I’ve been reading lots of admissions essays lately. My heart goes out to admissions officers who have to read about 10 times the number of essays I’ve been reviewing and have about one-third of the time.
So imagine the annoyance of an admissions officer when they are reading an essay about someone who is always winning and is always the magical answer to the problem. That doesn’t work.
Matt Clemons, head of admissions at Harvard’s Kennedy School, has a great blog post that is titled “What Not to Do.”
My favorite is the following:
“Do not be afraid to write about past failures or circumstances that have not worked out the way you had hoped. I am not saying you need to absolutely write about things that have not turned out well for one reason or another, but if it helps you to craft a compelling narrative, do not be afraid to include such information/content.
Some applicants erroneously think that they need to appear as “bulletproof” and perfect. Some of the most instructive moments in life come from circumstances that are not ideal.”
In many essay prompts admissions are looking for some sense of who you really are, not some idealized version of a person who is the hero to all situations. This is true not just for MBA applications, but for Masters of Public Administration, Real Estate, Health Management, and other professional programs. I see this especially in the “constructive feedback” sections of the recommendation form. Some of these are eye-roll worthy.
It’s OK to be human. In fact, my experience shows that real people have more success. These are the ones who share some of their doubts and fears or the fact that they are a work-in-process.
It might mean that you end up showing that you aren’t perfect, or as Matt Clemons says, “bulletproof.” That would be what they call authentic.
Looking for more on authenticity? Try these articles