Part of the business graduate school admissions process
is the essay -- your chance to speak directly to the people
making the decisions. Learn to write a great essay with
these dos and don'ts.
If you're applying to business graduate school, the MBA
essay is your opportunity to get personal and show more
of yourself than fill-in-the-blank applications or transcripts
ever could. But before you unleash your inner Faulkner,
review these tips from Donna Spinella, assistant dean and
director of the Duke MBA Cross Continent Program at Duke
University's Fuqua School of Business.
Spelling and Grammar Count.
"One or two tiny errors, of course, are no big deal,"
says Spinella. A pattern of errors, though, is a red flag.
"It often means one of two things: The communication
skills are weak or that the person is careless."
Presentation Counts, But Don't Overdo It.
No handwritten essays on smudged paper, please. Otherwise,
keep it straightforward and let the quality of your words
make the impression. "There's no need to gild the lily,"
she says. "Putting it on fancy stationery or trying
to jazz it up with funky fonts is not going to win you brownie
Watch Your Length.
"If you really, really want to win the hearts of the
people reading [your essay], stick to the requested length,"
says Spinella, explaining the standard essay length requested
is between two and three double-spaced pages. "We have
readers who, if an essay runs significantly longer, just
stop reading where we've set the page limit."
An MBA essay is certainly not the place to be shy about
your merits, but it's no place to stretch the truth. "When
parts of the application don't fit together, it's easy to
surmise that someone is probably stretching the truth beyond
optimistic interpretation," she says.
Don't Tell Readers What You Think They Want to Hear.
Schools receive thousands of essays. Distinguish yourself
by answering thoughtfully. "We really do want to understand
people's own unique thoughts so tell us something unique.
If you are not a real iconoclast, then at least describe
your strengths, skills and potential contributions with
the level of depth and passion you want us to believe you
will bring to the program," Spinella says.
Answer the Questions Asked.
"Everybody starts by answering the question, but then
by the end, a lot of people are off on some completely different
track," Spinella says, advising applicants to constantly
make sure they are answering the question asked.
Use Concrete, Personal Examples.
It's much more
powerful to read a personal experience in the answer to
a question about leadership, for example, than just an opinion.
Show Your Desire to Attend the School to Which You're
Even if you're applying to 10 schools, don't write one
generic essay. "We're interested in more than just
why they want to go to business school, in general,"
she says. "We want to hear why they specifically want
to come to this school and this particular program."
Use Your Essay to Explain Gaps.
Spinella says it's not uncommon to receive a strong application
that contains some spottiness. The essay is the place to
explain what happened. That said, don't diminish yourself
in the essay. "We're not looking for an apology,"
she says. "We're looking for an explanation."
Have Someone Else Read Your Essay.
Spinella recalls a less-than-impressive essay on risk-taking
in which the writer chose to write about whether or not
to purchase a car. "Have someone else read it,"
she says. "Ask 'Is this really interesting? Would anybody
Show You're a Hard Worker.
"We're always reading between the lines to find commitment,"
she says. Getting an MBA is daunting, and application essay
readers are looking for qualities indicating applicants
have what it takes to get through the program.
There Are Limits.
It's an essay, not a confession. "Don't tell us things
that are too personal," she warns. "Use the level
of discretion you would use the first or second time you
meet someone in a social setting."
Your application essay is your opportunity to speak directly
to the people making admissions decisions. Show them, as
concisely and respectfully as possible, that you're an individual
capable of thriving at their school.