Application tips (II): Essays
Days keeps going by and now it's only three left until my departure date. Yesterday I didn't sleep well at all and I'm afraid that it was due to the near departure. Today I haven't slept well either because yesterday I had the one before the last party with my friends (the last will be tonite) and I was a little pissed by the time I got home. Today I have got a hungover...well, that's farewells...!! I am kinda anxious about leaving ...but really looking forward to it.
Anyway, I would like to highlight some points about the MBA applications, focusing on Stern's.
As a starting point, let me telll you that most of the applications are pretty much the same thing. Well, I applied to seven top programs and, leaving aside the specific specialties of each application, there are some core issues that are addressed in most of them. Every application is generally long and boring. Of course there will be some "administrative" information about yourself, family, undergraduate history, hobbies, etc. to be filled out, but when it comes to applications the key thing is, as you probably know, the essays.
The essays are the answers to a number of questions (generally, four of five, ranging from 200 to 1,500 words, as the case may be) posed by the schools to get to know the applicant and to obtain some further professional and personal information from the applicant. In most of the applications I came accross, there were essays about professional history (i.e. how you reached the point to go for an MBA), future goals, strengths and weaknesses, personality, leadership... these kinds of issues are the underlying ones. What I mean is that in some questions you may be directly asked about your short and long-term career planes and, on the contrary, you may also be asked about a situation in your life where you failed and how you reacted (obviously, in such a case, the schools' officers are not interested in the specific story itself but in capturing some of your values and traits of your personality).
Having said that, I must say that writing all the essays of a particular application is not that difficult. However, writing them properly so that the whole application results consistent takes time. And this is really important. It's a key thing to be consistent and clear, to make clear to the admission officers that you know why you are pursuing an MBA, that it makes sense for you to do so at this point of your life. As you will probably read from many sources, you need to be very clear and sure about all this. Otherwise, your application will be a weak one and you will probably be dinged. Thus, you will have to try some other year, once you have really made up your mind.
Therefore, take your time to prepare the essays. First, read the questions carefully, take notes, think about the answers' structure in advance, be clear about what you want to say, do some drafting, write the essays, go through your drafts several times polishing them (in my view this is even more useful when there is some time gap between each revision).... and be consistent in all of your answers. Needless to say (this is mainly for non-English native students like me), pay attention to grammar rules and typos...there's nothing worse than a typo in an application.
One final advise is to ask a friend, family or whoever - an MBA alum, to the extent possible, since he or she will have the expertise - to go over your draft essays. He or she will give you some additional input and will help you restate some points, remove them or make them clearer. In my case, an INSEAD alum friend of mine helped me a lot in this respect.
In any case, most of the recommendations above are broadly - and much better - explained in the book "How to get into the top MBA programs" by Montauk. My INSEAD friend recommended it to me and I will do the same. It's regarded as one of the "bibles" for MBA applications. It goes through every single stage of the application process and it will provide you with good ideas. Buying it is definitely worth it.
Focusing on Stern's application (i.e. the one I had to prepare), four essays are required. The first one is the average career goals essay. It provides a good opportunity not only to state your short and long term career goals but also to explain the admission officers the way that has led you to go for an MBA, why you need an MBA in light of your future goals or why you need it at that particular time.
The second essay is more concerned with personality, with whether the applicant may fit or not inside the Stern community. It comprises three short questions where several issues are tackled: (i) applicant's experience with Stern community: this is relevant in order to analyze the applicant's real interest in Stern. In this respect, talking to Stern people (and remembering their names and, eventually, exchanging a couple of emails) at MBA fairs, visiting Stern, commenting on or making references to friends who are Stern alumni, participating in chats with Stern students, etc. may be useful things to highlight in your essay; (ii) how you may contribute to Stern's community: your values, strengths, personality and so on...; and (iii) why your choice is Stern and what you expect to obtain from it. There are many very good biz schools and this is a good opportunity to explain why Stern is your first choice, what makes it different and why you like that. In my case, for instance, I referred, in addition to Stern's academic excellence, to the personal side of my MBA experience (living in NYC, the down to earth and laid back approach of Stern's people, etc.)
The third essay is a very particular one, since it allows the applicant to tell whatever he wants to in the way he most prefers (e.g. illustrations, pictures, words). This essay is unique among biz schools, as far as I am concerned. Again, I believe that, through this essay, the admission officers seek to evaluate if the applicant is the "Stern-kind" applicant. Feel free to be creative, be original, try to differentiate from other applicants. However, always remember that you are trying to give a good impression, so watch out what you say or how you say it...
Once again, the resulting post is a little longer than expected. I hope it will be useful. After this, I guess that future posts will be shorter and more focused on my day-to-day life. By the way, I'm gonna change the blog's appearence; I've told that the black wallpaper is a little bit tiring...I hope it's just the black color, not the content!!