Category Archives: mba essays

3 Ways to Cut Down Your Admissions Essays

Worried about essay word counts? If you’re hurrying to finish your MBA admissions essays before the Round 2 application deadlines, chances are that at least one essay is giving you trouble when it comes to meeting word length requirements. While MBA admissions officers are fairly understanding and are not out to penalize you for going over a word limit by a couple of extra sentences, adhering to word limits as closely as possible is a strong signal that you can communicate clearly and succinctly.

It’s also a matter of consideration for admissions officers: If application readers need to get a few dozen applications in a day, they will appreciate the fact that you didn’t take up any more of their time than absolutely necessary. This sort of positive karma counts in admissions!

With that in mind, here are three things to try if you’re having a hard time getting your word counts down to within 10% of a school’s stated limits:

Keep Cutting Down Your Essay by 50%
Try this: Re-write your essay as a 50%-long version of your current draft. Then, write one that’s 50% as long as that new one. Keep repeating until you’re down to just one sentence. What will be left will be the core purpose of the original passage, and you can then start building back up from there. You may find that you don’t need to go all the way down to one sentence; you will probably have already cut out enough fat after the first couple of times that you can stop, but we highly recommend trying this approach!

Verbally Tell Your Story
Without looking at your essay, verbally dictate your story into your computer or phone. Or, tell it to a friend. The key here is not to look at what you’ve already written, and instead go by memory. Then, play it back (or have your friend tell it back to you), and see what parts of the story stuck, and which ones you left out. Chances are that there will be at least a couple of details that you left out in verbally telling your story. Consider each one of these to then be on the chopping block, and go back and consider which ones you can remove from your essay to trim your word count. If it wasn’t important enough for you to remember as you told your story from memory, then odds are that an MBA admissions officer won’t remember it, either.

Eliminate a Paragraph. Now!
One seemingly scary — but sometimes very useful — editing technique is to tell yourself, “Okay, I have one minute to decide which whole paragraph in this essay has to get cut. Start chopping!” Almost certainly, every paragraph will seem like a must-have, but eventually you’ll pick the least important one. Then, go back and find what one or two ideas from that paragraph you wish you could add back in, and then find a way to succinctly work them back into the essay in another place. This technique might sound crazy, but it’s another effective way to trim the fat. It works best when you have an essay with multiple similarly-sized paragraphs… Simply cutting out a two-sentence conclusion paragraph normally won’t be enough.

For more business school admissions advice, take a look at our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

How Flexible are MBA Admissions Essay Word Limits?

One of the most common questions we get from applicants is about word limits: How strict are they? Is there any wiggle room? While the answer itself is rather straightforward, we usually encourage applicants to stop focusing on the number, take a step back, and consider what admissions officers are really communicating when they put forward a word limit.

First, know this: Schools are not out to reject you for going over an essay word limit by a small amount. Okay, but what is a small amount? One rule of thumb that is frequently tossed around is 10%, although it’s worth noting that admissions consultants tend to promote this rule more than any admissions officer does. However, if you can stay within 10% of the word limit for an MBA application essay, you probably are okay.

Having said that, we rarely see an essay that we don’t think can get down to the word limit. This is where an extra pair of eyes can be extremely helpful; someone else can look at your essay and give you an objective point of view about which details are truly necessary and which ones can be left on the cutting room floor. But, if the limit is 500 words and you’re at 530, then your time may be better spent on things other than trying to hack another 30 words from your essay.

Now let’s think about what admissions officers are saying when they assign a word limit to an essay. In essence, they are telling you, “After reviewing thousands of applications, we’re very confident that you can thoroughly answer this question in this many words.” Even though you know yourself far better than the admissions officers do, they know the process very well, and they have heard it all. They really do want to get to know you well, but they only have so much capacity, so they need their applicants to communicate their stories as efficiently as possible.

As an applicant, if you know this and understand the challenge that admissions officers face, then that’s what will guide your decision. Questions such as “Is 525 words more okay than 535 words?” suddenly seem unimportant compared to “Is an admissions officer going to feel like I wasted her time when she’s done with my essays?” The former question is the kind of small-time issue that the uninformed applicant will ask; the latter is the kind that a smart, prepared applicant will think about.

Your business school admissions essays will work in much the same way. You do need to heed word limits, but the quality of your essay is more important than the actual length. If it does its job well, then admissions officers won’t think about the word limit nearly as much as the content. On the other hand, if they’re halfway through your essay and they’re already thinking to themselves, “When will this end?” then you know that the essay isn’t going to help you.

Again, having excellent content does not allow you to flagrantly disregard word limits. We’re saying that admissions officers, based on their considerable experience, know how long an essay needs to be to be great. A shorter essay can also be great, and so can a longer one, but one that is too long risks boring or annoying tired application readers. Why that that risk?

For more business school admissions advice, take a look at our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

3 Ways to Take an Admissions Essay from Good to Great

We are surprised by how often applicants present essays (either to professors, consultants, or even to the admissions committee) that are nothing more than glorified drafts. Crafting an essay is a time intensive process that requires a great deal of revision in order to write with economy, power, and persuasion. You will almost certainly go through multiple revisions with your consultant, but the client who takes the time to execute multiple drafts on their own will be leaps and bounds ahead when it comes time to take the next step.

Whether you are drafting admissions essays for business school, proper revision requires at least these three crucial steps:

  1. On Screen. Review your work on your computer screen and make changes as you go. Doing so will clean up the bulk of your original errors and the most obvious misuses of style and structure.
  2. On Paper. Walk away from your work and give it some time before sitting down and reviewing the document carefully in printed form. Doing so not only allows you to read from a fresh perspective, but also to lavish more attention on the finer points, such as transition words, passive voice and indexing.
  3. Read Aloud. While most people take the time to review their own work, few actually read it out loud. Reading aloud forces you to read each word and ensure proper inflection, and it also represents an ideal way to spot excess words, misplaced modifiers and other issues that will trip up a reader.

Finally, remember this: Time is often one of the most overlooked key ingredients of great admissions essays and personal statements. If you are reading this for the first time and your admissions deadline is just days away, then there’s obviously only so much you can do. But, nothing helps you more than the ability to let your essays “rest” for a few days, after which you can read them with a fresh pair of eyes and read what the essays actually say, rather than what they should say. This is a powerful technique for catching typos, and it can also help you identify where your essays might miss the mark in a bigger, strategic sense.

For more MBA admissions news and advice, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Yale SOM Admissions Essays for 2012-2013

The Yale School of Management has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. Continuing the trend we’ve seen emerge among top business schools over the past month, Yale has changed a lot this year. However, in Yale’s case, once you dig down a bit deeper you realize that Yale is still mostly looking for the same attributes in its applicants this year.

Here are Yale’s essays for the coming year, followed by our comments in italics:

Yale SOM Application Essays

  1. What prompted your decision to get an MBA? When did you realize that this was a step you wanted –- or needed -– to take? (150 words)

    This may be the most specific example of the “Why an MBA?” question we’ve ever seen. (Last year, a similar question read, “Why are you choosing to pursue an MBA and why now?”) It still is definitely the “Why an MBA?” question, but the emphasis on “When did you realize you needed an MBA?” is an interesting wrinkle that we haven’t seen much before. Obviously, this is a very short essay. They’re not looking for a novel, but rather a brief headline as to why you’re taking this potentially huge step now. There’s no right answer here… You don’t need to start with, “Ever since I was 15 I knew I wanted a Yale MBA.” (No one would believe it!) The admissions committee just wants to understand where you’re coming from, make sure that you’re being realistic, and know that this is more than a snap decision on your part. (Bye the way, this paragraph is exactly 150 words, not including this sentence!)
  2. Describe a difficult professional decision you had to make. What were the consequences, and what, if anything, did you learn? Would you make the same decision again? (300 words)

    This question is entirely new this year, and it provides a great opportunity for you to demonstrate maturity and depth in your application. For essays like this, we encourage applicants to use the “SAR” (Situation-Action-Result) method, with a lot of emphasis on the “Result” part. In this case, the result addresses the second and third questions in the essay prompt: What happened? How did it change your view of the world and how to work with others? How did you take what you learned and put it into action in another, later situation? You on;y have 300 words here, so don’t get too bogged in describing the situation. Tell admissions officers what they need to know to understand the situation you were facing, and then move on to the real meat of the story.
  3. The Yale School of Management provides a leadership education characterized by broad-minded and intellectually curious students with diverse backgrounds, a distinctive integrated curriculum, connections to one of the great research universities in the world, and the broad reach of an innovative and expanding global network of top business schools. What will you contribute to the Yale SOM community, and how will being part of it help you extend your professional vision? (300 words)

    This question is an evolution of one that Yale asked last year. At its core, it’s a “Why Yale?” question that asks you to demonstrate that you have done your homework on Yale and are passionate about the program. They have a particular vision for Yale SOM and its student body… Help them see that you share that vision and will fit in at Yale.
  4. What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishment? Why? (300 words)

    Ideally the story you choose will demonstrate at least one or two of the key themes in your application. Is it your leadership abilities, your analytical skills? Be sure to work in those themes here, especially since Yale’s essays give you very few other places to do that this year. All things being equal, a story from your professional life will serve you best, but don’t feel that your significant accomplishment MUST be from the workplace.

To stay on top on all of the latest news about Yale and other top-ranked business schools, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Wharton Admissions Essays for 2012-2013

Wharton recently released its admissions essays for the 2012-2013 admissions season. Last year Wharton didn’t make too many big changes after really mixing it up the year before. Let’s dig into this year’s application and see how much things have changed this year.

Here are Wharton’s deadlines and essays for the Class of 2015, followed by our comments in italics:

Wharton Application Essays

Required Question
How will Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)

This question is a revised version of last year’s required question, which asked, “What are your professional objectives?” Also, bucking the early trend we’ve seen with other school’s essays so far, Wharton actually bumped up its word count from 300 to 400 words, no doubt to make room for the new “Who will Wharton” part of this question. (Note: “How will Wharton MBA” is how it’s written on Wharton’s site as of right now. We agree that this looks odd.) Looking at how this question has evolved since last year, it’s not hard to imagine that the Wharton admissions team felt that applicants weren’t connecting their career ambitions to Wharton quite enough. When you answer this question, don’t write an “This is why I need an MBA” essay and then sprinkle in a few Wharton references… Plan on writing an essay wholly dedicated to why a Wharton MBA (and not just an MBA) is what you need to help you achieve your professional objectives.

Optional Questions (Choose Two)

  1. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)

    Ahh, Wharton has taken out some words here. These optional essays each had a limit of 600 words last year. And we’re sensing a theme… This question is new this year, and note that it also puts the spotlight on Wharton. (Last year’s question was entirely different.) We tend not to love this kind of question since we see many applicants simply find a course or student club on a the school’s website and write about it, giving admissions officers what applicants think they want to see. If there is something that truly excites you about Wharton — especially something that very few other top MBA programs can offer, such as one of Wharton’s well known research centers — then this essay may be a great opportunity for your to truly demonstrate your fit with the school. Otherwise, resist the temptation to invent interest in a class or club just for the sake of completing this essay.
  2. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself “work free” for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)

    This question is also new this year, and it replaces a “deeper” question about dealing with a challenging interpersonal experience. While we liked that essay prompt, we also like this one. In the above two questions Wharton shows that this year’s it’s looking for more “Why Wharton?”-type insights in your essays, but don’t forget that they also need to get to know you as a person. Don’t feel that you need to reveal something amazing here — will the admissions committee really believe that you would use those three hours to work in a soup kitchen or build a house with Habitat for Humanity? What do you enjoy doing? What do you wish you could do more, or know that you should do more? Going for a run, fishing off of a pier, and reading a book on a hammock all make for good answers. The key is to not only say what you would do, but why you would do it. That’s what the admissions committee really looks for here.
  3. “Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership.” – Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School

    Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)

    This question is also new, although it replaces a similar prompt from last year. Putting “knowledge in to action” can be interpreted in multiple ways, and if no example from your past immediately springs to mind, then think about the words “creativity” and “insight.” How did you creatively solve a problem at work or in your life? How did you go beyond your normal job description or come up with a solution that had never been tried before, using the information that was right in front of you? More than anything, here the Wharton admissions committee looks for signs that you’re not content to just follow your job description, you do more than simply work on assignments as they’re handed to you (but do no more than that), and you’re not afraid to dream big now and then. “Knowledge” is nice, but “action” is how people make a positive impact on those around them. Wharton is looking for those people.

To stay on top on all of the latest news about Wharton and other top-ranked business schools, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Yale SOM Admissions Essays for 2012-2013

The Yale School of Management has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. Yale has made a lot of tweaks this year, but once you dig deeper you’ll see that Yale is still mostly looking for the same attributes in its applicants this year. Here are Yale’s new essays, followed by our comments in italics:

Yale SOM Admissions Essays

  1. What prompted your decision to get an MBA? When did you realize that this was a step you wanted –- or needed -– to take? (150 words)

    This may be the most specific example of the “Why an MBA?” question we’ve ever seen. (Last year, a similar question read, “Why are you choosing to pursue an MBA and why now?”) It still is definitely the “Why an MBA?” question, but the emphasis on “When did you realize you needed an MBA?” is an interesting wrinkle that we haven’t seen much before. Obviously, this is a very short essay. They’re not looking for a novel, but rather a brief headline as to why you’re taking this potentially huge step now. There’s no right answer here… You don’t need to start with, “Ever since I was 15 I knew I wanted a Yale MBA.” (No one would believe it!) The admissions committee just wants to understand where you’re coming from, make sure that you’re being realistic, and know that this is more than a snap decision on your part. (Bye the way, this paragraph is exactly 150 words, not including this sentence!)
  2. Describe a difficult professional decision you had to make. What were the consequences, and what, if anything, did you learn? Would you make the same decision again? (300 words)

    This question is entirely new this year, and it provides a great opportunity for you to demonstrate maturity and depth in your application. For essays like this, we encourage applicants to use the “SAR” (Situation-Action-Result) method, with a lot of emphasis on the “Result” part. In this case, the result addresses the second and third questions in the essay prompt: What happened? How did it change your view of the world and how to work with others? How did you take what you learned and put it into action in another, later situation? You on;y have 300 words here, so don’t get too bogged in describing the situation. Tell admissions officers what they need to know to understand the situation you were facing, and then move on to the real meat of the story.
  3. The Yale School of Management provides a leadership education characterized by broad-minded and intellectually curious students with diverse backgrounds, a distinctive integrated curriculum, connections to one of the great research universities in the world, and the broad reach of an innovative and expanding global network of top business schools. What will you contribute to the Yale SOM community, and how will being part of it help you extend your professional vision? (300 words)

    This question is an evolution of one that Yale asked last year. At its core, it’s a “Why Yale?” question that asks you to demonstrate that you have done your homework on Yale and are passionate about the program. They have a particular vision for Yale SOM and its student body… Help them see that you share that vision and will fit in at Yale.
  4. What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishment? Why? (300 words)

    Ideally the story you choose will demonstrate at least one or two of the key themes in your application. Is it your leadership abilities, your analytical skills? Be sure to work in those themes here, especially since Yale’s essays give you very few other places to do that this year. All things being equal, a story from your professional life will serve you best, but don’t feel that your significant accomplishment MUST be from the workplace.

To stay on top on all of the latest news about Yale and other top-ranked business schools, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Stanford GSB Admissions Essays for 2012-2013

Stanford GSB recently released its MBA admissions essays for the 2012-2013 application season. You may notice some changes to the essays since last year; we’ll dig into those changes below. Perhaps most significantly, Stanford removed one of its required essays this year, although the total recommended word count remains the same.

As it has done for the past several years, Stanford’s admissions committee provides some high-level advice right on its own website. While we think this advice is generally good, we don’t see anything in Stanford’s advice that hasn’t been said many times before. Still, any advice that comes straight from the horse’s mouth deserves your attention!

Stanford GSB Admissions Essays

  • What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended, out of 1,600 total)

    This question has been around for years, and while our advice has evolved subtly over the years, it mostly remains the same . With this essay, take Stanford’s advice to heart: “The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.” This question requires a great deal of introspection, after which you should create an essay that truly answers the question asked, whether or not you feel that it’s directly applicable to your candidacy. Obviously, the more relevant your essay is to the goal of getting into business school, the better, but where many Stanford applicants go wrong is by writing about grand ideas and using impressive-sounding words, rather than a real glimpse into who they are as a person. The latter is much more powerful and, ultimately, much more effective in getting you into Stanford GSB.
  • What do you want to do — REALLY — and why Stanford? (450 words recommended)

    This question also carries over unchanged from last year. The part in ALL CAPS is a very obvious hint that the admissions committee feels like it doesn’t usually get 100% honest answers from its applicants. Also, note that this question is deliberately pretty open-ended. Stanford is inviting you to dream big. They’re less interested in whether you want to do buy-side vs. sell-side research in the banking sector… They’re more interested in what you want to do with your life. Naturally, the job you take in the near term matters, but here is your chance to reveal some big dreams. If the first question is supposed to be a super-introspective look at you past, consider this the same exercise with your future. Finally, don’t forget the “Why Stanford?” part, too. Obviously it’s a great school with a terrific brand name, but the admissions committee already knows that. Why is Stanford specifically the school that will help you achieve your dreams?
  • Answer one of the three questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years. (400 words recommended)

    Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

    Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.

    Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

    Gee, do you think Stanford only wants to hear about stories that have happened in the last three years? Stanford included the “three year rule” here last year, but the fact that the admissions committee inserted it into every option suggests that too many applicants weren’t paying attention. Why do they only want to hear about the recent past? Because you’re young, and you’re still changing and growing a great deal. Something that you accomplished five years ago (perhaps while you were still in college) is far less useful in helping the admissions committee gauge your potential as a professional.

    Two of these options carry over unchanged from last year, while one of them (Option B) is essentially a marriage of two separate questions from last year. For Option A, note the emphasis on “whose performance exceeded expectations”… Results matter, and you need to show them here. This is a classic Situation-Action-Result (“SAR”) question. While Option B doesn’t specifically use the word “impact” (as it did last year), it’s pretty clear what the school looks for here… It wants to find young professionals who leave a trail of success and positive, meaningful impact everywhere they go. If you have a good example to use, we strongly urge you to answer Option B.

    Option C is another results-oriented question that also gets at a core component of leadership: the ambition and ability to do more than what is listed in your job description. We think the way this question is phrased may actually lead some to misinterpret it and tell an underwhelming story, but a great response will show that you’re someone who readily goes beyond your job description to make things happen. In some respects, we consider Options B and C to be very similar… It’s clear that Stanford is itching to find go-getters who go beyond what’s normal to make things happen!

To stay on top on all of the latest news about Stanford and other top-ranked business schools, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!