What do you need to fashion a flawless admissions essay? Succinctness? Clarity? Verve? For Master’s in Management (MiM) candidates applying to the top business schools, possessing all three traits would be invaluable.
Excellent essays are vital to securing a place on a MiM course, because participants usually have little or no work experience. “Work experience is a much less decisive data point and the résumé is usually a less differentiating factor,” explains Jessie R Borges, a senior admissions consultant and trainer for Kaplan Test Prep. So, well-written essays play a more pivotal role in the admissions process.
Boban Sulic, senior admissions manager at ESMT Berlin, along with his colleagues, this year reviewed 727 applications for the German business school’s Master’s in Management program. Prospective students answer three essay questions, providing a frank description of themselves, what matters to them, and their career goals.
The essays are read by the admissions team and compared with a candidate’s CV and recommendation letters. Favorable applicants are then invited to an in-person interview, where the questions posed are informed by the essays.
The admissions team is looking for brevity and clarity in written prose, according to Sulic. “When essays are too literary or do not answer the questions directly, they do not really tell much about the candidate and are simply not interesting to read,” he says, candidly. “The worst story is a story that does not raise a single question for the one reading it.”
After reading a good essay, Sulic says that his interest is piqued. “It should make me curious. It should make me feel like I know the applicant a bit more personally and not just what they have achieved and want to achieve.”
He adds that there is no format for a perfect essay: “Each essay is individual, and each honest and personal answer makes a positive impact in a different way.”
While questions differ for each school, essays tend to revolve around a candidate’s strengths, learning and career goals, and reasons for choosing that particular school, according to Kaplan’s Borges.
“Applicants should be ready to nail [these subjects] in order to build an outstanding application,” he says. But don’t provide reviewers with a laundry list of strengths, learning goals, and features of a school that interest you. “Focus and depth is much more important than breadth.”
It pays to use examples, Borges adds. “If leadership is one of your strongest abilities, don’t just say that you’re a good leader; provide an example or two that demonstrate how you are effective and what your leadership style is.”
Some business schools use video essays to assess candidates. Those applying to the Kellogg School of Management’s MS in Management Studies course, answer randomly generated questions that are similar to interview questions, with 60 seconds allotted for each response. The school says the video format enables a more personal courtship than penned prose.
Achieving perfection in a written or video essay is challenging, but achievable, says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, an admissions consulting firm. “The essay must fully answer the question, provide credible support for the points being made, and reveal authentic insights that humanize and differentiate the candidate,” he says.
Because admissions consultants sift through stacks of essays, it’s important to avoid the ‘three deadline sins’ of predictability, monotony and ambiguity, Min adds. “A candidate whose essays take the adcom [admissions committee] on a journey of thoughtful reflection, succinct descriptions and compelling imagery, is likely to earn an interview invitation.”
When compiling video essays, he advises candidates to focus on production quality, too. “Look out for lighting and backdrop; audio and video clarity; presence and demeanor,” he says.
It makes sense to seek a second opinion on your essays; some students spend money on consultants who help them frame their personal story on paper, or improve their communication via video. But business schools have in recent years tried to stamp out “ghostwriting”, when applicants pay people to write their essays.
There is a wealth of such services online, but using them can result in your application being rescinded. Many schools are using technology to spot fraud, such as Re Vera, a candidate verification service that helps to ensure applicants represent themselves truthfully.
“It would be naïve to assume that every applicant produces essays from start to finish in total isolation,” says Min. “However, without exception, a candidate’s ownership of and accountability for his or her final essays must never be compromised.”
Consultants warn that it is important not to neglect the other elements of your application, which usually include a standardized test, such as the GMAT. “On the one hand, the MiM application is not an essay writing contest,” says Kaplan’s Borges. “But, make no mistake about it: your application essays are an important part of the admissions decision.”