MBA Essay Writing Tip #4: Discussing Sensitive Topics

Here are a few useful pointers to keep you out of hot water while you're writing about sensitive or controversial topics in your application.

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Our big green world is full of different countries and cultures – some more conservative, others increasingly liberal.

This means that if you’re coming from a strongly traditional society, you’ll want to be careful when writing about RACE, SEXUAL ORIENTATION and GENDER for western audiences.

No one ever WANTS to be offensive, but an accidental slip-up can lead to embarrassing results in an essay, making the writer seem out of step with his dream school’s culture. Worse yet, most of these mistakes occur because the writer wants to prove how open-minded he is – he just didn’t know how to express it! Never fear however, Admissionado is here with a few useful pointers to keep in mind when writing about this sensitive topic:

1. AVOID “backhanded compliments”

Phrases like, “She worked very well for a woman”, or, “unlike other Chinese employees, Mr. Lee arrived on time” are always inappropriate, even if meant positively. [Yes, these are real examples we’ve seen in real essays… and if you’re cringing right now, you understand the importance of avoiding them at all costs.]

2. AVOID generalizations

No one does anything “because” they are of a race, gender or sexual orientation – be it positive or negative. This even applies when writing about your own country: though your sister may take care of your parents “because that’s a daughter’s role” in your society, it’s best not to mention this in a Western context.

3. DO show your interest in other cultures

Rather than attempt to prove your ability to work with people from other countries, highlight your INTEREST in their cultures! An interest in foreign food, cinema, literature or music will do more to showcase your worldliness than a story about how you work well with different individuals.

4. AVOID potentially controversial opinions

No matter your beliefs, your application to an American or European school means you will work with people of all races, genders and sexual orientations. Leave your personal feelings out of your essays if they are anything less than positive.

5. DO show personal growth

If your views on race, gender and sexuality have changed over the course of your life, this evolution can be used as a sign of personal growth. Contrasting your previous beliefs with your current ones and showing the lessons you’ve learned throughout your life can result in a strong essay, however make sure you’re already comfortable with the subject matter.

So here’s a quick recap

  1. AVOID backhanded compliments.
  2. AVOID generalizations and stereotypes.
  3. DO show your interest in other cultures.
  4. AVOID controversial personal opinions.
  5. DO show personal growth if you feel comfortable writing about it.

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