I was lucky to attend an MBA seminar at Harvard and Stanford among others. The admissions team spoke at the length about the process of the applications and the experience itself. The distinguishing factor which was not numerical in nature like grades, GMAT scores etc was the essay. The Admissions team aims to create a class that is diverse in experience and background yet cohesive in thought, leadership and willingness to learn. This is a fine balance to achieve especially for top schools where the numbers (GMAT averages, Grades) definitely also matter. The Essay in such a case is the key not only to admission but to great scholarships.
What makes a great college essay? My instant but well thought out answers would be: Focus and Simplicity. These two attributes are reflective of key personality traits. One could easily stack up big words in a flamboyant essay or even write a long winding journey in 5-10 pages. But here’s the big news, a one-page essay or even two is simply enough as stressed by the Admissions Team themselves. Like these schools themselves, the overarching focus is on quality. Secondly, on a practical note, these admission teams may have 10,000 essays to read in a year. Simplicity does not mean you don’t express yourself, it means you use a central theme to exhibit your personality. You highlight your career and your achievements subtly but don’t come across as a machine. They are admitting real people and real people have stories riddled with mistakes and failures. Accepting that in your journey may sometimes be a strength.
Focus is the key word. Not every student who is aspiring for Business School was an Economics student or an Engineer. People come from different backgrounds as diverse as the armed or naval forces. In such a chaotic bundle of essays, the admission team wants to know whether you have been focussed in your career. Are you really good at whatever you’re claiming you are? Have you taken steps and skills to build on what you have? As one of my favourite authors frames it, have you established your ‘circle of competency’. Once your essay speaks that part you enter the zone of serious consideration. A college essay is not like a professional cover letter to a company. Companies recruit for skill and brilliance, colleges look beyond that also into the peer and human side. Your 1000-word essay to Harvard has to tell them without really telling them that your unique in your way, your competent in your trade, you have your own value system and you’re not afraid to express your thoughts.
Be risk taking and creative, use an event or a theme in your life, something that has shaped your value system and cultivate your essay from that. You have to capture not only their attention but also their imagination. The essay has to be crisp and interesting and end in a way that they are compelled to meet you at the interview. Make them curious about your story while at the whole time keeping it simple. It is not the easiest balance to achieve and requires at least a few drafts to get you there. Reflecting your thoughts with a friend or a mentor can help you see it from someone else’s perspective. We, at ‘Impact Essay’ invoke our perspective and experience in your essay. Make those words count with us!