I wrote earlier about the attributes of a successful B School applicant and his B School application timelines. Assuming that you fit that profile and are in the process of sending in your application, the common question that gets asked is the approach to your B School application essay.
What do we look for when we read something? When was the last time you picked up a book and couldn’t put it down? Or marveled at the author’s ability to hold your interest in the world that he had built around you? While I don’t want or expect you to write like Stephen King, a read of his heartfelt advice On Writing is in order. King talks about what it takes to write, to express, to engage and to entertain. All necessary perquisites to a successful business school essay. Again the objective here is to not pick a Pulitzer or win the Oscar for the best screen play. All we want is for your application to be different enough to stand out.
Put yourself in the place of a B School admission committee recruit responsible for doing a first round of sifting and sorting B School application essays. It is November (possibly Thanks giving), December (think Christmas and the New Year combined) or early January (think biting cold and snow storms, if you are doing b schools on the East Coast). Think of 7,000 applications and your share of those applications in front of you. Two and a half thousands are consultants from across the world. The other two and a half thousand are bankers. All of them have done their bit to change the world and be successful. They all want one of the 800 b school seats you have to offer and they feel they have done enough to deserve a shot at it.
Let me tell you a little secret. With biting cold outside, in the midst of a snow storm, with nowhere else to go, after the twenty(th) essay proclaiming the desire for self improvement, self sacrifice, future success, world domination and at times fame and fortune, any sane, rationale human being would like to take a break. They would like to grab a cup of coffee, sit outside in the lounge, far away from their cubicle and the stacks of application files and read something nice for a change. Something that doesn’t read like an application, but feels like a conversation with a friend, maybe even a fireside chat. I want you to be that something nice; I want you to be that fireside chat.
How do you get on to that road? Well first you need to fit the profile of the b school applicant I want you to be. Then I want you to read On Writing. Once you have completed these two goals I want you to sit down and think about everything that you have done in your life that separates you from the hoards of your fellow applicants. Travel, reading interests, writing, work, teaching, exposure, responsibility, achievements, life, goals, mindset, thinking, challenges, dreams, tragedies. Once you have this list, I want to strip all the “I”s; yup that is right. Strip the I. Just ask yourself a simple question, so what? Why should someone you have never met in your life care about any item on this list. What makes it special? And when you figure the special part, don’t hold anything back, write your heart out. It would obviously if you have listened to the advice Mr. King has to offer but if you haven’t, just be sincere, short and to the point. I don’t like big words or verbosity. Keep it plain and heartfelt.
But that is the just the first essay. If you successfully make it out of the pile, the school needs you to answer a few more questions. How well have to thought through the decision to spend two to five years of wages (depending on where you are coming from and where you are going), and two years away from work? How will you pay for it? What do you plan to do post the MBA? How well will you fit in to the school community? These are not simple questions but you have managed to stand apart, you can tackle them. One final tip! Figure out how to integrate partial answers within essays where there is an opportunity to share an answer (partially or otherwise) to any of the above questions.