At the heart of each business school application is a set of essays. Some essay prompts are open-ended, whereas some have more specific questions. Phrasing answers to these essays is often one of the most challenging aspects of the application process for a lot of applicants.
There are several things such as brevity, style, and smart use of vocabulary that can make an essay stand out. However, a common denominator among all successful essays is that they genuinely reflect who the writer is. Often, essays lose this genuineness as applicants start to worry about what the school wants to hear and craft a generic application instead. However, there are a few concrete exercises you can do to make sure the essay is a true reflection of you as a person:
Before you start writing an essay, try and summarize it in one sentence. That’s right, just one sentence! Then, print out this one sentence or write it down on a piece of paper and stick it in front of your workspace. This will help you have clarity of thought, which is of the utmost importance when you are crafting your story.
Let’s look at an example of what this might look like. Stanford’s first essay prompt asks applicants “what matters the most to you, and why?” You can answer this question in many ways. For example, an applicant might say “I am dedicating my life to protecting the environment since I grew in a place where climate change is having an outsized impact on the ecosystem.” With that focus, they will be able to write an engaging admissions essay that showcases their goals in a clear and concise way.
This is an exercise for when you’ve finished writing the essay. Try to be as unbiased as possible when distilling the essay into the top three to five takeaways. Admissions committee members have to evaluate hundreds of applications and often don’t have time to peruse essays multiple times, so it is crucial that the main points of your essay clearly state why you are a good fit for the program. Give your essay a quick read and think through what are the top three to five things that stick. You can modify the essay if the ‘key takeaways’ aren’t what you would like them to be.
It can be challenging for the writer to provide an unbiased opinion of an essay. Hence, a very valuable tool to get an external perspective on your essay is to ask three people to summarize your essay in one sentence and then summarize your essay in three to five bullet points. If the things that stick with them are the same as what you want to communicate to the admissions committee, congratulations! If not, now you know what to change.