The blogger of MBA on the Horizon recently noted the irony of her situation: after devoting months to prepare for her MBA applications, including attending information sessions, reading blogs, and researching through other means, she ended up cramming all her essay writing for Wharton into a single weekend. A Saturday marathon writing session produced a career vision essay that, in her words, ended up “horrible.”
While she credits her boyfriend’s good editorial eye and a lot of Red Bull to seeing her to a better result by the end of the weekend, I’m sure she would rather have worked without this stress, and the echo of the clock ticking loudly and relentlessly.
As an editor at Accepted.com, I advise clients to allow several weeks for the process of writing their essays – even for a single school. Most applicants already hold down full-time jobs, leaving only evenings and weekends for the focused work required to get the essays right. Allowing enough time will help you produce essays that are compelling, genuine, substantial, thoughtful, well considered, and polished.
For those still looking ahead to their MBA or other grad essay applications, here are five tips to make the process more manageable:
1. Map out a strategy for what experiences you will highlight in each essay, making sure that you are choosing your strongest experiences while not repeating yourself. Your goal is to show a variety of professional and extracurricular experiences that reveal your leadership, innovative spirit, and personality.
2. If you are applying to three or more MBA programs, allow a month or more for the entire process. While you can recycle some material from school to school, it still takes time to tailor the content for each school’s specific questions and space limitations. Even in the “career vision” essay common to nearly all MBA programs, there are differences in how the questions are phrased, questions within questions, and the lengths of these essays vary by as much as a few hundred words.
3. Let your essay drafts “rest” for a day, especially after an intensive writing session. This will allow you to return to it and edit with fresh eyes. You’ll be surprised and pleased at how many improvements you can make on a draft that you thought was in pretty terrific shape only 48 hours earlier.
4. Be yourself in your essays. It’s easy to sound canned or stiff when trying to make the “right” impression on an adcom. But the “right” impression is the one that reveals not only your strengths and focus, but also the winning personality that will make the adcom feel you are a good fit for their school. Allowing the writing process enough time will make it far easier to write in a natural voice; writing under the gun can drown out that voice under a blanket of stress.
5. A good editor is invaluable. Naturally I’m biased on favor of editors, but a skilled editor will help you ensure quality content, polish and trim your essays to fit the tight space requirements, and also help you catch errors that can be difficult to flag on your own. Repeating certain words or phrases too often, making a claim about your qualifications or achievements without backing it up, and simple spelling, grammar or syntax errors are only a few of the distracting errors that a good editor can help you avoid.