Two Key Insights for a Stronger MBA Admission Essay

A few years ago, Megan Lynam Overbay, then Director of Admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, revealed some of the challenges her team faced when selecting candidates at the top-tier North Carolina school. Specifically, she confessed on a Fuqua-sponsored blog that her department had been struggling to find satisfactory essay prompts, ones to showcase effectively their candidates’ uniqueness. While grade point averages and GMAT scores provide an objective assessment of an applicant, essays are far more subjective. Overbay states explicitly that, for Duke, the essay serves as a stopgap measure, a piece that “will fill any gaps in the application, tie the application’s story together, and shed light on what truly makes the person who they are—beyond what is stated in the resume, test scores, and transcripts.” This is essay as color commentary. But as Overbay reflects on her time as Director and considers what the Admissions Department was getting for the most part, one senses a trace of disappointment: “Despite our best intentions, it can be difficult to convey what we are seeking through our essay questions, and we sometimes receive submissions that are regurgitations of information found elsewhere in the application, overly manufactured versions of what applicants think we want to hear, or in some cases, plagiarism of content found online.” This is an extraordinary concession for such a person to make, especially if we read between the lines a bit. The implication is that Overbay and her team were failing, failing in too many cases to get meaningful essays from their candidates. As is often the case, bad prompts generate poor (even plagiarized) writing....

Resources For Your Discipline

The first thing you must do if you are looking to improve your writing, even before you start establishing goals, is ask yourself how much time you have to dedicate to the task. And be honest and realistic with yourself. Are you looking to improve your writing just enough so that you can get into the best business school possible with no intentions of working to better yourself after that? Are you looking to improve your writing because your boss has demanded it with threat of punishment? Are you interested in improving your writing over the course of many years because you have ambitions of writing a memoir? In each of the above examples, there is motivation to improve. What each of the above questions attempts to stress is not that writing should be the most enjoyable thing in your life (this is perhaps what some teachers in your past may have stressed); rather, that there is a connection between writing and time. In general, the more time you can commit to writing, the more improvement you will see. This is why quick fix solutions tend not to work. Writing is a skill that takes time to acquire. This is the simple truth. In addition to the practicing and reading that I talked about last time, there are a few things you can do to take an active approach to your writing discipline. The challenge for many of us is that we may be working with gaps in knowledge, or, worse, incorrect information that we picked up somewhere along the way in our education. Combine this with a lack...

Don’t be Lazy!

Business leaders constantly decry the quality of writing in the workplace. Most of the time, comments are directed towards the education system and its failure to produce a young working class who can write competently. The blame game is a nasty one indeed. What I’m interested in here is how we present ourselves formally in writing and more specific, the reason for our mistakes. While the rules of grammar and punctuation may have loosened up over the last century, mistakes still exist. If an error is made in writing, it can often be unclear as to whether the writer is ignorant of the grammar or is just being lazy with respect to its application. To further compound the problem, some writers may have been taught poorly when they were students. Perhaps they were given incorrect examples of what constitutes a participle, for example. They’re neither ignorant nor lazy, then, but there is a problem nevertheless. These writers, if there writing is to prosper, must be willing to unlearn what they have been taught and then learn correctly. This requires considerable effort. The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot afford to be present yourself as a lazy writer, even you are willing to acknowledge that laziness marked your approach to writing at some point in the past. You must start by developing a discipline when addressing the practice, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Chances are you bring discipline to something else in your life: a sport, a musical instrument, exercise, cooking, work. The trick is to begin translating some of this focus to writing. Not...