Vatsa, an MBA blogger, who applied unsuccessfully to Wharton first round and is now applying to a number of top MBA programs second round, writes in "Where’s the "me" in my essays?" about a valuable lesson: Be yourself. Work hard to submit your best but in Vatsa’s words, "Don’t obsess about the essays." He blames his recent Wharton rejection on trying to hard to provide what he thinks the adcom wants to read as opposed to writing about what he wants the readers to know.
Vatsa is 100% on the money.
When I ask admissions people what is the most common mistake applicants make, they usually respond, "Applicants write what they think we want to hear as opposed to what they want us to know."
At the same time, he blames consultants and the forums for advising, perhaps even pressuring, him to "do something extraordinary."
I plead guilty to encouraging all of you to write about what is most important to you and distinctive about you. And there is no conflict between the two, even if you aren’t from the Falkland Islands. When you write about what is most important to you, you decide constantly how to portray your experiences and values. For example, are you going to say you are a South Asian engineer or are you going to describe yourself in more precise terms that will also distinguish you automatically from the thousands of engineers in South Asia who apply to MBA programs? Could you be an environmental engineer in Singapore who grew up in Gujarat?
You don’t have to be a "mutant-zombie Antarctic explorer," a conqueror of Mt. Everest, the holder of a dozen patents, or the winner of ironman triathlons. You have to be you. But if someone is to recognize you in your essays, choose the experiences and words that distinguish you and introduce you as an individual to the admissions committee.
For more on writing distinctively — and honestly — please see: