25 Most Common Business School Essay Writing Mistakes
Before you read examples of real essays here the top 25 most common essay writing mistakes. These are mistakes that students commit every year and that have a disastrous effect on their chances of getting admitted. Learn from their mistakes so you don’t commit any of these errors in your own essays. So without further ado, we present to you our list of the 25 most common essay writing mistakes:
1. Not answering the question. It may seem like an obvious mistake, but many applicants don’t answer the question. Or they answer part of the question but not all of it. If you are asked about a time that you’ve been a leader and the impact that your leadership had, don’t just describe when you’ve been a leader. Make sure you also address the impact of your leadership. This is a mistake that many students make when recycling their essays or using the same essay for one school for another. If you do recycle your essays, edit them carefully to make sure that they completely answer the questions asked.
2. Showing that you know nothing about the school. Business schools take pride in the fact that they each have their own strengths. They want to see you address those strengths and how you will benefit from them. While it can be tempting to copy and paste your essays from one school to another, you’ll want to instead make sure that each essay addresses the strengths of each school. Admission officers can tell when your essays are so general that you have used them to apply to multiple schools or haven’t done your homework about the strengths of their program. In at least one of your essays, be sure that you show how the school’s particular strengths match your needs.
3. Parroting back what’s on the website or brochure. To try to show their knowledge about a particular business school, some applicants go to the school’s website or brochure and copy text from them into their essays. Admission officers are oftentimes the ones who write this material and it does not impress them to see their own descriptions of their schools in essays. You need to do your own research. Visiting a school and talking to some of its students and faculty is critical. By doing so you can include in your essays what you have learned from sitting in on classes, interacting with students or observing an activity. This kind of insight demonstrates that you have taken the time to research the school and understand what it has to offer you.
4. Assuming the persona of whom you think the school wants. Some applicants try to be who they think the admission officers want them to be. They may say that they want to go into a field that they are not excited about, exaggerate strengths that they think will impress the school or even try to flatter the admission officers by declaring that their school is the only one for them. Unless you mean it, the admission officers will see through this hyperbole. It is better to reveal your honest intentions, strengths and opinions. You will produce more genuine and believable essays that will ultimately help you get admitted.
5. Not revealing enough about you. The questions you answer may be about your family, a figure you’d like to have dinner with or international travel you’ve done. But the bottom line is that the admission officers ask these questions as a way to learn about you. So instead of writing an autobiography of a historical figure or a detailed travelogue of the places you’ve been, make sure the focus is still on you. If you were writing about a historical figure you may write about what you would want to learn from him or her and why this is important to you. If you were writing about travel, you would want to spend on how it has affected you versus your daily itinerary. In other words, regardless of the question remember that the essay is still about you.
6. Trying to be funny when you’re not. It takes a very skilled writer to write a humorous essay. If you’re not this type of writer your business school essay is not the place to try to be. You can’t miraculously change your writing style overnight. Often your attempt at humor may appear trite or plain silly. It’s better to stick to your own style.
7. Going overboard with creativity. The business school essay is not a creative writing project. While creativity is not necessarily a bad thing, you should not make it the focus of your writing style. The business school essay is really business writing, which is more focused on content and ideas rather than delivery. Don’t sacrifice the clarity and content of your essay in order to make it creative.
8. Failing to see your essays as part of the larger picture. You can think of each of your essays as a chapter in a single book. While each is important, it’s also important how the chapters go together to form the book. In other words, think about the overall impression that your essays convey. Do they provide a consistent picture of your accomplishments and goals? While essays do not need to be closely tied to each other, they should not be so divergent or contradictory that the admission officer is confused about who you really are. Write your essays with the understanding that they will be read together along with the rest of your application.
9. Not knowing why you want to go to business school. As you answer the essay questions, you will need to explain why you want to earn an MBA and how you plan to use the degree to advance your career. The more you understand your motivations for earning the degree, the stronger your essays will be. This is something that you need to think about and try to tie into at least one of your essays. You don’t need to have every step of your future career worked out because admission officers understand that a business school degree will help you figure this out. But you do need to have some good reasons about why you want an MBA at this point in your life.
10. Not showing a continuum from past to present. In your essays, admission officers are looking for your story. They want to see the past, present and glimpse of the future. From your past, you should explain what you have studied or learned from your employment to prepare you for a business school education. From the present, you should describe why you want an MBA. For the future, you should give some hint at how you plan to apply your degree in your career plans. These questions do not have to be answered in one essay. In fact, you will probably choose to address each in a separate essay. However, you should make sure that after reading all of your essays you get a sense of each of these three important parts of your life. In you are missing any of these parts, there will be a hole in your story.
11. Forgetting to tie in your goals with the school. It’s important that you not only explain your career goals but also elaborate on how the business school will help you to achieve these goals. Admission officers want to see a connection between their school and how it will help you meet your personal and career goals. This helps them to see what you will gain from attending their school.
12. Not writing about individual achievements. While it’s important to show that you can be a team player, it is also important to define your individual accomplishments. Some students only write about their accomplishments as a part of a team but never address what they contributed as an individual. This is a big mistake. If you are writing about a group accomplishment, make sure to describe how you individually contributed to the success of the group.
13. Writing a resume in paragraph form. Your essays should be more than glorified resumes. In other words, don’t just list your accomplishments. Describe the importance of them and what you have gained from the experiences. Analyze and reflect on their value. Whether you have been a management consultant or a chef, you need to explain how your work experience fits into your path to an MBA and how you hope to apply your experience in the future.
14. Failing to use good judgment. Your biggest setback in life may have been when you didn’t get chosen as the lead in a high school drama production or when you were unfaithful in a relationship, but these are not the kind of setbacks that business schools need or care to know about. Ask yourself if what you are writing is an appropriate subject for a business school essay.
15. Not explaining what you have learned. More important than your actual accomplishments is what you have gained from them. This is the key piece of information that admission officers want to know. As you’re writing your essays, think about what you have gotten out of the experience, how you would approach a similar situation differently and how you have applied your knowledge to other interactions.
16. Running out of time. It is a mistake to think that you can develop meaningful essays overnight. Thoughtful essays take time. Thinking about your goals, the meaning of an MBA and your life’s accomplishments takes a lot of quality time. Give yourself enough time to think about what you’ve done and what you believe in to develop the strongest essays possible.
17. Not taking advantage of the optional essay. For a lot of business schools, the last question they ask is whether you have anything else that you’d like the admission officers to know about you. In most cases, you should take advantage of this essay question. You can use it to highlight a strength you haven’t highlighted elsewhere or you can use it to explain a blemish in your academic or professional record. This is the first essay that some admission officers read when looking at the essays because they believe that this open-ended question is where you can really describe what is important to you and what makes you unique. There are no guidelines for what you need to write about so you are free to write about whatever is meaningful to you that you want the business school to know about. Take advantage of this opportunity.
18. Not addressing an obvious weakness. You might think that if you have less than perfect grades or if you were unemployed for a period of time it’s best to hide it. This is a mistake. Admission officers will see your transcript and the dates of your employment. It is better for you to offer an explanation for these weaknesses than for them to wonder what happened and assume the worst. Remember that you should provide an explanation, not an excuse.
19. Not having a point. As you are writing your essays, it’s not enough for the essays to be well written and tell a good story. They also need to convey the message that you want the admission officers to know about. In other words, what strengths do they reveal? How do they portray you? What impression do they leave? Try to take a step back to examine the message that you are sharing with the reader through your essay. If you can’t find it then your essay is probably lacking in focus.
20. Weak introspection or analysis. Admission officers don’t just want to know about your actions. They want to get inside of your head to understand your thoughts and motivations. Try to share what you are thinking to give them a better idea of who you are. Admission officers expect to see both self-reflection and analysis in your essays.
21. Skimping on editors. It’s difficult to edit your own essays when you are so close to the material. One of the best ways to improve your work is by having someone else give you feedback. Find business school students or graduates, friends and family members who are strong writers to look at your work. Ask them to point out weaknesses, to check for continuity and to make suggestions on how to strengthen your messages. Their feedback is a necessity to write a successful essay.
22. Losing your voice through the editing process. While it is critical that you get feedback from editors, it is equally important that you use the feedback as a guideline for your writing but that you still retain your own voice. You don’t want your work so heavily edited that it no longer sounds like you. Similarly, if you blindly accept everyone’s suggestions you might end up with an essay written by a committee rather than by you. Editing should enhance your writing not take the place of it.
23. Not proofreading. Almost every admission officer can point to an essay each year in which an applicant writes the wrong school’s name. A little proofreading can go a long way. It’s not enough to use your computer’s spell check. Take the time to read each word of your essays and check grammar, punctuation and spelling. Or if you aren’t skilled in copyediting, find someone who is.
24. Exceeding the word limit. When the business schools ask you for a 500-word essay, you don’t want to give them a five-page paper. Yet, that is what some students do every year. While admissions officers are not going to count every word that you have on the page, they do give word limits for a reason. They have hundreds of essays to read and if each applicant includes a couple hundred extra words that can result in many hours of extra time. If you don’t want to be penalized for not following directions or, worse yet, have an admission officer stop reading in the middle of your essay, stick to the word limit.
25. Not taking some time away from your writing. Like a fine Napa wine, essays take time to develop. Often the best way to improve your essays is to take a break from writing them. So write your essays and then allow yourself some time away. When you return to look at them you’ll have a fresh perspective and will be able to see how you can improve them.
These are the most common essay writing mistakes. Keep these in mind as you write your own masterpiece. Simply by avoiding these mistakes you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary aggravation and you will insure that you have the strongest essay possible.