When I was Admissions Director at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, I asked my colleague and friend, Dr. Robert Bloomfield, who led our Ph.D. program, “What characteristics do you seek in the Ph.D. candidates you invite to interview?” Rob’s answer sounded oddly familiar. A few weeks earlier, I had asked my brother Mark, who led U.C.L.A. Anderson’s Ph.D. program, the same question. In fact, as I began to ask faculty in various departments and schools what they sought in their doctoral candidates, the answers were always the same: intelligence, unquenchable curiosity, subject matter passion, persistent stamina, criticism-seeking, ethical, self-aware individuals who offer a well-written Statement of Purpose (SOP) and a solid academic foundation for their area of study.
While I am not an accountant, a few years back, I was reviewing information in FASRI and ran across an article Rob Bloomfield wrote that I always kept in the back on my mind when helping my Ph.D. and MFE clients outline their SOPs. The outline is great, but what really sticks out for me and works for any essay are five simple words, “Show me. Don’t tell me.” Maybe its because I love theatre and these words are a simplification of a line from writer/playwright/physician Anton Chekhov, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
As an admissions director, “Show me. Don’t tell me” was my way of seeking evidence to support my applicants’ assertions of greatness, passion, achievement and even failure. Who knew Chekhov would help guide my clients into the best undergraduate and graduate programs in the world? Rob Bloomfield knew.
Offering examples, gives the reader the opportunity to understand the subject matter from your perspective and evaluate your claims: a responsibility the admissions committee must assume. So when you sit down to write your statement of purpose, essays or conduct an interview, rather than stating that you have subject matter passion, show that you have subject matter passion by describing recent readings, experiences and outcomes. For example, I could state that I have a passion for puzzles or I could explain that on Sunday, I solved the New York Times crossword in 40 minutes, a 4X4 Rubik’s cube in 10 minutes, and a complex logic puzzle in 5 minutes and watched my Netflix obsession The Bletchley Circle.
In other words, “Show me. Don’t tell me.”
By Natalie Grinblatt Epstein, an accomplished Accepted.com consultant/editor (since 2008) and entrepreneur. Natalie is a former MBA Admissions Dean and Director at Ross, Johnson, and Carey.