Archive | Essays

Storytelling to Demonstrate the Real You in B-school Essays

As you sit down to draft your first essay, you might want to think about telling the story of you.  That’s the most effective way to stand out from the rest of the pack and show just how interesting you are.

Mark-Hamill-Luke-Skywalker-Yoda Tell Stories

Whether you are writing essays, crafting presentations, or getting ready for an interview. Why do stories work? Because they demonstrate behaviors, and show in a few words a whole lot about a person’s character. Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, and possibly the best business writer on the planet, has been called “a genius at showing how small anecdotes revealed larger truths.”
In business school applications and interviews, telling stories brings those bullet points on your resume to life. But as an applicant, you not only have word limits, but you don’t have a lot of time to get and keep a reader’s attention.

A Story Without a Challenge is Not a Story
I have some good news! All you have to do is follow a few storytelling rules. The most important is that you’ve got to include some kind of challenge.

Most stories in the world are based on myths, and the hero who goes out to slay the monster is one of the oldest. Screenwriters love this tale; many of your favorite TV shows, movies, and video games are based on this theme, which was articulated by Joseph Campbell, a comparative mythologist. In his many writings, he talked about the archetypical hero, an everyman who is challenged and changed by his adventure. Just look at Luke Skywalker, or Katniss Everdeen. But if you look deeper at the model, you can notice the way challenges force heroes to grow and change; you can even find it in characters ranging from Piper Chapman in Orange is the New Black to Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.

Set It Up and Explain the HOW
Even the littlest success (or failure) in your career history can turn into a story.  Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Take a bullet point from your resume, for example
Revamped a sales memorandum within three days for major client on sale of its stake in a European software firm; attracted 28 bidders.”
A. Identify challenge: Overhaul an important document for a very important client in a short period of time.
B. Demonstrate tangible results : Made company attractive to bidders, client happy, your boss happy.

Step 2: Explore HOW you arrived at results. This is where it gets interesting:
A. Took the time to figure out a plan (skills: ability to strategize, think through a problem)
B. Pulled in a SWAT team to help – for example, other analysts to run numbers or set up charts and visuals. You may have cajoled, offered pizza, or traded tasks. (skills: teamwork, influence, follow-through)
C. Was able to understand what senior partners needed in the sales memo (skills: managing up, anticipating requirements)

The Twist
In line with most challenges, you probably had a twist which made the story even more interesting. For example, in the middle of the process the stock market crashed/a tsunami hit/a subcontractor blew up. You and your team stayed focused and arrived at the result needed.

Meanwhile, as you go through the exercise, remember to keep yourself likeable – keep in mind that your reader is looking for self-awareness, where you acknowledge your own doubts and foibles. Keep it real, keep it humble, and you will absolutely win the hearts and minds of your readers.

What You Wish You Had Known Before Applying to Business School

Wharton banner 2

A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was recently admitted to Wharton (really) and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. She was also a reapplicant, and has learned While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!

 

STAYING COMMITTED
I am so glad that I reapplied. I was rejected from the four top business school programs I applied to three years ago (all without an interview). While it stung to get so little traction in the business school process, I did not take it as a sign that I wasn’t “meant” for business school. Instead I tried to understand the weaknesses in my application and knew that I would try again and do it better. I have learned so much in the application process and am very happy I have even more experience that I can bring to business school when I attend.

RECEIVING FEEDBACK
Get feedback! Make sure the people you are asking have something valuable to add to the process and take the time to listen — better to find two people who will give you great feedback than send your materials to 10 people and listen to no one.

Also, be strategic in your decisions about who you want to use for help in the application process, and seek out those people early on. Make sure you really WANT someone’s feedback before asking for it; I have been on both sides of the equation. Recently, a friend asked for feedback on his essays. I spent a lot of time on his essays and when I returned them it seemed that he hardly looked at my suggestions. He was giving me the essays because he thought that was what you were supposed to do, but had little interest in following up on the suggestions or incorporating feedback.

WAITING FOR DECISIONS AND THE WAITLIST
In terms of my advice for people who have been waitlisted or general feedback for students after they have applied: the most valuable thing I’ve done in my application process is turn every moment I have been frustrated into an opportunity to do something. When I found myself going crazy waiting for one program to get back to me while another waited on my decision, I brainstormed a list of all the things I had accomplished since I applied and wrote a letter to the school where I was waitlisted explaining those accomplishments. I created a campaign fueled by waiting and (sometimes) panic and created something productive. I am so glad I did this, because the time you spend sitting anxiously waiting and checking MBA chat forums is, in the end, not useful (though I did that too).

FINANCIAL ISSUES
Given the calculus course I am taking and other requirements, I have completely neglected to begin financial planning and thinking about the costs and consequences of my decision. I wish I had done this in a systematic way earlier, not only so that I would be better prepared and informed about my choices and responsibilities, but also because finances are an important part of my final decision (for instance, I am trying to make a decision about two programs that cost vastly different amounts of money). Now I am finding myself overwhelmed at the process of tackling everything right now. If I had to do it again, I would start planning and filling out financial aid information earlier and getting the advice of students, faculty, family and others about their tips on going through the process.

This story has been updated since Jennifer graduated – from UC Berkeley Haas, her first-choice school. She turned down Wharton to go to Haas, and has had notable success with the start-up she launched during business school.

This story has been updated since Jennifer graduated – from UC Berkeley Haas, her first-choice school. She turned down Wharton to go to Haas, and has had notable success with the start-up she launched during business school.
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99
A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was admitted to Wharton and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99
A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was admitted to Wharton and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99

Two Weeks Away! Admissions Workshop in San Francisco July 16

If you’re going to San Francisco…

Come to the Harvard Club of San Francisco’s MBA Application Workshop. I’ll be running this fun and interactive session that will help you clarify and organize your thoughts so you can put together an outstanding application to the best business schools in the world.

You do not have to be a Harvard grad to participate, but if you attend, you just might become one!
Betsy Moderator_website
Details :
Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Time: 6:15 – 8:00 (includes post-workshop networking)
Location: Mechanics Institute Library, 4th Floor
57 Post Street (right at Montgomery BART)
San Francisco

$25 cost includes pizza

Focus: Getting you into your choice of a the best business schools in the world

Here’s the registration link: http://www.harvardclubsf.org/article.html?aid=568

Questions? Email me at betsy@masteradmissions.com

Benefits of Starting Your Business School Campaign Now

As I write this, it’s less than six months to the first round deadlines for business school application.  And there’s plenty you can do to get organized now. This means mapping out a strategy, juggling all the moving parts, executing, following up, and all while performing your day job.

Start Early

rooster square

Start Early!

Those who start early will be able to take the time to do the self-reflection for a successful application to business school. You’ll be able to clarify your purpose and challenge yourself to see if getting an MBA is right for you. You will need to use your powers of persuasion to secure help from friends, family, and potential recommenders.

You will also need to do a bunch of things at the same time, like study for your GMAT or GRE, meet current students and alumni, explore career paths, take extra courses, ask for transcripts, reflect on your own future, oh, and figure out how to pay for the privilege of attending an MBA program.

Visit Schools in the Spring
I’m also a huge fan of visiting schools during the spring term rather than waiting until the autumn.  You’ll be more relaxed – and so will the students whom you meet. First years will have already settled in or landed summer jobs. Second years will be all smiles.  You’ll be able to let the school and students sell themselves to you so you can differentiate between programs, and figure out the right fit for you.  Every school has a different personality, which becomes clear when you set foot in a classroom or participate in a social gathering.   Almost every student I’ve talked to wishes they could have researched more programs – a hard task when you are also working, trying to write essays and manage your recommendation process.

What to Do When the Application isn’t Ready
Most schools don’t issue their applications until mid-late summer, and it may feel a bit early to start writing essays. But you can do some introspection that will help you gain clarity for the MBA application process. I suggest students do some writing. You will have to answer a version of this question later, so why not start formulating it now?  Here’s the assignment:

Reflect on what earning an MBA would bring to your professional life and do for you personally. Jot down your thoughts envisioning the future.  

A little scary? Not as scary as the real essay questions, which range from “What is most important to you and why?” (Stanford GSB) to a cover letter to the director of admissions of MIT Sloan, to Harvard’s now classically simple, “Tell us about something you did well.”

GMAT/GRE
Finally, make sure your GMAT is in order. If you are not happy with your score, (in particular, your quant sub-score, which is the only one that matters), take a course and try again. There is no harm in taking more than once, or even twice. You’ve got enough time to reasonably master the material at this stage, and you’ll be glad to get a solid result out of the way.

Use Your Summer Wisely
If you are in the northern hemisphere, you have all summer to get yourself ready. So use your summer wisely; go to MBA events, meet and great, ask questions, and get yourself ready. It’s a lot easier now than when deadlines loom.

Writing about Career Goals in the MBA Application

So, what do you want to when you grow up? That’s the spirit behind the goals essay questions on business school applications.

The sky’s the limit

This prompt is partly about your ability to plan logically and partly about your ability to envision a wild future. Some schools even make their desire for you to think big quite clear–Stanford GSB asks, “What do you want to do REALLY?” Others ask about your professional objectives (Wharton), or more specifically about your short and long term goals (Columbia Business School).  Harvard Business School, even with its reduced word count, still asks why you want an MBA.

You should get used to thinking coherently about the question. Surely, the managers who will write your letter of recommendation for business school  want to see a sense of your purpose.  Yet on the application, you don’t have to spell out your specific, minute-by-minute goals.  You simply need to imagine yourself on an upward trajectory, and where that will lead.

You probably have been going through some introspection as you think about what it means to “be yourself” in a business school application. It’s important to try different ideas on for size. Business schools all know that you may very well change your mind—they are not going to take your degree away if you shift focus. Throughout the application process and later at school, you may shift all over the place – and that’s all right. Certainly, if you go through a transformational experience such as an MBA program, you will be introduced to ideas and experiences you didn’t know were out there.  Look no further than Chicago Booth’s focus on the word “Transform,” to appreciate that it’s ok to change.

Try Explaining it to a Non-MBA
As an experiment, imagine you are having a conversation with your favorite high school teacher. Write down a few sentences explaining to her why you want to go to business school, and describe your broad long-term goals.  Or, if that doesn’t work, ask yourself some questions like the ones below.

  • If the MBA or business school did not exist, what path would you take?
  • What have you always dreamed of doing?
  • What have you not done that you wish you had done?
  • If you could change the world in one way, how would you do it?

Here’s another way to get at it: Reflect on what earning an MBA would bring to your professional life and do for you personally. Give yourself time. Then jot down your thoughts envisioning the future, the potential and possible fruit of your labor.

Having encouraged you to project forward, I should point out that not every school asks about your goals. MIT’s Sloan School’s application looks only to your past behaviors to predict your future performance. “Your essays and cover letter should focus on what you have already done, your past performance, rather than what you want to do. We do not evaluate you on why you want an MBA or what you intend to do with it afterwards, but do want to get to know you and your interests better,” they say on their website.

Just when you thought you were getting the hang of it.