I’m About to Make Your Day…

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Does your opening line catch the reader’s attention?

…by giving my essay a catchy opening line that doesn’t turn you away or bore you to tears.

See, I could have started this tip post with “Today I am going to tell you how to create a compelling essay opening,” but you probably would have skipped over something as drab as that. How about these?

It is the art of philosophical car washing that got me thinking about pursuing an MBA.

or

There are numerous ways to make a banana split cry.

…now THOSE are essays or personal statements I’d like to read!

Yes, you want an engaging opening for your admissions essay or personal statement, but you also want to make sure to avoid anything obvious or chock full of clichés.

A good essay opening is one that:

• …sets the tone. A serious essay should be introduced by a serious opening line. If an intro sentence makes you chuckle, on the other hand, then you can assume the essay itself it humorous as well.

• …raises intrigue. Your essay’s opening line should encourage questioning or engender curiosity. Like for our first example above, “What is philosophical car washing?” or “What is the art form of this activity like?” or, as per our second example above, “Huh?” And that’s okay too!

• …surprising, shocking, or suspenseful. Causing your reader to flinch, raise an eyebrow in surprise, jump with shock, or furrow her forehead from suspense is a good thing. That reader will want to read on.

Grab your readers’ attention so they will read your essay because they want to and not because they have to.

NOTE: If you can’t think of a catchy opening, but know what you plan on writing, feel free to write your essay first and add a catchy hook at the beginning of the essay once you’re done, or sometime along the way.

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Related Resources:

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Application
• From Example to Exemplary – A Free Guide
• Writing The MBA Application Essay

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5 Mistakes To Avoid In A Cover Letter

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Think of your cover letter as the appetizer for what you know will be a great meal.

You only have one chance to make a first impression. If the first impression you need to make is through a cover letter to a prospective employer, school admissions office, or internship sponsor, make sure it shines a light on your qualifications and displays your enthusiasm for the position or that seat in the class. Unfortunately, too many cover letters I see are dull as dust, containing only generalities or jargon and lacking confidence. These letters hurt your cause.

Here are 5 common mistakes in cover letters. Don’t make them in yours!

1. Sound as if you’re bored.

“I am writing in response to your opening for a marketing manager, listed on Job Site website.” This response is honest and to the point, but it also lacks a sense that you really want this gig. Better: “I am enthusiastically applying for the position of marketing manager for Best Company Ever. My experience as a top saleswoman for the last three years for an organic beauty supply is an ideal match for your needs.” Feel the energy of the second sentence? The reader will, too.

2. Don’t make any effort to get inside knowledge about the company or school, or explain why you want to attend their program/get hired by them. Also omit your most relevant experiences that should make them want to give careful consideration to your resume.

There could be a dozen different reasons why you’ve chosen to apply for this job or to attend this program. For example, if it’s a start-up, you’ll have more opportunity to perform multiple roles and gain a broader view of small businesses. In a larger company, you may have more chances for travel or longstanding career growth. Perhaps the company has innovated a technology, product type, or employee-friendly atmosphere that you strongly admire. Identify these things, as well as your most relevant experience/qualifications that match what they are looking for. Don’t go into too many details; keep it short. For example:

“My friend Bonnie V. told me how much she learned about digital media sales and marketing as a result of her internship with Best Company Ever last summer. My experience with the Streaming Live Network in building their salesforce over the last year will make me an ideal fit for your team.”

“As a future entrepreneur in green technology, I admire Live Green Now’s innovations in environmentally friendly plastics and am eager to learn more about these innovations from the inside. My master’s degree in Environmental Studies and research into new techniques for recycling plastics without water makes me a strong candidate for this position.”

3. Ignore the stated requirements for acceptance or position.

If a company says that knowledge of a particular software knowledge, skillset, or academic record is required for a position, don’t waste your time or theirs by submitting a letter if you don’t have it. If you feel you are still qualified, you had better have a compelling explanation and say so up front. Otherwise move on. Pay attention to what companies and schools say they are looking for. They mean it.

4. Sound needy or wishy-washy about getting a call back for an interview. 

A recent cover letter I edited – by someone whose professional experience spanned more than 20 years, numerous awards and 10 patents in his name – ended his letter like this: “If after reviewing my materials you believe that there is a match, please contact me.” This sentence is passive and sounds insecure, as if he doesn’t really expect them to call. And they probably wouldn’t.

I suggested he end the letter like this: “I look forward to the opportunity to meet you to discuss this position and how I can add value to Best Company Ever.” See how the simple change of writing in active voice (“I look forward. . . “) exudes confidence in his ability to demonstrate value.

5. Make them take the extra step of going back to you to get references.

This is one of the mistakes that drives me crazy every time I see it, which is often. Why in the world would you write “References available upon request” instead of providing the actual references in the letter, and/or the resume? List names, titles, phone numbers and emails. If a reference doesn’t have a title, put the person’s relationship to you so the caller will know in what context he or she is providing the recommendation.

Finally, keep the letter short – preferably only a half to three-quarters of a page. This is an appetizer only to get them to want to give your resume careful review, and then call you for the next step. Using active voice, specific facts about your qualifications and the reasons you like the company or school, will demonstrate you are not sending cover letters in a scattershot way, but in a thoughtful, carefully considered manner. And this should help you bring your job search to a swifter and happier conclusion.

Download your free copy of the Quick Guide to Admissions Resume now!

Judy Gruen

By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

 

Related Resources:

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Application Essay or Personal Statement
Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Your Resume 
Sample Resumes and Cover Letter

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So You Didn’t Get Into Law School…

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Start planning for next year. Most schools welcome reapplicants.

If you didn’t get into law school this year, it’s never too early to start planning a strategy for next year. Below are five tips that will help you change the results next time you apply if you did not get into law school this time.

1. Evaluate your application. After you’ve licked your wounds, take a hard look at your application and see what needs to be improved. Is it LSAT scores? Grades? Letters of recommendation? Think about yourself as an applicant and what you should focus on and improve during the next 12 months.

2. Retake the LSAT. If your LSAT is under 160 and you are applying to top programs, I strongly suggest retaking it. I recommend to set aside at least three months to study for the LSAT. Your LSAT score is the single, most important element you can work on to increase the competitiveness of your application.

3. Work. I recommend that you work for a law firm in an area of law you are interested in so that you can get an idea of how the law works. If that isn’t an option, consider another business-related job or intern at a district attorney’s office or judge’s chambers. The goal: get relevant legal experience. It will demonstrate your interest both to law schools and potentially to future employers.

4. Network. I recommend using LinkedIn to contact alumni of your top choice law schools and talk to them about their experience and their current work. It can be valuable to have an idea of the student profile for your target law schools and will give you a good idea of what post-law-school life is like.

5. Try again. Come August, some schools may still be looking for students. You won’t get into a top-tier school, but other schools might still have spaces. You may also want to consider part-time programs or schools that will allow you to start in the spring or summer – these terms generally have fewer applicants, so you will be more competitive.

It’s hard when you don’t get accepted into law school, but the best response is to use the opportunity to fine-tune your application and make yourself more competitive for next year. Most schools welcome reapplicants, particularly those who have made significant steps to show their interest in law school and improve their qualifications.
5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Law School Personal StatementJessicaPishkoJessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels. 
Related Resources:

The Law School Admissions Guide: 8 Tips for Success
The Increasing Value of Work Experience in Law School Applications
So You Got Waitlisted…7 Tips to Get Off the Law School Waitlist