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Journey to my MBA

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Application Essay Advice

I was browsing Franky's Blog and found this link to Sandy at Cambridge Essay. The link led me to a pretty good overview of what distinguishes poor, moderate to great essays. As I had recently written about this issue this past week, I thought posting it here would prove helpful for me to keep filed and for others to read.

The Four Levels of B School Essays--What Level Is Yours?
1. Novice
2. A Face In The Crowd
3. A Sharper Face In The Crowd
4. A Winning Essay

Want to find out where you are and why?

Level One: Novice. Your essay could have been written by anyone, all it does is speak in generalities about such topics as consulting, or starting a company, or how good technology is, or why you want to run your future organization on a "win-win" model. Most of what you say is true--consultants do help people, "win-win" is good--but it has not been personalized, detailed, and developed to help your application.
Most first drafts, especially those written by people with quantitative and engineering backgrounds, are like this. Very often these drafts contain one or two hints in undeveloped form that can serve as the basis of a convincing and much better essay.

Level Two: Another Face In The Crowd.

In this essay we see a little of you--there are details about your work, your goals, your background and interests that only you could have written--so you are not clueless. But you are still not focused, sparkling, and tactical. Level Two Essays frequently contain laundry lists of achievements, goals, influences etc. and often [but not always] contain the classic Level Two shortcomings:
1. Listing Achievements Instead of Describing In Convincing Detail The Process By Which Achievements and Failure Happened: This is the mother of all flaws in the b-school application game.
2. The "I-Told-Them-So" Bad Attitude: "And when my plan was implemented instead of the one proposed by my immediate supervisor . . . . ."
3. Hitting Doubles Instead of Home Runs: Getting a lot of worthwhile material into the essay, but not fully exploiting it because 1. there is not enough detail, anecdote, quotation; and 2. you do not deeply understand the psychology of the interaction you are describing.
4. Omissions: You have not really located the key events in your personal and work life, nor have you figured out what your real vision, dream etc. is.

Level Three: A Sharper Face In The Crowd.

This is a Level Two essay which has been improved, or which contains a minimum of the errors listed in the Classic Level Two Essay--sort of the B+ of essays.
Most business school essays are Level Two or Three essays of varying kinds and many candidates have been accepted to Stanford, Sloan, Wharton, Kellogg, Harvard etc. with Level Two or Three essays (despite each school's protestations to the contrary) simply because these people were extraordinary applicants based on their academic and test records, their work history, their personality, interviews, and recommendations.

Of course, many, many more applicants have been rejected from Stanford, Sloan, Wharton, Kellogg, Harvard etc. with Level Two and Three Essays.

Could some of these rejected applicants have been accepted if their essays were better?There is no scientific study which addresses this issue, but some schools--such as Sloan and Tuck--will tell you why you were rejected if you ask nicely in May or June. One piece of advice they often give to rejected candidates is to work harder on their essays. I have worked with candidates who were rejected by leading business schools one year and accepted by the same school a year later. Not much had really changed in that year--except their essays.

Level Four: Winning Essays.

Most winning essays are Level Two and Three essays which have been--by dint of blood, sweat, tears and help--worked into winning essays. The details are sharper and thicker and the maturity level is deeper. They have also been mercilessly edited.

The "tone" of most winning essays is concise, professional, and polished. The developed facts speak for themselves. What emerges is a candidate who is original, unexpected, engaged, self-knowing and ultra-qualified. [Some books will tell you the winning essay presents a candidate who has developed a niche marketing position--if that helps you understand this, so be it.]
A Winning Essay usually means many rewrites, many false starts, much testing of your stamina. Thus, most Winning Essays are made, not born. There is no one magic moment of inspiration, insight, Muse intervention, or luck. It's just hard work and proper guidance if you need it--and most people do.

There is no clear line separating a Level Three Essay from a Winning Essay, and expert opinion may differ as to when an essay crosses the line.

Your goal is to write a High Level Three Essay or a Winning Essay.

The Platinum Standard:

There are some essays that are literary mini-masterpieces: not only are the details and maturity level rock solid, but the story the essay tells is inspirational, powerful, and affecting. [Many "merely" Winning Essays have short passages and incidents like this as well, but the tone or story-line is not sustained.] Don't fixate on the platinum standard--just work, work, work, with what you have. Your goal is to write a Winning Essay, not a Prize Winning Essay. Let's get you in to the best business school you can possibly achieve, the prizes will come later.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about examples of each essay?

12:25 PM  
Blogger Dave for MBA said...

Any one of the essay books on the side links of this Blog should be ample supply of quality essays. They go into explaining the points and areas of each essay that sing well. Sorry that I don't have examples to provide here.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous faraz said...

Hey Dave....good work champ..i am chasing a seat in one of the top B schools in my region...i am a complete novice to the GMAT scam..can you please suugest me set of books i can start with (for all sections) to start preparing for it..

6:55 AM  
Blogger Dave for MBA said...

Review my online GMAT Strategy. It’s been used by over 5,000 people and 100’s have cracked 700 with it.

I would add that one should get all the Manhattan books and the OG 11th as the core books.


9:03 AM  
Anonymous faraz said...

Hey Dave I tried to accessing the page for which u gave the link.It open up a comcast personal web page with nothing on it.Can you please advise.
Thx Bud

8:52 PM  
Anonymous faraz said...

Hey Dave I got the page up for me.tho i have a query..i have got my hands on few books for maths GMAT review but can u suggest me any book which would be good for prerparing for GMAT maths from the scratch...plz do advise me on this

2:24 AM  
Blogger Dave for MBA said...

Kaplan, The Offical Guide and the Manhattan GMAT Books should be everyone's core set of books.u

7:44 AM  
Blogger goragori said...

Hey Dave, where all did you apply? I plan to apply to IE too - fo Fall 08. Is it possible to chat up with you anytime?

6:12 AM  
Blogger tony said...

Hey dave, can you help me out in short listing the good B schools . i have GMAT score of 580. Where are the chances of getting assistant ship?

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are you not sure about the chances of getting into the schools you have dreamt for?

We have launched AspirantHunt, a platform for connecting MBA aspirants with admission committees of business schools looking for the right fit for their schools.

AspirantHunt helps in finding business schools that meet the needs of MBA aspirants. Register in less than a minute, fill your details, GMAT scores etc and you are ready to get hunted by the B-Schools looking out here for potential candidates.

Have a look into it

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8:58 AM  
Anonymous Essays Writing said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

6:31 AM  

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