Make the Most of Your MBA Essays

Essay-writing is a funny thing. Before you dive into your MBA applications, 400 or 500 words can seem like the equivalent of a doorstop-size Russian novel. But once you really get going on your first drafts, you quickly realize just how little space you have to work with.

We’re familiar with the pit that can form in your stomach when you’ve written the perfect essay—but it’s more than three times the word-count limit. How do you decide what stays and what goes?

First, cut out basic information that’s already established on your resume. You don’t need to explain what your firm does or rehash what your specific job responsibilities are or what city you were in at the time.

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Second, look for sections where you might come off like you’re lecturing the reader. The admissions committee doesn’t need a speech about your industry or what your product does or how you think the world should work, they just need to know how you contributed to a specific project or why you want to do what you want to do post-graduation.

They also don’t need to be educated on their own MBA program, so watch out for sentences that read like they were ripped from a school’s website. This is an easy trap to fall into when crafting “Why School X?” responses. Stick to how a certain class or club is relevant to your goals—no need to describe what the class is about. They already know!

Sometimes the story you choose is the word-sucking culprit. For prompts that ask you to describe specific achievements, it’s best to pick an easy-to-explain example that doesn’t take eighty percent of the essay to set up. If you can’t succinctly summarize a situation that you helped to improve, you might want to find another anecdote that will let you spend most of the word count describing your contributions and successful results. Long setups don’t tell them anything about you.

Also be sure to keep this sage writing advice in mind: “show, don’t tell.” If you’ve done a good job of describing a time when you displayed leadership, then there is absolutely no need to add a sentence like this: “I really stepped up in this situation and went above and beyond to lead my team.”

Finally, you might need to bid adieu to descriptive words. As Stephen King said best, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Keep it simple!

If all else fails, take a break. Step away from the essay for a few days, and then revisit it with fresh eyes. You’re likely to find some words or sentences that aren’t critical.

On that note, remember: There is no great writing. Only great rewriting.

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