent most of the time explaining the jargon. I also found it is very important to connect with students and alumni so you can have a feel about the culture. Ultimately, you will spend two years in the community and it really makes a big difference whether the school’s culture fits your personality.”
“At the onset of the application process, I was given a piece of advice that helped me stay sane and get through the business school admissions process: schools take into account the entire application. It’s easy to disregard this seemingly generic piece of advice. However, I grasped onto it for dear life. Business school applications are overwhelming, time-consuming and exhausting, and I have yet to meet anyone who was 100% confident in their application. I was certainly no exception. However, the right school will recognize your strengths that shine through and allow them to overshadow weaker aspects of your application.”
“The value of a well-performed “personal audit” becomes clear when you start writing your essays. At this stage, you should know who you are, what you have done so far, and what your career goals are. With those reflections, you can show your maturity and describe into details why your decision to apply for an MBA is not a random one. Explain how the MBA would bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to end up. Be specific about why you are a great fit for the school you are applying to. Start writing your essays early and build your story around your unique experiences to make yourself memorable. Share drafts with friends and colleagues who know you very well to have valuable feedback.”
“The most helpful advice I’ve come across on writing effectively is that when it comes to communicating your stories, focus more on aspects like what you did, what motivated you to do it, how you felt, and what lessons you learned, rather than using a lot of your word count on providing contextual details. Also leave yourself enough time to go through multiple rounds of edits, and make sure that you’ve incorporated everything you want to say.”
“Your own story is your biggest asset. Everyone you are competing with will have amazing work experience, insane stats, and great letters of recommendation. But nobody else will have your story.”
“Invest time in crafting your narrative and telling your story in a way that uniquely differentiates you (essays, resume, interviews, recommendations, etc.). Authentically share your life’s story and push yourself to go deep and take risks, as you show the multifaceted person that you are!
Who are you, really? What drives you? When were there turning points in your life? Why are you so passionate? Where are you heading? At times, the application process may not feel the most humanizing, but it’s your job to communicate how your well-rounded perspective is the right fit for the program.
Everyone has the insecurities of not getting in, but your admission essays should encompass who you are and not what you think b-schools want to hear. Let your closest friends and mentors read and give feedback on your application – ensuring it fully captures the real YOU behind the application.
FYI: I was initially unsure about applying to HBS, but a close work mentor and proud HBS alum insisted I apply. My big lesson here: never self-select out and limit yourself from opportunities, have the courage to take the first step.”
“Don’t be afraid to activate the far corners of your network to help you excel at the business school application process. I reached out to a college friend I lost touch with, who was attending a school I applied to. She ended up being instrumental in taking my essays to the next level and the process allowed us to reconnect. Another person I knew from a fellowship I completed several years ago gave my resume a total makeover. I found that people are so willing to extend their help and insights when asked. In short—don’t shy away from reaching out to your college roommate’s cousin’s sister you met twice if they are at one of your dream schools. You would be surprised at how excited people are to engage prospective students!”
“On recommendations – get started early and prepare your recommenders as much as possible. Make the job easy for them, since they are doing you a huge favor and are in a position to really differentiate you among other candidates. Select recommenders that were supportive of you throughout your career and that have given you both praise and constructive feedback. Think about how each recommenders’ stories can complement and not duplicate each other.
For example, I chose strong women who’d mentored me and who I’d admired throughout my time at Accenture. One was a former direct manager who could speak to my day-to-day performance and impact on a key project. The other was quite a few levels above me, and someone that I saw as a career coach. She could speak to my broader performance compared to peers on the West Coast, and had visibility into all the extracurricular activities I’d led. I also found it helpful to give each recommender a packet of information – the key due dates for the schools, traits each school was looking for in a candidate, and key stories about me that they could consider highlighting. Creating this packet was my chance to double-check that I was able to provide mutually exclusive suggestions to my recommenders, and allowed me to remind them of some career milestones that were most memorable to me. You only have a few areas in your application to show who you are, so it would be a shame if your recommenders only had the same few things to talk about!”
“Have a great story and a unifying theme, especially if you have an unconventional route to business school. I think every experience can be (and should be) tied together to explain your life, whether that is your value, hope, or a goal. Looking back, I initially didn’t think economics, biology and teaching were related at all – much less applicable to business or medicine – but now I can see that they all helped focus my interests in health care and the business of medicine. Coherently articulating how each of my very distinct experiences led me to pursue an MBA was extremely helpful in my application and deciding on which business school to attend.”
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