As an applicant, you know that essays are important. The last thing that you want to do is make an error that creates the wrong impression and damages your candidacy. Having read tens of thousands of business school essays, I have seen some common issues. Here are the top 5 MBA essay mistakes:
- Failure to answer the question.
This can happen for a variety of reasons, including submitting a response to another school’s related essay instead of starting over for each prompt. Another frequent cause is answering in generalities, because you feel like you need to obscure the fact that your answer isn’t very strong. (A prime example of this would be failing to state a clear short-term goal because you don’t really know what you want to do when you graduate.)
- Choosing the wrong topic.
Before starting to write your essays, you need to think holistically about your candidacy. What are your strengths and weaknesses, and how do you compare within the pool? Are there pivotal stories that are integral to your candidacy, and that the committee needs to hear but won’t learn from your resume and recommendations? Choose your topics strategically, to enhance your strengths, stand out as an individual and mitigate areas of concern.
- Telling the committee what you think they want to hear, not your real answer.
Be genuine. When asked about weaknesses, don’t say that you work too hard, if your biggest developmental challenge is your propensity to procrastinate and then make careless errors right before deadlines. Also, if you truly want to switch from engineering to marketing, please don’t say that you want to progress into a supervisory engineering role, just because you think that your goal may seem too ambitious and unrealistic. Schools are excited to help people achieve transformations, and they can tell if you are not articulating what really drives you.
- Listening to input from too many sources.
Are you reading multiple forums and blogs, studying books about admissions essays, reading samples from people who claim to have gotten into your target schools and showing your drafts to everyone you know? If so, you are likely second guessing your own instincts and losing your unique voice. This can be really dangerous on a practical level – online advice is often very flawed, and reading other people’s work can lead you to copy their thoughts and phraseology, perhaps without even realizing it. Definitely get input from a few trusted sources, but don’t let that input dilute your work.
Especially if you don’t like writing essays, there is a tendency to leave them until the last minute. Please give yourself enough time to go through multiple iterations, and to proofread thoroughly. Mistakes like telling Harvard that you have always wanted to attend Yale are more common than you might think. After all of your hard work, you don’t want a careless error to keep you out of your dream school.