You know, it’s funny. Colleges and universities don’t expect that all of their applicants can finish a triathalon or paint a landscape or build a garage with their bare hands while whistling “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but somehow they expect EVERYONE to be able to write fantastic essays. The application process demands that everyone write effective essays to sell themselves to the adcom, but not everyone is a natural born Shakespeare or Hemingway or Stephen King. So, folks with natural writing talent will have a big-time leg up from the start.
Bearing that in mind, we thought we’d ask some of the best writers we know what they think are the top tips for writing a great essay. More specifically, what do you have to DO or NOT DO in the writing process to guarantee that you put our your best effort? Here’s some wisdom from our very own Admissionado editors…
Get another set of eyes on your essays. Whether your best friend, your next-door neighbor, an admissions consultant, or your Aunt Bertha, you need someone else to read your essays before you send them in. Think about it – you wrote the essays, so you’re naturally going to read your essays from the perspective of the writer, meaning that things will always make sense to you… even if you didn’t explain yourself effectively. This is an absolute MUST for folks coming from more technical or specialized fields. Jargon can be the stake through the heart of an effective essay, so get a non-industry person to read your essays. You’ll also be making sure that all of your transitions and arguments are clear and logical, because if your Aunt Bertha can’t follow what you’re saying, neither will the adcom.
Don’t be afraid to employ a little creativity. Too often, people respond like it’s a Q&A Interview, repeating the prompt verbatim in their answer. What better way to SHOW that you can indeed “think outside the box” than by playing around with your essay structure, employing imagery, anecdotes, and even a dash of humor. But perhaps the true lesson is: START EARLY. Hard to be creative and experiment with essay ideas when you’re under the gun.
Don’t gloss over the stuff you’re not sure how to answer with empty phrases and lip service. When you talk about your “unique combination of skills,” or say that the school has “unparalleled offerings” and that you want an MBA to “help achieve your goals,” it just highlights that you didn’t think deeply about the topic, or bother to communicate those thoughts to the reader. Put the time into digging up some answers, and your essay will stand out. This means giving clear, specific insight into your thought process. By showing us why you made X and Y leadership decisions, the behind-the-scenes realizations of a game-changing epiphany moment, or how you ACTUALLY think an MBA will prepare you for your future, you demonstrate your ability to think critically and reflect and display the confidence required to open yourself up for the reader’s analysis.
The biggest thing to do is to approach it from the right mindset. You need to be clear – even before you start writing – about exactly what your goal is. Do you want to write the best essay EVER WRITTEN? Or do you just want to clearly express an interesting idea you have – and what interests YOU about that idea? The latter is typically the mindset I work best from, but figure out what works for you. At the same time, figure out when you work best. More practically, I usually have this mindset later in the day or at night – I think being slightly tired helps me shut off my brain a bit and just write. If you’re a morning writer, on the other hand, make sure to prepare to be in the right frame of mind at the right time to maximize your efficacy as a writer.
The single BIGGEST thing to do to when it comes to writing your best essay? Don’t write it the night before. Nothing like hurrying through the process to guarantee big-time errors. Furthermore, do a brainstorming of your ideas and, before you sit down and start writing, do a simple outline (and have a friend you trust tell you if your arguments and sections flow). So many essays have the makings to be great, but they suffer from weak structure. So my advice is outline, outline, and outline before writing. It’ll save you time in the long run, because it’s much easier to fix a faulty outline than a faulty essay into which you’ve poured LOADS of time.