Set Yourself Apart with a Compelling Medical School Personal Statement

     The medical school personal statement presents a critical opportunity for you to bring your voice to the admissions committee and provide them with deeper insight into how your most meaningful experiences have inspired your commitment to the study of medicine. Part memoir and part strategic communication, the brainstorming and drafting aspects of the personal statement process can be as personally fulfilling as they are productive. We can’t wait to help you get started.

Brainstorming

·       Start with a white board or a blank notepad and think about your key experiences to date. Don’t limit yourself to strictly “medically related” experiences. Consider all those parts of your life that have been formative to your personality and development -- college courses, meaningful conversations with professors or mentors, sports, clubs, books or research are all great topics at this juncture. Write them down including any details that may eventually bring complexity, sophistication, and nuance to your story.

·       In looking at your list, highlight your top two or three formative experiences. Keep in mind that, ideally, these experiences should be both recent and unique. You want to demonstrate maturity as you elaborate on your decision to apply to medical school. While a childhood dream is sweet, the perspective you’ve gained as an adult is far more meaningful to the admissions committee.

·       Finally, write down your personal mission statement. Why are you interested in pursuing medical school? What draws you to this career? Make this as specific as possible and avoid clichés. Ask yourself, is it clear from my mission statement how medical school, rather than another graduate program is necessary for me to achieve my goal?  

Organize and write

·       Think through the best structure for organizing your formative experiences and future goals and create an outline. In looking through your most formative experiences, what are the common threads? Are there qualities that clearly come across in each of the stories? How are these linked to your future as a medical school student? Once you go through this exercise, it will be easier to identify the key themes and stories you will use to ‘anchor’ the narrative. You want to be sure to keep your statement cohesive and focused throughout.

·       Create the first draft by filling in your outline, which will entail showing the reader through specific anecdote and story why you want to go to medical school as well the skills and traits you possess that will allow you to succeed there. Remember, you want to avoid making general statements and claims about your skills and abilities. Don’t tell them, show them.

Read, revise, step-away and repeat

·       Read your personal statement aloud. How does it sound? Where did you find yourself stumbling on the words? Smooth those sections out so they read clearly. Give yourself a break, and then follow this practice again. We also suggest seeking out seasoned editors who can review your work.  

·       Does your statement present the best version of you? Is “your voice” present? Would a reader be able to pick up on the fact that you’re intellectually curious…a critical and creative thinker…an individual who can thrive in collaborative environments and meaningfully connect and empathize with those around you, who can think under pressure, who has an ability and eventual desire to innovate and lead in an ever-evolving field? If not, refine your personal stories to shine light on at least some of those aspects of your personality that will be relevant to medical school.

Clean up and finalize

·       Do a final review of your essay for grammatical or spelling errors.

·       For AMCAS submissions, you are given only 5300 characters (including spaces) to tell your story. Be aware of this restriction as you embark on the editing process.

Unconventional Applicants to MBA Programs Must Consider Abilities in Innovation, Leadership, and Teamwork

To be tardy to Professor Barton Hamilton’s Managerial Economics class at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis means you will be serenading your fellow classmates with song.  One could choose as simple a tune as ‘Happy Birthday’ or, for alumni David Logan, former tenor at the Des Moines Metro Opera, ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s Turandot, may be the more compelling crowd-pleaser.   

While unlikely Logan encountered stage fright if ever a few moments late to Hamilton’s class, students from seemingly unconventional backgrounds seeking their MBA’s, like Logan, often face uncertainty when trying to set themselves apart in the MBA application process. Business schools pride themselves on building diverse classes with students coming from a wide array of industries and educational backgrounds, but exactly how should the musician, teacher, graphic designer, and architect translate their experiences and abilities for admissions committees that employ a specific set of criteria when gauging prospective students’ potential? The key is to consider one’s ability to innovate, to lead, and to learn from and inspire fellow teammates.

Innovation: When considering your ability to innovate, think about meaningful, post-baccalaureate professional experiences when you employed critical thinking to introduce change, to develop imaginative solutions, and/or to evaluate risk. You don’t have to be a patent holder, tech entrepreneur, or engineer to capitalize on your ability to innovate in your business school application.  You could have done something as simple as made small, yet impactful improvements to a project management tool or have taken a novel approach in prospecting new clients.  Just be sure to show admissions committees your potential through story, rather than relying on claims of your success.  Specific anecdotes are always far more memorable than general statements about your beliefs or achievements.  

Leadership: Don’t worry if you haven’t yet managed a team on a regular basis.  When it comes to articulating your leadership potential, think about meaningful projects when you exercised a leadership role, which can show the reader your abilities in a convincing and memorable way.  What were the group dynamics?  What about the successes, failures, and lessons learned from the project? Can you think about a specific example when you demonstrated initiative?  What caused you to initiate certain actions and what were the results? What about a time that you provided feedback and a positive outcome resulted? 

Teamwork: Long before you take your first course, the student affairs team at the business school you choose will be dissecting your next incoming class in order to construct small study groups of four or five students who ideally will complement one another’s strengths, skill-sets, and experiences. Once you matriculate, you will have no choice, but to spend many sleepless nights with this group completing core curriculum projects. As your ability to thrive in a team setting is vital, both in business school and beyond, it is important to think about meaningful experiences you can incorporate into your application, which will show the reader a time when you translated a strategy into action for your team, encountered a significant obstacle in getting people to take action, or did something unexpected to build trust among team members. 

On the day Logan did rush into class a few moments too late, unsuspecting classmates experienced one of the greatest joys of business school: observing and learning from one another’s unique gifts in an environment committed to creative thinking and camaraderie.

Top Ten Things To Consider When Applying To An EMBA Program Part II: The Interview, Work Experience, and Essays

Executive MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are trying to find leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete. They are striving to build a class comprised of students with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

So, what does this mean for your application?  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.

Interview

 The interview is arguably one of the most important parts of the business school application.  Not only must you look an admissions officer in the eye to discuss the contents of the paper application you’ve been refining for months, but you must also convince them of your strong communication abilities and the value you will bring into the classroom. 

--Prepare:

·      Go through commonly asked interview questions and practice your responses.  Taking it a step further by setting up mock interviews with admissions consultants or colleagues is also helpful.  A mock interview can stimulate the real thing because you will be forced to think on your feet and respond under pressure.

·      Most likely, one of the first questions is going to be open-ended.  Develop a three-minute elevator pitch that describes your background, strengths and professional story that doesn’t ‘read’ your resume.  

--Handle Weaknesses and Failures Effectively:

·      When discussing weaknesses, be honest and focus on skills instead of personality traits.  This is crucial as personality traits are usually considered permanent, while skills can be refined and improved.  

·      Questions regarding failure can be unpleasant, but they are inevitable.  The key is to emphasize what you learned from the failure and how you have become a more insightful leader because of these lessons.

--Be Precise:

·      Be specific about why business school is the perfect intersection of where you have been and where you want to go.  It is absolutely vital to be precise, not only when responding to questions regarding your short and long-term career goals, but also when responding to questions regarding the specific program to which you are applying.  Do extensive research by talking to students and members of the faculty.  Visit the school, sit-in on classes and, on interview day, come with questions that show your high level of interest in the program.

·      When asked questions about specific instances when you made an impact, it is important to give context by explaining the situation.  Then, you will be able to discuss the actions you took, which led to the end result.  Think of these responses as a three-step process – Situation, Action, Result.  

Work Experience and Scope of Professional Responsibilities

The quality and quantity of an applicant’s work experience is key when determining top management potential, so a polished resume is an absolute must.  Incoming EMBA students have an average of 13 years of post-baccalaureate work experience, with an average of 8 in a management role.

--Construct a powerful, yet precise resume:

·      Provide hard numbers that exhibit the results you’ve achieved and the impact you’ve made.  Don’t rely on a job description to communicate the value you’ve created, especially in the areas of leadership, innovation and teamwork.

·      Show your progression in responsibility and ensure your career goals are achievable in light of your background.  Emphasize the experiences that are in-line with your career goals and de-emphasize those that are not.

·      Business schools want diversity in work experience.  Don’t get discouraged if you are in the non-profit or creative sectors.  Just be sure to exhibit, from past experiences, your leadership skills and business potential.

Essays:

Another application staple, the essays, are often cited by admissions directors to be the most important part of the application.  They play a critical role in painting a picture of your potential by telling your personal and professional story and setting the stage for the other application components.  A well-written essay examines the value you can bring in terms of leadership, innovation and teamwork, your fit with a particular program, and how you stand out overall.

--Show, don’t tell:

One of the most important things to remember, when composing your essays, is the importance of specifics when painting a compelling picture for the reader.  Show the reader your leadership and innovation potential by describing, in depth, a situation, where they can see for themselves.  Your description should be thorough enough that you won’t have to state the obvious.  

--Don’t be afraid to discuss failure: 

Failure and weaknesses make for compelling applicants because it communicates sincerity and shows the admissions committee how you learn from your mistakes.  It is also a good idea to connect your development opportunities with the schools strengths.  How can the program you are applying to help you refine these particular areas of weakness?             

The application process may seem daunting, but the rigorous admissions standards applied will lead to an unparalleled EMBA experience, a classroom where each seat is taken by a talented leader who is more than merely a test score and a transcript.

What’s In It For Them?

When Evaluating MBA Program Formats, Take A Closer Look at the Incentives Driving Business Schools

At that last information session you attended, the Associate Director of Admissions gave an impressive presentation and sold you on the idea of pursuing your MBA part-time.  Not only would you be able to keep your job to attend classes at night, at the end of three years, you would also have a newly minted degree along with additional years of full-time work experience and maybe even another promotion.  As the seemingly endless possibilities raced through your mind, the presenter also claimed you would get the same quality of education as the full-timers complete with the same professors and career placement opportunities.  A part-time MBA seemed like the obvious choice.

The advantage you may gain by continuing on a steady career trajectory while also working towards an MBA, may be worth more than you could have ever imagined. However, before you make the final decision on whether or not to pursue a full-time, part-time, or executive MBA, you must evaluate the real advantages and disadvantages of each format.  Start by looking at the incentives driving business schools.

The Full-Time MBA and Rankings:

Full-time MBA programs in the U.S. are driven by rankings.  Business schools are incentivized to do everything they can to land the top slots in the Business Week and U.S. News and World Report rankings, which are released annually in March and November.  Rankings systems that evaluate full time programs have the most time intensive methodologies that incorporate a number of quantitative factors, so schools have a lot to be accountable for.   Factors including the average GMAT score, GPA of incoming classes, student evaluations of the school, and the percentage of graduates employed within three months of graduation are evaluated.  So what does this mean for you as a prospective applicant to a full-time program?  It means that because business schools devote a lot of time and attention to upholding competitive admissions standards along with a highly qualified career placement staff, you will be entering a full-time class that is far more diverse and competitive than its part-time or executive counterparts.  Your full-time experience will also be complete with a plethora of resources devoted to helping you find an internship and job post-MBA.  Applicants who apply to full-time programs come from all around the world and those who are accepted meet stringent admissions standards that require competitive GMAT scores and GPAs, an impressive professional track record and an ability to set themselves apart and articulate their short and long term goals throughout their essays and interviews.  As a full-time admit, you may also qualify for generous merit-based scholarships, that is if the schools want you and believe you will contribute favorably to their class and rankings placement. 

The Part-Time/Executive MBA Programs and Revenue:

Merit based scholarships are not available in part-time or executive programs.  This is because part-time and executive MBA programs are huge revenue-generators, rather than rankings generators, for the schools.  Admissions directors are incentivized to fill their classes even if it means compromising the same admissions standards applied to their full-time applicants and/or painting a rosier picture to prospective students regarding the similarities between the full-time and part-time experience.  It is important to note that part-time and executive rankings are based on subjective data, so admissions statistics don’t play an important role.  When it comes to part-time and executive admissions standards, it is also important to note that the bar is set lower simply because part-time and executive applicants are a fairly self-selecting group.  They are typically only those who are living and working in the city where the MBA program is based (there are some exceptions for EMBA programs).  So what does this mean for you as a prospective applicant to a part-time or executive program?  It means admissions will be less competitive, but you will still be able to get a degree from a prestigious business school, one you may not have been granted access to if you applied to their full-time program; You will have a less diverse class with far fewer international classmates than if you were to enroll in the full-time program; You won’t qualify for any scholarships, but you won’t forgo the opportunity cost of quitting your job for two years; In their sales pitch, schools may say you will be taught by the same faculty members as the full-time program, but usually this isn’t entirely the case; Schools may also say you will have access to the same career placement resources, but this is usually never the case.  You may not even need career placement assistance, especially if you just want to progress at your current company.  However, if you want to switch careers entirely, a full-time program will be a better bet for you.

Just like the contrasting rankings methodologies employed for full-time and part-time programs, the differences between the two MBA formats are stark.  Don’t let any sales pitch convince you otherwise.  Take the time to get the right information to help you make the best decision for your future.

When Deciding Where To Apply to Med School, Look Behind The Numbers

Learn Interesting Trends in the Medical Community. Consider Your Goals.

When deciding where to apply to medical school, there are numerous things to evaluate.  You will want to look at everything from admit statistics and geography to teaching style and grading systems.  But, what about your short and long term goals?  How important are they when it comes to choosing a medical school?  While it is far too early to get your heart set on a specific specialty, you may want to start thinking broadly about what you want to do long-term.  Are you set on primary care, interested in surgery, or committed to having a career in research?  Assessing your interests now is significant because, for instance, you won’t want to go to a school with a research requirement if you’re not interested in doing any. 

It is also important to dig deep and look behind the numbers schools report, so you know exactly what’s going on out there.  This is especially important when it comes to primary care.  If you’re interested in primary care, it is easy to just peruse the US News & World Report’s Primary Care Rankings and begin formulating a list of schools to which you could apply. However, the percentages of students going into primary care, that these schools report, are often aspirational to say the least.  Schools, such as the University of North Carolina, ranked 1st in the US News & World Report Primary Care Rankings, are finding that more than half of those who claim primary care actually end up specializing in something else. 

“About 10 years ago, our legislature passed a bill saying medical schools have to put 50 percent of people into primary care,” said Robert Gwyther, M.D. who advises students at UNC-Chapel Hill. “They count internal medicine and pediatrics and obstetrics as primary care, and it’s still a challenge for UNC to get the 50 percent.”

“And we know that 95 percent of the interns will end up practicing in a specialty,” he said.

Schools like UNC continue to combat primary care’s shortage of physicians, but it has proven to be a difficult task.  When Duke University School of Medicine experimented with what the school calls a “primary care leadership track,” several years ago, only three students out of Duke’s 102 graduates chose family-medicine residencies.  More recently, the Frank N. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, opened with a very specific mission: mint new doctors who want to go into primary care practice.  Bruce Koeppen, Quinnipiac’s Dean, says it’s important to admit the right students to the program, so he will interview 400 applicants for 60 spots.  He will be looking more closely at women, individuals coming to medicine as a second career, those who are first in their families to go to college and students who have come from medically underserved areas, as these are the individuals more likely to go into primary care. 

Time will tell whether or not Quinnipiac will succeed.  And time will tell whether you decide to pursue primary care, a highly sought-after specialty or a career in research.  In the meantime, arm yourself with knowledge, look behind the numbers and start to formulate a vision for your future.  It will make the process of choosing where to attend medical school that much more meaningful.

Yield Protection: Know What You’re Up Against and Use It To Your Advantage

Colleges and graduate programs will do whatever it takes to protect their yield and won’t spare any expense.  Admit weekends will wine and dine prospective students with dinners at faculty clubs, organized social events and panel presentations featuring the school’s best and brightest alumni, faculty and current students.  Admissions departments will send gifts to admitted students and, in some cases, like that at a women’s college in Decatur, Georgia, school officials may even mail out a booklet containing scented pages to prospective students.  Admits of Agnes Scott College could smell pine while viewing a photograph of campus trees and a few pages later, got a whiff of freshly mowed grass while looking at an aerial shot of the Quad. 

Admissions directors and marketing managers will jump through all kinds of hoops to ensure admitted applicants matriculate as students in the next class.  But, why?  What are their incentives?  As long as programs get a full class eventually, why should it matter?  The answer is that it all comes down to rankings, as a school’s yield percentage is a significant player in the race for the top slots.     

Besides these obvious activities to woo admits, schools are also guilty of manipulating the admissions process, a practice commonly referred to as ‘yield protection.’  Some programs will waitlist average applicants so admissions directors can see who is interested enough to fight their way in.  Other programs will waitlist higher than average applicants if they believe these applicants would receive interview and admissions offers at more elite institutions.

As an applicant, instead of getting frustrated by these practices, use them to your advantage in the application process.  Whether you are applying to college, medical, law or business school, or other graduate programs within the arts and sciences, don’t forget the following tips:

Make Absolutely Sure Admissions Directors at Your Top Choices Know Their Program Is Your First Choice: Attend forums and recruiting events where you can introduce yourself to deans and admissions directors and reiterate how excited you would be if admitted to their institution. 

Put It In Writing: After events, send hand-written thank you notes to everyone you spoke with and, of course, drop in a line about your strong desire to attend if admitted.

Be Proactive: Don’t just attend scheduled events.  Arrange school visits through the admissions office and set up one-on-one appointments with various faculty members, deans, admissions directors and current students.  This not only shows your strong interest in their school, but this will also benefit you during the interview when you will be able to speak in-depth about the school’s offerings.

If You Are Waitlisted, Take Action: Visit the school if you haven’t already, send a letter with updates on your candidacy with a particular emphasis on how well you would fit in at your first choice school, send an additional recommendation letter and keep communication open.  You may think it could be annoying, but occasionally following up with admissions committees is a good way to reiterate interest and keep at the top of their minds.   

During a time of manipulative yield protection activities and marketing tactics that include scented brochures, you must arm yourself with the knowledge of this game and use it to your advantage.  In a few years, when you are studying on the quad of the reach school where you were initially waitlisted, the smell of that freshly mowed grass will be that much sweeter.

In Medical School Admissions, Assessing Your Ability To Compete In The Classroom Is Just The Beginning

Since its last major overhaul in 1992, the MCAT has included four sections meant to examine a test taker’s ability in verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences and writing.  After completing the multiple-choice questions and composing writing samples, medical school applicants hope for the best.  They know that, while this isn’t the only piece of the application puzzle, if they perform well, they are much more likely to be admitted to medical school.  They also assume that a high score means they will do well in the various classroom and clinical challenges awaiting them.  After further examination, however, medical educators and physicians have realized the current MCAT isn’t enough.   They believe that critical evaluative factors, currently left out, will be a much better predictor of a test taker’s effectiveness as a future physician.  As a result, new sections in the 2015 MCAT will stress the psychological and social dimensions of medicine as medical schools want more well-rounded applicants from a variety of backgrounds. 

And the MCAT is not all.  In an age when residency programs have been urged to pay closer attention to resident competencies in interpersonal communication and professional behavior, it is no surprise that medical school admissions committees are looking more closely at these qualities as well. “Future professionals need to have clinical skills and they need the science,” said Andy Ellner, co-director of the Harvard Center for Primary Care. “But they also need to understand organizations, how to work in teams, be leaders, manage people. They need to think about complex systems and make them work more effectively.”  

But how do you best express clinical intuition, communication skills and bedside manner in the personal statement, meaningful experiences, supplemental essays and interviews? Crucial to consider, your soft skills and how you present them could mean the difference between an acceptance letter and a denial notice.

Be Specific: Think back to some of those unforgettable moments you had in your undergraduate studies.  Why were they so memorable?  Was there a time you will always remember that put you on the path to pursue medicine?  As long as you are not applying to medical school just to please your parents, you are sure to have a compelling collection of memories you can mold into words.  Brainstorming is the first step and there are not limits at this stage.  Take the time to recall all the details.  You will soon see that the details of a situation and the descriptive insights you developed as a result is what is going to allow the admissions director to get to know the person behind file #38461.  Use colors, emotions, smells and reactions to bring the reader in, right at the moment you learned some of the most important lessons of your life.  

Failures and Weaknesses are OK to discuss: It is in times of failure you learn the most, so don’t be afraid to discuss weaknesses or failures in the application.  Admissions directors really want compelling applicants, rather than perfect ones and, most of all, they want to see that you are human and self-reflective.  The important thing to remember when handling weaknesses or failures is that it is a four-step process.  First, discuss the failure or weakness.  Second, address the result of that failure, ideally a particular scenario in which you can provide specifics.  Third, talk about steps you are taking to improve and finally, talk about the results of your improvement action plan.  What are the positives that have resulted from your ability to recognize a weakness and work towards a better solution? 

Intellectually Curious:  Most likely, at this stage of your medical education, you have not achieved grand things on the research bench or saved many lives in the developing world.  And that’s ok.  What’s important are your insights about what you observe, your intellectual curiosity and your willingness to get involved and learn as much as you possibly can, even if it means unpleasant circumstances or difficult patients. In every research endeavor or clinical experience, take notes.  What questions do you have at this moment?  Why did shadowing that particular physician have an impact on you?  What about this research process leaves you bewildered?  Why?  It will be much easier to compose entries demonstrating intellectual curiosity if you can refer back to the specifics of what you were curious about.

Go Beyond Your Research and Clinical Experiences, But Remember What They’re Looking For:  While clinical and research experiences are certainly important to discuss in your application, don’t limit yourself.  Just remember the qualities admissions directors are looking for, transferrable skill-sets that will be applicable when you are a resident and practicing physician.  For example, there are probably numerous ways to discuss your ability to emotionally connect with and influence others in your various teaching, community service and employment experiences.  Through these kinds of examples, you will also be able to show you are a well-rounded student who has been able to expand her perspective in a variety of areas.    

Social Media: You may assume your first impression to an admissions officer will be contained entirely in the memorable and polished application package you’ve been refining for months.  However, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, this just isn’t the case. Therefore, it is important to be cautious, not only about the material you post online through social networking sites, but also about the information posted about you or others with the same name. A profile that lacks solid judgment may be looked down upon and create a disadvantage for you in the medical school application process. However, a well-written profile highlighting personal and professional achievements could help you stand out from the crowd.

If attending physicians are looking for more from their residents and patients are looking for more from their doctors, experts have decided that one of the first places to go, for a possible solution, is medical school admissions.  Applicants have always been more than test score and a transcript but now, more than ever, an applicant’s interpersonal ability and professionalism are moving closer to center stage.

Be Aware Of Biases, Strengthen Your Candidacy

At the top graduate programs, creating an inclusive and diverse student community ranks highly among other key strategic initiatives.  To achieve their short- and long-term diversity goals, Universities host events ranging from diversity weekends and leadership panels to professional networking events and women’s breakfast forums.  But, are there barriers to a truly diverse applicant pool the schools are missing?  What about the initial contact a prospective applicant has with a program?   

In a Wharton study by Katherine Milkman, to explore the treatment of prospective applicants to doctoral programs, researchers found that professors were significantly less likely to be responsive to communication from women or minority applicants -- and the level of unresponsiveness was greater within academic disciplines that tend to pay more, and at private institutions, where faculty salaries are higher on average.

The study also found that if women or minorities are not given the same level of encouragement -- or the same ability to access "insider" information -- as their white male colleagues, they may be discouraged from even trying to pursue a particular opportunity, or they may start the application process at such a disadvantage that there is no chance of catching up.

Unfortunately, as this study illustrates, strong biases still exist within higher education, but instead of getting discouraged, take action.  Start by paying close attention to how you are marketing your candidacy and fit to a particular program.  Even in that initial contact, you must realize that you are in a fish bowl, being watched and evaluated by faculty, alumni, current students and staff.  In each and every email communication, attach a polished CV that shows you are a strong and competitive candidate; After any face-to-face or phone meeting, when someone has given up their time to speak with you, send a hand-written thank you note; Ask good questions that show you are serious and well-informed about the program’s offerings.  Don’t just regurgitate information easily found on the program’s website.  Dig deep into the intricacies of the program to research specific classes and recent studies done by professors.  After some initial contact, attend all the prospective student events you can, and make a list of those influential admissions directors or faculty members you would like to meet.  Securing a spot in a top program is highly competitive, so any step you can take to stand out is crucial. 

In her study, Milkman also found that minority students got a better response from minorities of their race.  “If someone in that department shares your identity, they are more likely to be an advocate or willing to help you and less likely to discriminate," she says.

 Diversity initiatives are likely to be key priorities in higher education for many years to come, and schools clearly have more work to do.  In the meantime, it is up to you, as an applicant and prospective student, to be aware of biases so you can strengthen your candidacy.

…And One More Thing, Don’t Forget to Schedule your Interview in the Morning

The behavioral interview is not without its faults.  In a brief span of approximately 45 minutes, interviewers form stereotypes concerning the characteristics required for success in the academic program or job, they tend to give negative information more weight and they make key decisions within the first few minutes, using the remainder of the interview to validate their original decision.

Despite the faults of this popular evaluative tool, most graduate business programs and medical schools require interviews for anyone they admit.  And they are becoming increasingly important.  Admissions directors agree that while an applicant can look perfect on paper, if they can’t perform well in an interview, chances are they will have a hard time securing a job post MBA or connecting with patients and attending physicians in residency.  They may also have a hard time fitting in as a student in a particular program.  Once an applicant secures an interview, many admissions directors agree, it is the most important piece of the puzzle. 

When preparing clients for their interviews, there are long lists of tips we discuss.  I advise them to create their own agenda, as there will certainly be differentiating points the interviewer won’t ask about; I encourage them to ask strong questions at the end of the interview, which not only show an in-depth knowledge of the program, but also a genuine curiosity; and I review with them specific past examples they could use to demonstrate their leadership potential or demonstrated commitment to a career in medicine.  As a former admissions director, conducting interviews was one of my favorite parts of the job.  And until recently, I haven’t given much thought to my own biases that existed or how they could have negatively affected applicants.  I like to think that I gave everyone a fair shot, but some recent research inspired me to apply a bit more scrutiny to the whole process of interviewing and the applicant evaluations that result.   

In “Daily Horizons: Evidence of Narrow Bracketing in Judgment From 10 Years of MBA Admissions Interviews,” recently published in Psychological Science, Wharton Management professor Uri Simonsohn and Harvard professor Francesca Gino used MBA admissions data (not from Wharton or Harvard) to study how applicant scores were affected if they interviewed at the end of the day, after a series of strong or weak candidates.  They found that a similarly qualified applicant who interviewed after a string of strong candidates got lower scores than what they would have received otherwise.  And, those who interviewed after a group of weaker candidates got better evaluations. 

“An interviewer who expects to evaluate positively about 50 percent of the applicants on any given day may be reluctant to evaluate positively many more or fewer than 50 percent of applicants on any given day.  An applicant who happens to interview on a day when several others have already received a positive evaluation would, therefore, be at a disadvantage,” Simonsohn and Gino wrote.

While Universities may be able to control this effect by having interviewers enter each applicant’s score into a spreadsheet that would help them monitor the results of interviews over time and keep focus on today’s crop of candidates, it is important for applicants to understand that their competition is likely to come from two pools: everyone and the other applicants who are interviewed that day.

I often wonder if I was guilty of this narrow bracketing phenomenon in my previous role.  Today, as a consultant, all I can do is arm my clients with the sound advice I know is tried and true.  From now on, I just might add one more tidbit: Schedule your interview in the morning.

Want a Career Abroad? Consider a European MBA.

Paths to business school tend to be as varied and diverse as the careers that begin after graduation. Sarah is an economic development consultant who wants to expand her financial acumen; Michael is an engineer who aims to manage the operations division; and Matthew is an investment banker who plans to make a career change.  And they all have one thing in common. They all want to go to business school in order to gain a general management education, where they will be able to learn from the diverse backgrounds of their classmates and expand their perspective.

But the question is: where will they begin?  All are seriously considering MBA programs in Europe, but all are wondering if they should take the plunge and do something drastically different than their colleagues at work who are looking to pursue an MBA in the US.

For prospective MBA students like Michael, Matthew and Sarah, there are many options to consider when deciding where to apply. 

First, there is the question of rankings and prestige.  When you are preparing to embark on an academic program that will not require you to obtain a license upon graduating, as you would after completing law or medical school, the reputation of the institution is especially important.  This is because the most sought after recruiters have relationships with top schools and it is more likely to not only to secure a job, but to secure a highly competitive position when you emerge from a well reputed school.  And many European programs are at the top of their game.  London Business School, INSEAD, IE and IESE are all listed in the top 10 of The Financial Time’s Global MBA Rankings. 

Second, you must evaluate the quality of the Career Services department.  Where are recent graduates working?  Which companies recruit on campus?  What was last year’s placement rate?   As soon as orientation, you will be meeting with career services staff to get the ball rolling, so it is important to do extensive research.  Many American and European programs have excellent reputations in career placement, but many agree that European programs have an advantage for those who want to work abroad.  At top European programs, the opportunities are not concentrated in any one city, country or industry, so you have a lot of opportunities to evaluate, many located within a reasonable distance, and plenty of multinational employers to impress. 

Third, consider geography.  It seems so simple, but geography is one of the most important qualities to evaluate.  If you want to work abroad and gain an invaluable international perspective, there is simply no better plan than to pursue an MBA program in Europe, where you will be able to easily network with companies near where you study or in neighboring cities and regions.  In a European MBA program, you will also have access to greater diversity.  You will be sitting next to people in class who come from all over the world, have extensive experience in a plethora of industries and have diverse educational backgrounds.  While US MBA programs boast that 30% of their classes come from around the world, approximately 80% of top European programs are foreign students.  And many European programs are strict about a dominant culture emerging.  At IMD’s tiny 90-person MBA program, 35 nationalities are represented.  Your ability to learn and work in a global context will be vital to your career. 

If, like Michael, Matthew and Sarah, you are seriously considering a European MBA, it is also important to know that while European programs tend to be cheaper and their one-year format makes them shorter than their American counterparts, some programs, like INSEAD, require you to be able to speak another language fluently.  So, it is important to pay particular attention to the program’s requirements when evaluating different options.

When my clients begin evaluating their options, the first thing I advise them to do is independent primary research.  It is not enough to peruse websites, read brochures or rely on outside opinions.  Prospective business school applicants should be talking to as many admissions directors, career placement staffers, faculty members, alumni and current students as possible, not only to learn first-hand what distinguishes certain programs, but to also begin building a relationship with the faculty and staff at programs they may interview with in the future.   Even if you are now just beginning your MBA program research, I would recommend that you attend one of the many MBA fairs coming to a city near you, either The MBA Tour, QS World MBA Tour or Access MBA.

Prospective applicants will be able to have one-on-one meetings with school representatives and also attend panel presentations that will address current issues affecting the world of general management education.  At these fairs, you will not only be able to talk with representatives from many American programs, but you can also look into the European programs like IE, IESE and Hult International Business School you may be curious about.

Top Ten Things To Consider When Applying To An EMBA Program Part I: GMAT, Academic Records and Recommendation Letters

Executive MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are searching for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete. They want to build a class comprised of students who have a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

So, what does this mean for your applications?  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.

 GMAT

The Graduate Management Admissions Council created the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 1953 to gauge a prospective students’ ability to compete in the academic rigor of graduate business programs.  The exam, which is 1 of only 2 intellectual measures on the application, was recently updated with an additional section.  It tests verbal skills and analytical writing ability, quantitative skills as well as an aptitude for integrated reasoning.  Most full-time MBA programs value the test’s findings and require the test for admissions, but EMBA admissions committees differ in their opinions regarding the GMAT.  Therefore, you will only be required to take the GMAT when applying to some programs.

--GMAT preparation is critical:  

If you are applying to EMBA programs that require you to take the GMAT, preparation is key.  Give yourself at least 3 months and pick the preparation option that is best for you.  You can either self study using one of the many GMAT guides on the market, take a GMAT prep class or hire a private tutor.  It is important to note that you can re-take the test multiple times because the admissions committees typically only take the highest score.  While the GMAT may seem like a drag, standardized tests continue to be widely used in the higher education admissions process and valued by admissions officers.  You don’t want your GMAT score to be the one aspect of your application keeping you out of your top choice program. 

Academic Records/Transcript

The content and requirement of a transcript on a graduate business application is set in stone.  Applicants will never be able to change that low grade they may have received in college math and admissions deans will never be able to standardize the rigor of classes or grades given at other institutions.  It is simply another predictor, like the GMAT, of future academic achievement.

--The transcript is telling, but only 1 piece of the puzzle:  

When evaluating your transcript, admissions committees will want to ensure you challenged yourself throughout your academic career, especially in quantitative courses, and could maintain a solid GPA.  They will assume, if you were a dedicated student throughout your undergraduate work, you will succeed in the EMBA classroom.  If you have poor grades, you can’t go back and change them. However, a high GMAT score, additional coursework and an essay explaining weaknesses can help to mitigate the negative influence of a poor transcript.

Recommendation Letters

Most graduate business programs require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation, so it is important to make strategic decisions when choosing recommenders.  You will also want to ensure their messages align with your overall application strategy. 

--Choose the right recommenders:  

Choose recommenders who know you well and who will sing praises about your candidacy and fit.  Don’t get the distant CEO to write the letter because you think admissions committees will be impressed.  Identify those supervisors who have worked closely with you and can provide specific examples of your leadership and innovation potential.  The one exception here is if you are connected to a prominent donor or decision maker at the program to which you are applying.    

--Provide recommenders with background information:

If your recommendation letter can provide specific examples and add depth to your position, they could add real value to the admissions process.  In order to achieve this, you will want to provide your recommender with substantial background information – a sample essay or two and some examples that could help them illustrate specific qualities.  Ideally, each recommendation will complement the qualities you’ve brought out the essays, resume and other recommendation letters, by providing evidence of specific professional accomplishments.  You want each application piece to work together, emphasizing different areas of strength and, ultimately, completing the puzzle.   

The application process may seem daunting, but the rigorous admissions standards applied will lead to an unparalleled EMBA experience, a classroom where each seat is taken by a talented leader who is more than merely a test score and a transcript.

Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part III: Getting to Know the Applicant

It was decided long ago, in graduate business school admissions, that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first student’s at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

Getting to Know You: The Interview and Essays

Another application staple, the essays, are often cited by admissions directors to be the most important part of the application.  They play a critical role in painting a picture of your potential by telling your personal and professional story and setting the stage for the other application components.  A well-written essay examines the value you can bring in terms of leadership, innovation and teamwork, your fit with a particular program and how you stand out overall.    

The interview, too, is arguably one of the most important parts of the business school application.  Not only must you look an admissions officer in the eye to discuss the contents of the paper application you’ve been refining for months, but you must also convince them of your strong communication abilities and the value you will bring into the classroom.

Behavioral interviews are the most widely used in graduate business programs, but could there be a better way?  For applicants, the behavioral interview is usually preferred because it is easier, but in the long run, a case format could prove to be a better evaluative tool.  Ultimately, being surrounded by top talent will make your experience as a student more enriching. 

Case interviews are typically the work of consulting companies and prominent financial firms, largely because they force an applicant to think on their feet, respond under pressure and analyze a complex situation in a finite amount of time.  Then, why wouldn’t case interviews be an important evaluative tool for MBA programs?

“The biggest concern, says Bouffides, are efficiency issues.  With so many applicants in full-time MBA admissions, it would pose a resource challenge to ask admissions officers to conduct a case interview for each and every student they are considering.  EMBA admissions are different, he says, so case interviews may provide a great tool for differentiation. The EMBA applicant pool is self-selecting and, therefore, much smaller.”

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger.

Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part II: Assessing Professional Competence

In 1943, when the first Executive MBA Program yielded a class of 52 students, business school admissions processes largely mirrored those practiced in the Ivy League.  Applicants completed a personal facts section and clearly outlined their extracurricular and professional activities.  Recommendation letters, written by persons who knew the applicant well and could speak to their character, were sent to the institution.  The applicant completed personal essays so the admissions committee could gauge the applicant’s aptitude for leadership.  And, finally, the interview would look at the more subtle indicators of future success.  Academic achievement was just one of the 4 pieces.  Was the admissions committee downplaying the value of intellectual accomplishment?

The answer is yes, because it was decided that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first student’s at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

 Assessing Professional Competence: Recommendation Letters and Resume

The quality and quantity of an applicant’s work experience is key when determining top management potential, so a polished resume is an absolute must.  But, what about recommendation letters?  Do they really help to set an applicant apart from the pack?  In nearly every circumstance, an applicant will choose a recommender who will gloat about their strengths and minimize or barely mention any perceived weaknesses.  In the competitive world of admissions, choosing a recommender, who will paint the picture of an all-star, seems to be the smart thing to do, but is this really a productive process for admissions committees?  Isn’t there a better way to gauge top management talent?

Evan Bouffides, Associate Dean and Director of MBA Admissions at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, says that while recommendation letters may serve as a point of differentiation for executive business programs, full time MBA admissions is a different story.  “We no longer require recommendation letters in our full-time MBA application because we found the letters didn’t provide us with a point of differentiation.  More often than not, he says, I thought a letter’s content did not provide honest insight about a candidate.  I could also never be completely sure that the name signed at the bottom was the writer of the recommendation.”

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger.

Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part I: Assessing Academic Potential

Touted in nearly every business blog or book, the ability to innovate is the Holy Grail of capitalist enterprise.  The advent of the MBA program was in itself an innovation, a response to the massive business model overhauls during the industrial revolution.  Later, the end of World War II brought continued innovation, aggressive growth in the automobile, aviation and electronic industries and, in 1943, the creation of the Executive MBA at the University of Chicago.  Since then, like business, management educations have continued to evolve. What hasn’t changed so much is the evaluative process employed by admissions committees, the gatekeepers at top programs.

In 1943, when the first Executive MBA Program yielded a class of 52 students, business school admissions processes largely mirrored those practiced in the Ivy League.  Applicants completed a personal facts section and clearly outlined their extracurricular and professional activities.  Recommendation letters, written by persons who knew the applicant well and could speak to their character, were sent to the institution.  The applicant completed personal essays so the admissions committee could gauge the applicant’s aptitude for leadership.  And, finally, the interview would look at the more subtle indicators of future success.  Academic achievement was just one of the 4 pieces.  Was the admissions committee downplaying the value of intellectual accomplishment?

The answer is yes, because it was decided that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first student’s at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

 (1.) Assessing Academic Potential: The GMAT and Transcripts

The Graduate Management Admissions Council created the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 1953 to gauge a prospective students’ ability to compete in the academic rigor of graduate business programs.  The exam, which was recently updated with an additional section, tests verbal skills and analytical writing ability, quantitative skills as well as an aptitude for integrated reasoning.  Most full-time MBA programs value the test’s findings because it makes their evaluative jobs easier by leveling the playing field.  This has proven to be especially important when applicants are coming from a wide array of industries and educational backgrounds.  But, is the GMAT an effective predictor of academic success?

Many proponents of the exam agree that analytics, reasoning skills and aptitude are vital in EMBA programs.  With no standardized measure, some schools say, programs may accept students who are not qualified academically, especially in the heavy quantitative courses.  Schools who require the GMAT for EMBA admission say that while work history, prior degrees and leadership experience are important, they are not a good gauge of an applicant’s analytical skills.

Critics of the GMAT’s usage in EMBA admissions say it is not a valid test of an applicant’s strengths. Instead, they say, schools should base decisions for enrollment on academic records and work history, aspects of the application the GMAT doesn’t measure.  These programs are clearly more concerned with an applicant’s professional career and the value their experiences will add to the classroom dynamic.                      

Business schools will continue to engage in the debate regarding the priority given to the GMAT in admissions, but one thing is for sure.  The GMAT is not a test of future management success.  It is merely a predictor of success in an applicant’s first year of business school.  

Like the GMAT, the transcript is another predictor of future academic achievement.  For applicants and admissions officers alike, the content and requirement of a transcript on a graduate business application is set in stone.  Applicants can’t change its material and admissions deans won’t ever be able to standardize the rigor of classes or grades given at other institutions.  It is what it is, a staple of most applications to academic programs in higher education.  

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger. 

The Admissions Essay Part II: Equal Parts Memoir and Strategic Communication

For many applicants, the essays are the most daunting part of the admissions process.  The task of writing is arduous enough, but then there is the reality that application essays must be part memoir – pieces that express your individuality and unique experiences, and part strategic communication – pieces that also impart your knowledge and fit with the institution, along with your leadership and innovation potential.   In Part II, I am going to address the importance of research, the jargon you must do away with, and the conclusion.

Remember, the first thing to remember is simple.  You are the writer and the admissions director is the reader.  What keeps you reading through newspapers, magazines and books?  Important to consider, the qualities that maintain your interest will be some of the same ones that engage your admissions director and help you make that memorable connection you are striving for.

Research:

Conduct extensive research about the institution to which you are applying, so you are able to make the connections admissions directors are looking for.  Think about why the school in question is a strong choice, given where you are coming from and where you want to go.  You must get specific, but don’t over explain what the reader already knows or can figure out.  Admissions directors know a lot about their institution, so they don’t need a long list of classes or clubs you’ve regurgitated from their website.  They want to know why you are interested in specific activities and how you will be proactive in their community.  Talk to the school’s professors and career services professionals.  Visit the school and have lunch with current students.  In order to sound authentic, you must gain first-hand experiences investigating the program you claim to be so passionate about.

Get Rid of Jargon:

You want to sound like a confident leader, so don’t write like you’re not.  Good writing is concise and clear so it is best to avoid sentences cluttered with pompous jargon words like incentivize, alignment and criticality.  Readers identify with people, rather than concepts, especially if they are esoteric principles common only in the lives of chemical engineers or air force pilots.  Admissions directors don’t want to read about the measures being facilitated at the ground control station if there no human element or universal message that will move your candidacy forward.  If you are trying to explain a complex process, relate it to something we can all understand and remember, as Zinsser says, “A simple style does not reflect a simple mind.” 

The Strategic Communication:

As you begin to create your narrative, you will face the reality that an admissions essay is, indeed, a strategic communication, a piece that must communicate your leadership and innovation potential in a carefully crafted way.  The best place to start is a blank document with empty bullet points.  Think about your most meaningful experiences working in and managing teams, investigating and presenting innovative ideas that improved department efficiency or challenging the group consensus.  There are no word limits in brainstorming, so let your thoughts go.  Over time, you will be able to narrow your list to specific examples that demonstrate the high quality of your professional experience, poignant anecdotes that will serve your narrative well.  

The Conclusion:

Just as the lead’s objective is to push the reader into the paragraphs that follow, your conclusion should bring the reader back to a memorable moment in your opening sentences and, simultaneously, take them somewhere else.  A thought-provoking close will be remembered long after your file is off their desk.  As a former admissions director, I would read hundreds and hundreds of essays in any given year and, still to this day, I will never forget the gripping honesty in a conclusion written by a former officer in the military, regarding his account of a tragedy that took the lives of nearly half the men in his platoon.  Unafraid to admit his lack of heroism, his closing remarks about the harsh reality of war, left me stunned.  I realized then I could relate to and remember those applicants who were compelling and human, rather than those who tried to construct a perfect façade.

I’ve often heard my clients refer to the business school admissions process as ‘grueling’ or ‘maddening’.  The mere thought of essay writing brings them back to the college composition class they dreaded or their article in the school newspaper mocked by their peers.  In a system where test scores and transcripts can only take you so far, some of the most powerful tools you possess are words.  Use them well.

The Admissions Essay Part I: Equal Parts Memoir and Strategic Communication

Each word of the essay question seems to add significant weight to the paper it’s printed on.  As you stare at the question, you feel sluggish and frustrated. How can you possibly tell a story that will appeal to highly selective MBA admissions committees?  Where will you start?  How will you weave in the qualities deemed acceptable for future students?

For many applicants, the essays are the most daunting part of the admissions process.  The task of writing is arduous enough, but then there is the reality that application essays must be part memoir – pieces that express your individuality and unique experiences, and part strategic communication – pieces that also impart your knowledge and fit with the institution, along with your leadership and innovation potential.  

You’ve heard admissions advice, attended information sessions and combed through Internet searches about admissions essays. So, I’m not going to waste your time with repetition or complexities.  The first thing to remember is simple.  You are the writer and the admissions director is the reader.  What keeps you reading through newspapers, magazines and books?  Important to consider, the qualities that maintain your interest will be some of the same ones that engage your admissions director and help you make that memorable connection you are striving for.

The Lead:

You must capture the reader and force them to keep reading.  You can do this with an unusual idea, an interesting fact, a question or anything else that will appropriately reel them in and push them into the subsequent paragraphs.   Some don’ts worth considering: Don’t repeat part of the essay question in the first sentence of your essay – ‘I am interested in Columbia Business School because’…  Don’t lead with the buzzing of your alarm clock to transition into an essay examining a significant personal experience.  This stale, yet common introduction only signals the work of an inexperienced writer.  Don’t lead with a specific anecdote from childhood.  There are a few exceptions, but keep in mind that admissions committees want you to focus on your experiences post-baccalaureate, so any mention of childhood could be deemed inappropriate.     

The Narrative:

Admissions essays should take a narrative approach, a style conducive to applicants thinking and writing about themselves.  You want to tell a story and construct a meaningful memoir laden with specific details that show instead of just tell the reader about your experiences.  It is best to think narrow.  Don’t summarize your life since college.  Think about one or two impactful projects or events that allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about your innovation and leadership potential.  One of my recent clients responded to Wharton’s first essay question, regarding career objective, by focusing on a recent management experience that inspired her goals post MBA.  Through her minute-by-minute recount of the situation, the reader could see her potential and understand her fit, not only with the future role she is targeting, but also with the student work groups at Wharton.   Just as William Zissner describes memoirs in his book, On Writing Well, essays are meant to be a window into life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition.  

The Message:

Too often, applicants surrender the qualities that make them unique to focus solely on the strategic communication aspect of the essay.  They end up writing what they think an admissions committee member will want to hear, which empties the essay of the very element that makes it memorable, the humanity behind the words.  A laundry list of the results you’ve achieved or the leadership accolades you take pride in won’t provide enough depth.  Leave those for the resume.  For the essay, use the space to show the why and the how of your journey.  Zinsser says, “What holds me is the enthusiasm of the writer for his field.  How was he drawn to it?  How did it change his life?  It is not necessary to want to spend a year alone at Walden Pond to become involved with a writer who did.”  The essays are the reader’s first opportunity to get to know you, so be yourself when you write and don’t forget that part of what makes you compelling are your weaknesses.  The struggle and lessons learned can be some of the most interesting parts of a story, so you don’t have to leave them out. 

I’ve often heard my clients refer to the business school admissions process as ‘grueling’ or ‘maddening’.  The mere thought of essay writing brings them back to the college composition class they dreaded or their article in the school newspaper mocked by their peers.  In a system where test scores and transcripts can only take you so far, some of the most powerful tools you possess are words.  Use them well.