I am not sure why I made muddled thinking the last flaw. Good writing starts with good thinking and ends with lots of editing, but editing is a topic for another series. Let’s stick with thinking in this tip. One of the biggest causes of muddled thinking: Writing what you think the admissions committee wants to read as opposed to what you want them to know. In fact, most admissions committee members believe that is the most common mistake applicants make.
A point to consider: When adcoms receive thousands of essays, each one enumerating the A-Z of what applicants think their readers want to hear, it can get boring, not to mention annoying. The person who writes, “I am a 24-year old Indian male Engineering major who graduated Summa Cum
Laude, participates in quizzes, and plays cricket,” is impressive, but needs to pep it up a bit. Even someone who doesn’t possess a heavily-represented profile can’t simply rely on the facts. “I am a goat shepherding woman from the Chilean coast,” sure is unusual, but unless you continue and express HOW that strengthens your candidacy as a student at a top graduate program, then it’ll sound just a drab as the first example to the exhausted person reading your essay.
You want to write what adcoms want to hear? Fine. Answer their questions keeping in mind that they want to hear about YOU, about your individual experiences, about what makes you tick. This is not the place to reel off your accomplishments (they belong in your resume) or to discuss your professional or ethnic profile. Your essay is where you transform from being the straight-A, leadership-driven analytical graduate school applicant number 658, to a person, a human being. With a voice. With a passion. And with something important to say.
Much of making a compelling case depends on making connections. A connection between your past and your present. Or your present and your future. Your interests and your activities. Your passions and your commitments. Those connections reflect clear thinking and propel persuasive writing. An inability to connect the dots of your life creates doubts and questions in the reader’s mind. And when in doubt, the easiest step for a harried reader at a school receiving five or more applications for every seat in a class is to DENY.
Before you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, think about what you want to say clearly and critically. Your dreams are important. As I said in “Lack of Substance,” examine your head and your heart. Just make sure your head is in good working order when it listens to your heart.
Avoid Fatal Flaw #5: Think clearly and honestly before beginning to write.