I firmly believe that reading other people’s essays before writing your own is a huge, detrimental mistake. Here are three reasons why I never give my clients templates or sample college or MBA application essays:

  • You need to find your own voice.

The essays are literally your only guaranteed opportunity to present your case, in your own words, and to stand out in the pool. Modeling your narrative after someone else’s story is an enormous waste of this opportunity. It also leads to generic, homogeneous essays that are totally forgettable, which will not get you in. Furthermore, it’s way too easy to subliminally copy someone else’s cadence, structure or phraseology, which can lead schools to suspect plagiarism.

  • You are reading the essays out of context.

When you read one of the many books about “successful” application essays you are reading them completely out of context. You have no idea if that applicant was a professional athlete, had special interest connections, a terrible GPA or work history, was applying to schools where she was significantly above the average or if she was admitted DESPITE her essays, not because of them. The bottom line is that you need to choose your topics and anecdotes strategically, in light of your whole candidacy. Just because these other candidates chose a certain topic or style does not mean that it is the optimal decision for you.

  • Formulas are dangerous.

I understand that it is very tempting to think that there is a magic formula that will get you into college or business school, and that this formula extends to the essays. Nevertheless, mimicking other people’s essays leads to less than genuine responses, and is an extremely dangerous way to approach your applications. Instead of telling the schools what you think they want to hear, trust yourself, take the time to craft your own story and submit essays that truly represent your candidacy.