Tackling the Essays II- Seeking the real YOU?

MBA schools tell you to be yourself. But something tells you they actually want Supermen (or superwomen). And you are no Superhuman. Right?

Filling in my college-time extracurricular activities was quite easy. But when it came to the post-college activities, I struggled. Naturally this got me thinking: what happened to the Altar boy, the Boy Scout, the poet, the campus shows promoter? What happened to those dreams of founding an organization to rival the Rotary? Where did he go? And why?

Methinks a great MBA essay should convince a reader that YOU are a great person to meet, that YOU have star dust inside, and that YOU are smart. We all were once “Superman”, now we just want to “get by”. Continuous intense recollection of the past helps you see how far you have traveled from the real YOU- that Superman. To write compellingly, you must first rediscover that superhuman you once were. You must learn to dream again.

Here are my views on tackling the essay stage:

Do you understand each Essay Question? I hear failing to answer the question is the number 1 reason most applicants fail. An illustration is the HBS essay: “how do you plan to be ethical in your future career?” Months later, I learnt from the Businessweek forum that (apparently) the best answer is to Google for Codes of Ethics for the industry you had indicated post-MBA, and discuss these knowledgeably. My answer was totally off this track. I obviously hadn’t understood that question. Fortunately, other institute questions were straightforward.

Start writing the drafts early. Another major problem I found with personal statements is that it feels uneasy to write about oneself (even for professional writers). You need time to get a comfortable out-of-body view.

What REALLY motivates you and why? (a.k.a. Why MBA?) Most people’s honest answer to “Why MBA?” is simple: MONEY. MONEY, MONEY AND MORE MONEY! OK, maybe STATUS as well. But every smart person instinctively knows that putting these down as their answer to “Why MBA?” is like punching “DING” into the satnav of their MBA vehicle.

Those smart members of Admissions Committees must know that most people honestly want their MBA for the money/status. So why do they ask “Why MBA?” My guess is that it’s to see your OTHER motivations and importantly to see whether those other non-pecuniary passions you mentioned elsewhere are also motivating the MBA?

What Distinguishes YOU? Honestly. Without the “Diversity” rave, many wouldn’t stand a chance into B-Schools. B-schools desire Diversity for the insights non-traditional candidates bring into the human condition.  If you found Superman, it ought to be easy to show what you can offer. Ask your friends also. You’d be surprised.

I guess, ideally, what distinguishes one should be something a reader would never have guessed in a million years. Always back this up with factual illustrations.

On bragging tastefully? When I started writing about myself, it felt like I was bragging until I found the secret lay in “relevance”. Focusing on my passions  and mentioning achievements (with hard data, numbers, if possible) merely to illustrate them. The CV already listed the achievements. The questions asked “Why” not “What”.

How can I prove that I Give Back? : Reading the chat transcripts on Accepted.com, I found a comment by an Admissions director that has really stuck with me. She said: “Finding the potential future success story is easy. But finding those who will give back? That’s the tough part.” B-schools ask for those extra’s for a reason. But it’s got to be honest. Emphasize the motivations if you only have a few. In my case, I focused on my passion for my High School.

Know thy weaknesses: Everyone has at least one weak point in their application. One doesn’t have to dwell on it. But you must know it and address it. Otherwise, you’re insulting your reader. In my case, I knew one major one would be Age. Why do I want an MBA at 36. I ensured I answered “Why now?” in one brief but logical sentence.