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[Essay] Essay Help Course

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发表于 2003-8-27 00:07:00 | 显示全部楼层

Essay Help Course

The purpose of this section is to get you acquainted with the task that confronts you. The first step is to understand your audience and what your readers will be expecting. But you should view this knowledge as a groundwork from which to build your own creative composition, not as a set of limiting factors. Once you understand the context of your assignment, you must approach the brainstorming process with a free and open mind. Allow yourself to reflect without the interference of preconceived notions. Create a long and varied list of possible topics, and then narrow that list down using the criteria we give you.

The preparation process is as essential here as it is for any important project. If you don't identify and develop the optimal set of ideas, then no degree of effective structuring or engaging language will make the essay as strong as it could have been.

Keep in mind that the whole process of preparing these essays effectively will be of incalculable benefit to you later on, when your business school interviews take place. Candidates who do a good job with their essays invariably have learned more about how to explain and present themselves and thus typically bring greater confidence and skill to the interview situation.

The Audience

Most applications will be read by at least two people, and then will be seen by two to three more readers depending on whether the case is borderline or clear-cut. The committee can consist of admissions staff, faculty, administrators, alumni, and students. Business school admissions committees have arguably the highest expectations for their applicants' essays because they place so much value on them.

The essays require serious reflection. They play a critical role in placing other parts of the application into context. Among qualified applicants the essays serve the purpose of revealing who is most deserving, most appealing, and the best match for us. - UCLA Graduate School of Management

Frankly, 80 percent of the people who apply to very competitive, top-tier MBA programs can handle the workload. So the question often becomes not "Can the student make it here?" but [rather] "how is the student going to contribute here, how is he going to make us stronger or make an imprint on the classroom and the out-of-classroom experiences?" - and that's what students have to think about a little more when going through this process [of writing their essays]. - The Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania)

Take this advice to the next level: what you have to contribute should be something only you can contribute. Therefore the most important question to ask yourself as you begin the process is this: how can I make myself stand out? The bad news is that you may be dealing with short attention spans and a cursory read. The good news is that many of your competitors will make the mistakes that you will have learned to avoid by reading this guide and using our editing services.

This course will cover many tips and guidelines for themes and ideas for you to explore, but this section will mainly outline two principles of the utmost importance that have to do with writing audience-friendly essays.

First, be concise. Nearly all the admissions officers we interviewed stressed this point, and the reason is obvious. They have too much work on their hands to be spending extra time on your application. Moreover, longwinded writing will not sustain their interest and can potentially hurt your chances. A good essay will make its point within the required space, or stay close to the suggested length.

Some students fail to communicate their message succinctly. This is important because they're trying to communicate a message and extraneous information can dilute or diminish that message. - The Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania)

Second, be interesting. Now there are many factors that will go into making an essay interesting, but at the same time, everyone has a basic idea of what that entails. If you didn't already know about the exciting particulars of your life, would you find the essay, on its own terms, enjoyable to read? Keep in mind that no matter how strong or fascinating your content is, the reader cannot appreciate this if he or she has stopped reading or paying attention.

Tell us your story using interesting and lively essays. Please understand that people, not machines, read the essays. If you had to sift through 15-20 sets of essays every day for six months, what would you want to read? Interesting, lively, occasionally witty stories, right? Us too. - Stanford University, Graduate School of Business

So these are the two principles you must keep in mind when evaluating your results and trying to determine how the audience will respond. If you can be concise and interesting, you will have gone a long way toward winning the reader's sympathy and standing out from your competitors.
 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-27 00:12:00 | 显示全部楼层
Key Attributes

The great challenge of the business school application essays is how to discuss the themes that everyone else will be dealing with in a fresh way. Later sections of this guide will provide you with tips on how to make your essay stand out, but for now we will outline the key qualities and abilities you are expected to demonstrate.

As we will stress throughout, the essay is meant to convey the personal characteristics that the rest of your application cannot communicate. So we will preface our list with a warning about what not to include: anything that is fully covered by another part of the application. For example, do not tell the reader what your GPA was or list the awards that you won. Avoid simply listing your extracurricular activities. If you bring any of these issues up, you should have some significant insight to add that is not evident from another part of your application.


Believe it or not, admissions officers rank sincerity highest in importance, above any quality seemingly more specific to business. They ultimately just want to know about who you are, and in that sense, the best way to sell yourself is to be yourself. Don't focus too heavily on what you think they want to see, at the expense of conveying your own message in your unique way.

What I would love to have people do in preparing their essays is to do a great deal of self-assessment and reflection on their lives and on what's important to them because the most important thing to us is to get a very candid and real sense of the person. I think people do themselves a real disservice if they think too much about what they think Harvard would like to hear or if they think about what might have been successful in the past in being admitted to Harvard. -- Harvard Business School

My advice to the applicant is to be honest in your essays, lay it out, and be as specific as you can, but don't try to second-guess what the admissions committee wants to hear. -- J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Northwestern University)

Sincerity is important to stress because it's hard for most of us to achieve, despite the fact that it seems so simple. The pressures and anxieties of the situation have locked us into a mindset that prevents us from writing honestly. Further, because we are not used to writing about ourselves and being so close to the subject, we cannot assess the sincerity of our own writing. Thousands of students every year will read this same advice, whether in a guidebook or even in the application instructions themselves, and they simply cannot put it into practice. If you can be one of the few who truly understand what it means to be sincere, then you will already have separated yourself from the pack in one crucial way.

You might question how a reader who doesn't know you can judge your statement's sincerity. The basis for judgment usually lies in the context your reader has developed from reading hundreds or thousands of other essays.

Writing Ability

As with sincerity, you must focus on demonstrating solid writing ability before you even start worrying about the specific issues you will tackle.

In general what we're looking for are people who have well thought-out ideas, can express those ideas in an articulate, concise way, and can follow our directions (page limits). -- The Stern School of Business, New York University

We're also interested in how they write. The form of the essays can be important, as well as the content. How applicants handle the English language is important - the ability to articulate their thoughts in a clear and concise way. -- Yale School of Management

The reasons for this emphasis on good writing are evident enough. First is the important role that written communication skills will play throughout your career, in business even more so than in many other professions. Perhaps your strength is in oral communication, but until the interview, the essay is your only chance to demonstrate your communication skills and clarity of thought. Second, a well-written essay makes its points clearly and forcefully, so your content benefits as well.

Good writing means more than the ability to construct grammatical sentences. You also must create a coherent structure and ensure proper flow as the piece progresses. Because the process of developing ideas and putting them down on paper is so intimate and personal, all writers end up needing editors to assess the effectiveness of their product. You should consult people whose writing you respect for advice or even more hands-on help.


Nearly every school has questions about your long-term goals and why you desire an MBA at this stage of your career - often both are contained in a single prompt. Focus is another key attribute that only your essays can demonstrate, because it ultimately comes down to your ideas and plans rather than your past accomplishments. Of course, you should tie your goals in with your background wherever possible, and that's why focus should be a quality that underlies all your essays instead of coming up only in one answer.

We're looking for students who show good self-awareness and a good sense of career awareness. We want students whose motivation for pursuing an MBA is clear, who seem to understand well what the Kellogg program offers, and who make rational arguments about why it's a good match for them. Applicants need to convey strongly why they're going to give up a job and spend the time and money to attend, and they need to be able to address where they're headed post-MBA. -- J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Northwestern University)

I think first and foremost we want to get some sense of the inside of an applicant's head and in particular what it is that is prompting this person to pursue a graduate education in business - what has led them to this point, what they think the MBA will do for them in terms of their educational desires and objectives as well as their career goals. -- The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business

We're really looking for focus, for people who really do have a sense of where they're headed. That's very, very important … People who cannot fully define their short- and long-term goals (although they may not know the specific job) are probably not ready to apply to a business program. We need to know those goals to determine whether the applicants are realistic and whether Columbia is going to be able to help them reach those goals. -- Columbia Business School

As these quotations demonstrate, focus is something you achieve through self-reflection. You should perceive that as good news, because that means it's something you have total control over even at the writing stage, unlike the set of past experiences on which you are able to draw.


Although past accomplishments say a lot about where you're going, they don't tell the whole story. Admissions officers look to the essays to find evidence of spark that reveals what you will have to offer in the long term, as a leader or innovator. They're also looking to determine how you will contribute to the school community. Potential still needs to be closely linked to evidence, and so you cannot expect to succeed without valuable experiences. But how you interpret the evidence in writing can have a significant impact on how your readers judge this very subjective quality.


Your readers will look for evidence of specific personal qualities to evaluate your potential as a student and business leader. There is no single list of useful qualities, and if there were, it would be foolish to try to duplicate that list in essay form. Depth is more important than breadth, and your readers are looking for a coherent picture rather than a list of buzzwords - hence this section's title being "Character" rather than "Characteristics." That said, the following quotation can give you an idea of how to get started in thinking about what characteristics are significant.

We look for [potential for future leadership] in terms of certain personal qualities and characteristics that we care about. I'm referring to things like honesty, integrity, maturity, commitment to others, and motivation - some of the things that you might expect and then also some things maybe not so expected like self-awareness, self-esteem, empathy, willingness to take risks, willingness to deal with ambiguity. These are things that we think have helped our graduates and some other business leaders to be successful. -- Harvard Business School

In preparing to write, you should focus on what characteristics are your greatest strengths and focus on conveying those in a deep and meaningful way. Your readers are much more interested in learning about those than in seeing a longer list dealt with more superficially.

Personal Details

Personal details are the means through which you should convey your character strengths. Always aim for specific, personal statements rather than grand generalizations. Avoid citing characteristics without evidence and examples to back them up. Details are necessary not only to justify claims about your qualities, but also to make your perspective personal and well defined. Without the context that these details provide, your ideas cannot go beyond the generic and the superficial.

[此贴子已经被作者于2003-8-27 10:06:00编辑过]
 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-27 00:23:00 | 显示全部楼层
Common Flaws

Careless Errors

There is really no excuse for careless errors, and having even one on your application can affect the way you are perceived. You have more than enough time to proofread and have others look over your essay. If an error slips through, your readers may assume that you are careless, disorganized, or not serious enough about your application.

Remember that spell check does not catch all possible errors, and even grammar check is far from perfect. In addition to typographical errors such as repeated words, you have to read the essay carefully to catch mistakes in meaning that might come in the form of a grammatically correct sentence.

Let these humorous but unfortunate examples be a lesson to read your essay carefully for unintended meanings and meaningless sentences:

1. It was like getting admitted to an Ivory League school.

2. Berkeley has a reputation of breeding nationalists and communists.

3. I'd like to attend a college where I can expose myself to many diverse people.

4. I was totally free except for the rules.

5. In a word, the experience taught me the importance of dedication, friendship, and goals.

6. I have an extensive knowledge of the value of intelligence.

7. I envy people with a lot of time in their hands.

Vague Generalities

The most egregious generalizations are the ones that have been used so many times that they have become clichés. For example, "I learned the value of hard work." That statement doesn't tell us anything insightful or interesting about the writer's character, because it has been said so many times as to become meaningless.

Generalities come in the same form as clichés, except with different content. They are always superficial and usually unoriginal but haven't quite reached the level of predictability that would make them qualify as clichés. Consider this before-and-after set to learn how to evaluate this factor in your writing:

Before: In the first project I managed, I learned many valuable lessons about the importance of teamwork.

After: In the first project I managed, I made an effort to incorporate all my colleagues as equal members of a team, soliciting their feedback and deferring to their expertise as needed.

Terms like "valuable lessons" and "teamwork" are vague and do not really convey anything meaningful about the applicant's experience. In contrast, the revised version explains the team dynamic in more detail, showing specifically how the applicant exercised teamwork principles. The passage should go on to include even more detail, perhaps by naming a particular colleague and discussing his interaction with that person.

Sounding contrived is a problem related to overly general writing. Applicants often have preconceived notions about what they should be discussing, and they try to force those points onto the experiences they relate. The best way to counteract this tendency is to start with your experiences and let the insights flow from there. Think about your most meaningful experiences and describe them honestly. Often you will find that you don't need to impose conclusions because the personal qualities you're trying to demonstrate will be inherent in the details. If you decide that clarification is necessary, the transition should still be natural.

Summarizing Your Resume

Perhaps the most common personal-statement blunder is to write an expository resume of your background and experience. This is not to say that the schools are not interested in your accomplishments. However, other portions of your application will provide this information, and the reader does not want to read your life story in narrative form. Strive for depth, not breadth. An effective personal statement will focus on one or two specific themes, incidents, or points. Trying to cram too much into your essay will end up in nothing meaningful being conveyed.

One common "mistake" in essays is to narrate one's resume, or life history, without any reflection or evaluation or self-criticism. - Yale School of Management

By narrating your resume, you not only lose an opportunity to bring your experiences to life for the reader, but you also ignore the task of self-evaluation, which is critical to business school admissions, as evidenced by comments quoted throughout this course

Losing Sight of the Big Picture

In the last lesson we emphasized the importance of including details. But as always, quality is paramount: the details you choose should be relevant and insightful. Some applicants will describe their work in boring technical detail without the necessary reflection and analysis.

What I oftentimes see is that people use the essays to focus on lots of things that are extraneous to them, such as their individual work experience; what they do becomes more of a focus than who they are. I am really struggling to get to know the applicants as people and I frankly don't want to hear about the minutiae of their work. I want to hear why they chose to do what they do, why they chose to go to school where they did, what they value about those individual experiences and the impact of these experiences on their development as people. - The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

One of applicants' biggest mistakes is that they don't see the big picture; they only see the small picture so they get involved in minutiae. They get too focused on what they've been doing, detail by detail. They just regurgitate or reiterate what they've been doing without much thought as to where they see themselves going. - The Amos Tuck School (Dartmouth College)


Sometimes the same writer who relies too heavily on generalizations will also provide too many irrelevant details - and in this case we're referring to the truly irrelevant, not just the boring technical points. The problem is that writers often don't consider what is actually necessary to include, or they repeat points freely.

Example of Irrelevant Detail: "After a meeting with my adviser, I returned home to think over the matter more carefully. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that my global interests would best be served by a double major in international relations and business."

In this example, we learn nothing about the applicant from the mention of his meeting with an adviser. What's relevant are his interests and the decision he made based on them. The details about how he arrived at the decision are not illustrative of his character in any way and are therefore superfluous.

Example of Redundancy: "The experience taught me a great deal about
hard work. I learned that hard work requires focus as well as pure effort."

The first sentence is unnecessary, because the second sentence makes the same point with more specificity.

In addition to superfluous content, you also have to watch out for wordy writing. Wordiness not only takes up valuable space, but it also can confuse the important ideas you're trying to convey. Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct and to the point.

Before: "My recognition of the fact that the project was finally over was a deeply satisfying moment that will forever linger in my memory."

After: "Completing the project at last gave me an enduring sense of fulfillment."

Certain phrases such as "the fact that" are usually unnecessary. Notice how the revised version focuses on active verbs rather than forms of "to be" and adverbs and adjectives.

Big Words

Using longer, fancier words does not make you sound more intelligent, since anyone can consult a thesaurus. Simpler language is almost always preferable, as it demonstrates your ability to think and express yourself clearly.

Before: "Although I did a plethora of activities in high school, my assiduous efforts enabled me to succeed."

After: "Although I juggled many activities in high school, I succeeded through persistent work."

[此贴子已经被作者于2003-8-27 10:06:54编辑过]
 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-27 09:42:00 | 显示全部楼层

Some people may want to use the following list as a springboard as they develop their own connections. You can browse the questions below without a specific structure in mind and see what results from that free-association process. On the other hand, some people prefer to have more guidance as they brainstorm, and for those people we have ordered and grouped the questions into a logical structure.

Each subtopic begins with a series of questions and then an explanation of their potential relevance to the big picture. You may find that some of the questions actually appear on your applications, but our purpose now is more to spark ideas than to think about specific essays.

Long- and Short-Term Goals

1. What draws you to business in general?
2.What is your ultimate ambition?
3. What short-term goals will help you to fulfill your long-term vision?
4. Describe what your ideal job position would involve.
5. What industries interest you the most, and why?
6. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
7. How can this academic program help you to reach your goals?
8. What attracts you to this particular school?

We have started with the question of what you hope to be rather than what you are because the former provides a broader context into which everything else should fit. You possess a wide range of skills and qualities, of which some are more relevant and significant than others to your candidacy for business school. Once you clarify your long-term vision (even if you haven't planned as specifically as deciding which companies and what positions, you should at least outline areas of interest), you will be in a better position to recognize how the details fit together.

The questions about your short-term goals and how the school can help you attain them also have additional importance because they may help you assess your current strengths and weaknesses, which will come up again in later categories.

Business is a very goal-oriented field. We saw several admissions officers comment on the importance of focus, and so your answers to these questions are important in themselves as well as in their impact on your thought process for the remaining sections below. You must have a thorough and practical plan, and you must present it convincingly even if you harbor private doubts. Your degree won't be revoked because you later fail to execute your plan. What your readers want to see is that you're mature and clear thinking enough for business school at this stage of your career.

 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-27 09:44:00 | 显示全部楼层

1. What significant challenges have you overcome, in your personal or professional life?

2. Describe accomplishments for which you have been formally recognized. What qualities did you demonstrate in your path to success? What does each accomplishment mean to you personally?

3. Describe accomplishments for which you have not been formally recognized but of which you are particularly proud. Take even more time to reflect on why these have special meaning for you.

4. Discuss an accomplishment in which you exercised leadership. How effective were you in motivating or guiding others? How did people respond to your leadership?

5. What did you learn that you can apply to future experiences?

6. What was an important risk that you took in your personal or professional life? Why did you take this risk? What was the outcome? Would you do it again?

7. Think of a time when you truly helped someone. What did you do? How did this impact the other person? How did your actions impact you?

8. Please give an example of when you exhibited creativity in a personal or professional setting. Describe your thoughts and actions.

9. Reflect on a time in which you failed to accomplish what you set out to do. How did you recover from that failure? How did you respond to your next challenge?

The important point here is that you develop insight into your accomplishments beyond their face value. Your essay should not merely list your most significant successes, nor is it enough to say that you're proud of them. You need to dig deeper to discover what these accomplishments mean to you, what they say about you, and how you learned from them. Also, reflect closely on your path to achievement rather than the result itself.

Significant Activities

1. To what non-work (or non-academic) activity did you give the most time over the past year? Or past several years?

2. What has been your most significant service activity? Your most memorable one-time volunteer opportunity? Your longest regular volunteerism commitment?

3. What has been your most significant cross-cultural experience? Why? How did it change your perspective?

4. Can you identify trends in your commitments? What do they say about your values and abilities?

Again, do not summarize your resume. Don't feel obligated to bring up every activity you've ever done, especially if it has been sufficiently covered elsewhere in the application. Remember that depth is more important than breadth. Your readers want to gain insight into what you care most about, and to see how you've devoted yourself.

Community service and volunteer work can be great ways to demonstrate such characteristics as compassion and civic concern, but you should not force the point if you don't have a significant track record. If you have one important experience, you can write about what that meant to you, but it shouldn't degenerate into a sermon about your moral commitment to helping others.

At the same time, you should not feel obligated to stress community involvement at all if that's not genuinely important to you. A lack of sincerity would likely shine through, and you're better off focusing on activities for which you have a real passion. Your readers want to know about who you are, and not about who you can pretend to be.

 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-27 09:46:00 | 显示全部楼层
Skills and Characteristics

1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

2. How would your friends describe you?

3. What skills are you most proud of?

4. What values are most important to you?

5. Think of a team situation in which you've been involved. What kind of role did you take?  

6. What abilities did you contribute?

7. What skills do you possess that are most relevant to business? How have you applied them to specific situations? How have you continued to hone them?

8. What personal qualities have made you successful in business? How have you demonstrated these qualities in specific situations?

9. Try to come up with unique combinations of your skills and characteristics and consider how these have applied in past experiences or will apply in your future career.

In this section you should begin by thinking broadly. Don't just name skills that you know the schools are looking for, because that will detract from the unique portrait you're trying to paint. Also, you might be surprised about how you can tie a skill from one area of your life into your current goals in business. That's why we also suggested that you come up with different combinations of your skills and characteristics. This exercise will help you to see yourself from different perspectives and recognize all that you have to offer.

Just as listing accomplishments and activities is unfruitful, you won't accomplish anything by simply naming skills. That's why this section has emphasized the question how. How have you demonstrated your skills and characteristics? Where is the evidence? Here again it's important to remember the movement within this brainstorming section from broad to specific. Perhaps you showed a specific ability in activities unrelated to business. The evidence can come from this separate area and still be tied in ultimately to your current situation.

Turning Points

1. When and why did you first become interested in working in business?

2. How has that interest evolved?

3. How did you become interested in the industry or company for which you currently work?

4. Have you changed career paths? What was your motivation?

5. Describe a defining moment in your current career path. What did you realize about your prospective career and about yourself?

6. Who were your early influences?

7. Did you have any strong role models, general or business related?

In your responses to these questions, you may want to draw on answers from previous sections. The purpose of this section is for you to begin synthesizing your previous accomplishments and activities into a coherent argument for your candidacy. Because there won't be room for you to describe every aspect of your involvement in an activity or job, you may choose to relate a particular episode that epitomizes the key points you want to convey.

One issue you must be cautious about is placing too much emphasis on one-time events. In most cases, you will be adding meaning to a scenario retrospectively. Few of us are ever in the situation to make life decisions based on epiphanies. You don't want to attribute too much significance to any one event, because that would detract from your purpose of demonstrating a well-reasoned, serious commitment to your goals in business. Nevertheless, detailing the most meaningful, significant episodes from your background can help ensure that your essay stays concrete and personal.

 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-27 09:48:00 | 显示全部楼层
Topic Selection

After brainstorming, you should have a lengthy list of potential topics to cover. Because questions tend to be very specific, matching a choice from your list of topics to the right essay prompt should be a straightforward process. This section instead discusses ways to evaluate the appropriateness of topics in a general way, ensuring that each one as well as the whole set put you in position to make the best possible impression.

Conveying Something Meaningful

Does your topic convey something meaningful about your personality? Will the reader walk away with an enriched understanding of who you are? If you can't answer "yes" to these questions, then you have probably chosen a topic that's too generic. Search harder to find a subject for which you can take a more personal, original approach.

Painting a Complete Portrait

Even in a series of essays, you can't be so comprehensive as to discuss everything you've ever done, but you can aim to offer a coordinated argument that details the full range of what you have to offer. When dealing with multiple topics, avoid redundancy, and choose topics that will build on and supplement each other. To an extent, the essay questions are themselves designed to solicit a varied set of answers, but when there is flexibility, try to take advantage of that by having a big-picture strategy.

If a question asks for your three most substantial accomplishments, try to choose topics from different realms of your life -- personal, professional, community involvement. At least one should be distinct from the other two in focus.

Standing Out

Is your topic unique? It's hard to have something entirely new to say, but you should at least have a fresh take on your topic. If you recognize a lack of originality in your ideas, try to be more specific and personal. The more specific you get, the less likely that you will blend in with the essays of your competition.

Keeping Your Reader's Interest

Will your topic be able to sustain your reader's interest for the entire length of the essay? It's true that good writing can make any topic fascinating to read about, but there's no need to start yourself off with a handicap. Choose a topic that will naturally be of interest to any reader. For this criterion, it's necessary to step back and view your topic objectively, or else consult the opinion of others. If someone described the basic idea to you, would you care enough to ask for more details?

Staying Grounded in Detail

You should make sure ahead of time that your topic is fundamentally based on concrete evidence. If you're choosing specific experiences or events, then the relevant details should be clearly available. But if your topic is more abstract, then you must be prepared to back up any claims with concrete examples and illustrative details.

What to Avoid

After you've determined that your topic meets the above criteria, you should do a last check that it also avoids the following pitfalls:

1) Resorting to gimmicks. While creativity is encouraged, there must be substance to make your tactics worthwhile. Don't expect mere novelty to win you any points, and realize that you risk coming across as frivolous. Also, there's a good chance that any gimmicks you come up with -- writing a poem, writing in the third person -- have been done already.

2) Focusing on the negative. There is a separate section of this course dealing with how to address negative aspects of your application. But as far as your topic is concerned, the main idea should be focused on your positive attributes. This does not mean, of course, that you shouldn't mention past weaknesses that you have learned to overcome, as the emphasis there is still on the strength you demonstrated.

3) Repeating information that's listed elsewhere on the application. We have already mentioned this point, but it's worth making abundantly clear. Your topic should not merely be a list of activities or synthesis of your resume. Rather, it should offer the kind of insight that only you can provide in a personal manner.

4) Being too controversial. If you get a sympathetic reader, a controversial topic might help you to stand out, but you risk offending others and severely hurting your chances. You would do better to search for a topic that makes you unique without resorting to cheap shots or obvious cries for attention.

5) Seeking pity. You can describe misfortunes or a disadvantaged background, but do not use them as an excuse for bad performances or to seek pity. Doing so not only could sound manipulative, but also means that you haven't emphasized your strengths sufficiently. Thus, as in the case of weaknesses, you should bring up obstacles in your past only to show how you have overcome them.

 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-28 22:04:00 | 显示全部楼层
Essay Structures

Straightforward Questions

Essays that fall under this category require you to discuss a particular number (usually one) of experiences as well as a particular kind. For example, you may discuss an ethical dilemma, a leadership experience, or the three accomplishments of which you are most proud. The reason that structuring these types of essays is less complicated is that you have one clear primary task: to answer the question. You don't have to worry about integrating multiple ideas into a single structure, because the main theme has been provided for you.

Although the task is clear, there are still ways to mishandle it. The following are strategies for ensuring that the structure you choose fulfills its purpose.

1. Make sure the topic is clear from the beginning. Sometimes, for example, people will describe a muddled situation but never clearly define where the ethical dilemma lies. Whenever you're facing a question that specifies a kind of experience, clarify how the situation you've chosen fits that category by the end of the first paragraph. If the reader has to puzzle over exactly what your topic is, that will distract him or her from the heart of your discussion.

2. Allow the story to unfold naturally. For essays in which you focus on a single experience, tell the story on its own terms, before you try to impose retrospective insight. For example, in an essay about leadership, offer the full details of what you did before you attempt to draw conclusions about leadership in general. If you want to tie a point to a specific example, put the idea after the evidence, so the flow within each paragraph is still from specific to general.

3. Cultivate dramatic appeal. Not all stories will have a natural sense of drama, but when the opportunity is there, you should capitalize on it. Set up the situation in the introduction, but don't give away the resolution. In subsequent paragraphs, show the gradual progress you made, but also don't hesitate to mention intermediate failures and obstacles you had to overcome. The effect of all this anticipation will be a more satisfying and impressive conclusion.

4. Consider using headings when discussing multiple experiences. When a question asks for the three accomplishments of which you are most proud, you are not expected to write a single essay integrating three topics. That's why we defined "straightforward questions" as those that define your scope for you. If you have to write about two or three experiences, you can treat each as a self-contained answer. To avoid awkward transitions such as "A second accomplishment that I am proud of…," you can use headings for each one. They shouldn't just be "Accomplishment One," but something more descriptive, such as, "Community Service Involvement."

On the other hand, if you do have a way to integrate your topics, you should not hesitate to do so. As always, a coherent picture has more potential to convey the depth of your character than a fragmented one. The reason we point out that you don't need to integrate your topics is to encourage you to think broadly when choosing them rather than deciding on a set that is easy to package.

[此贴子已经被作者于2003-8-28 22:05:22编辑过]
 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-28 22:14:00 | 显示全部楼层
Complex Questions

Complex questions are those that consist of a series of interrelated questions, and for business school applications, the most popular essay of this type asks why you want to pursue an MBA and what factors influenced your decision. Unfortunately, writing a strong essay is not just a matter of answering all the questions individually. The essay prompt is designed to provoke a coherent response that addresses each question in a way that builds synergy. This section will teach you to identify and develop a strong overarching theme as well as to organize your content in the most effective structure.


The reason we start with themes is the same reason we suggested you start your brainstorming by thinking about your long-term vision. The overarching theme you decide on will inform the manner in which you organize the rest of your content. This theme is analogous to the thesis of an academic essay, though it's often less explicitly stated.

Finding an overarching theme is essential whenever you have an essay that incorporates more than a single idea or experience, unlike the straightforward essays discussed in the previous section. When we use the term "theme," we mean something that usually has multiple layers. A strong essay that answers the "why MBA" question will never boil down to a statement as simple as the following: "My reason for pursuing an MBA is X." That kind of theme would invite a repetitive structure that merely includes a series of paragraphs offering evidence for a single point. Instead, your theme should introduce complexities, as in the following: "While Experience A inspired my commitment to Field B, my efforts to reach Objective C will require an MBA education, through which I will gain Skill Set D." By asking about your long-term goals and past experiences, the schools are guiding you toward developing this kind of encompassing thematic statement.

There are essentially two ways to set forth your theme. The first is to bring it up in the introduction, usually at the end of the first paragraph. At this stage, since you haven't explored your concrete evidence, the theme should subtly indicate the direction the essay will take rather than try to tell the whole story.

The second approach is to ensure a strong flow between paragraphs, connecting each point with previous ones so the underlying theme gradually emerges. Then the conclusion wraps these individual themes together and includes some kind of encapsulation of the material that preceded it. Below we will use examples to illustrate these two tactics.

The Upfront Approach

The theme of this essay comes down to the following: "Yet the more I learn about the business sector, the more the uncharted territories in the Chinese market enchant me, especially when they involve economic globalization and Internet fever. Understanding and guiding these economic trends in China is my number one motivation for pursuing an MBA in the United States." Later in this first paragraph, the applicant defines her short- and long-term goals more specifically, but by offering the digested version first, she gives the reader a clear idea of where she's headed. The first half of the essay goes on to explore her interest in China's economy in further depth. The essay then flows naturally to the personal aspect: how the Columbia program will help her to take a leading role in "understanding and guiding these economic trends."

This applicant writes a succinct two-sentence introduction that spells out his theme: "This past year, intensive exposure to the telecommunications and Internet industries has allowed me to refine my career goal of launching my own high-tech company in Brazil, which will create jobs and help people become self-sufficient. Harvard's mission perfectly matches these objectives, and its MBA program will assist me by developing my management capabilities and nurturing my interpersonal relationships within the business world." Again, even without knowing what questions he's answering, we can make educated guesses based on the ideas he has seamlessly integrated. Essentially we see how past has influenced future in the first sentence, and we see how the MBA program will provide a bridge in the second sentence.

The Gradual Approach

This applicant uses the first two paragraphs to introduce the reader to the sector in which he hopes to work. You'll notice that the essay actually unfolds similarly to the order of the individual questions from the prompt: from his background, to his current position, to his career goals, and to his decision to pursue an MBA. But the essay would flow regardless of the question order because there is an underlying progression of ideas as each paragraph builds on the previous ones. The final overarching theme then becomes explicit in the three-sentence conclusion. It's even more complex than the previous examples because it comes at the end, and the evidence is already on the table. Nevertheless, it's essential to synthesize the individual points you have been making, because the synthesis shows how everything fits together.

Identifying a theme for these complex questions is a relatively natural process, because you know what issues you have to address. The challenge is articulating in a coherent manner the relationships between your experience and goals and your purpose in pursuing an MBA.


Because you're answering a set of multiple questions, there are limits to the ways in which you can structure your response. Ultimately, you will either arrange your response as the questions are ordered, or you will not. Below we offer strategies for making the most of both approaches.

Point by Point

The most obvious way to organize your points is to align them with the order of the questions asked. The advantage of this approach is that the underlying outline will be natural to the readers because the schools are so familiar with their own essay prompts. What you must be careful to avoid is simply jumping around from answer to answer. Also, do not recycle the language of the prompt, with all your transitions looking like the following: "My background is…," "My short-term goal is…," "In the long term I plan…"

This essay, quoted above under the Gradual Approach subsection, demonstrates how an essay can follow the order of the questions in a way that appears natural rather than forced. The writer is careful to write transitions that are focused on his own content rather than obviously circumscribed by the language and structure of the essay prompt.

Hierarchy of Evidence

The main argument against using the straightforward point-by-point approach is that it prevents you from constructing your case in the way that you think is best. For example, you might not have a great deal to say about the first question, but your response to the final question may be a point that helps you to stand out. Because your reader will be reading quickly and looking for the main points, it's often a good idea to start with your strongest evidence. You may even highlight your most interesting experience right in the introduction.

This applicant faced the following question: "Please discuss your post-MBA short-term and long-term goals. How will your professional experiences, when combined with an MBA degree, allow you to achieve these goals?" Her organization was roughly as follows: long-term goals, past experiences, short-term goals, with her reasons for seeking an MBA interspersed throughout. Clearly her interest in Taiwan (long-term goal) is a factor that distinguishes her, while her short-term goal of obtaining a corporate finance position is more typical. The latter is still an essential point to make, because it shows that she has thought through her career path, but she is right to open with a more original idea.

How should you identify your optimal structure? Rarely will your short-term goal be your most interesting point, since it's usually a means to an end. It can fit in after your long-term goal or your past experiences or both. Your main decision will be whether to open with a description of your most impressive accomplishment or of the unique and innovative vision you have for your future.
 楼主| 发表于 2003-8-30 22:26:00 | 显示全部楼层
Question-Specific Strategies

Why MBA?

Nearly all applications will feature a question that asks about your reasons for wanting to obtain an MBA at this stage of your career. Some will explicitly ask you to tie these reasons into your background and your goals. Even for schools that don't offer this specific direction, you should plan on such a discussion of past and future, as it provides essential context.

"Why MBA?" is often the first question asked and without a doubt the most important essay you will write. It includes essential information about whether you're qualified, whether you're prepared, and where you're headed. The other essays fill in details about these fundamental points, but a strong answer about, for example, how you overcame a failure will not revive a candidacy that failed based on a lack of career focus.

Every answer should contain the following elements, unless the application has separate questions addressing them individually:

1. Your long- and short-term goals.
2. Your relevant past experience.
3. An assessment of your strengths and the gaps in your experience/education.
4. How an MBA program will bridge your past and future and fill in those gaps.
5. Why this particular MBA program is a good match for your needs.

Occasionally there will be overlap with other answers, and you will have to use your judgment on the extent to which you should reiterate important ideas. For example, some schools will ask about your goals in separate questions. In that case, the bulk of your discussion should fall under the goals question, but you will have to bring over key points from that answer to establish context for your reasons for obtaining an MBA.

There are no groundbreaking reasons for pursuing an MBA. This is not a place to aim for bold originality. Rather, you should focus on articulating detailed reasons that are specific to your situation. Moreover, there is plenty of room to distinguish yourself when discussing past experience and future goals; it's just the reasons themselves that come from a more limited set. That said, you should not try to drop buzzwords for their own sake. Make sure you tie your specific objectives to other aspects of your application.

This applicant details a unique background in environmental science and a focused interest in becoming an entrepreneur within this field. Thus he paints a clear picture of past and future before making the following transition: "In order to accomplish this goal, however, I must deepen my knowledge of the field. Despite my experience, I still lack some important knowledge and management skills, especially in finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship. I am also aware that my knowledge of American environmental issues is insufficient. Since dealing with aspects of international business will be an integral part of my job as an entrepreneur, it is essential that I fill in these gaps." Only after he has established sufficient context about his personal situation does he attempt to assert his reasons for pursuing an MBA. This approach ensures that you're not simply stating the obvious, generic reasons without personal insight.

Note that the writer goes on to add depth to his reasons by focusing on entrepreneurship, the area that encompasses his main interests. Finally, note that he cites specific programs that show he has researched the school carefully and can identify unique aspects that fit his objectives.

This applicant begins with an extensive discussion of Brazil's political situation and a specific industry, before going on to describe the background that makes him qualified to pursue his vision. Thus, in contrast to the previous applicant, he discusses goals prior to history. Either approach can work effectively; your best bet would be to start with and highlight what makes you unique, whether it's a vision you have or a past accomplishment. After that, the important thing is to ensure that everything is coherently focused.

Note that this applicant also places his reasons for pursuing an MBA at the end. He does, however, include the following in the fourth paragraph: "Through Columbia's MBA program, I plan to further build on this foundation by leveraging the experience in engineering and international management I have accumulated both in Brazil and in the United States." This kind of statement can be helpful to remind the reader of where you're headed. Some writers will even articulate their basic reasons in the introduction, but the full discussion is best reserved for after you have established full context.
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