3. Should applicants write a new essay on a school-by-school basis, or will slight variations of a generic, but well-polished, essay suffice across the board? Why or why not?
Many candidates will write an essay that is easily interchangeable with other programs and thus won't create compelling answers. If you look at the first example below, you could easily swap in another institution like the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the sentences would still make sense—that is a problem! Unfortunately, this kind of fill-in-the-blank answer will reveal that the candidate just does not know why he or she wants to go to this school. In the second example, the applicant has clearly done his or her homework and shows how the school (Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management) is a key part of a journey and not a mere want.
"Kellogg is remarkable because of its wealth of biotech/healthcare resources. I am excited to join a community of aggressive and exciting innovators. I really believe that the Health Enterprise Management major is unique and offers a depth of courses and practical offerings unmatched by other schools."
"What appeals to me about the Health Enterprise Management (HEMA) major is that I can delve into traditional management offerings at a high level, while engaging in the pure science at the beginner level, where I admittedly currently stand. The science boot camp and science tutorials will ensure that I am conversant in the language of the field and will prepare me for the advanced courses that will be crucial to my success as a manager in this sophisticated field. Considering my career interests, I am looking forward to Intellectual Capital Management and Medical Innovation, where I would experience an unprecedented view into the innovation life cycle. I would also seize the opportunity to join the Global Health Initiative, wherein…."
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4. How much time should applicants spend writing and revising their essays? Should applicants have several people critique it or is it obvious when editing gets too heavy-handed?
The answer to this question is different, depending on the candidate's communication skills, his or her ability to integrate feedback, his or her level of knowledge of the process and more. I think that everyone needs a second set of eyes, but I do think that because this is a qualitative process candidates should limit their feedback loops. If you ask enough people to read your work, you will eventually find someone who does not like what you have written and it may cause undue doubt. I might show my completed work to two people, and if they both approve, that would be the time to end the search for feedback.
5. How much do essays tend to matter when compared with other aspects of the application?
Essays are important as they are entirely in the candidate's control. The candidate has the opportunity to subtly persuade the admissions officers of his or her worthiness of a place in the class. Still, writing effective essays is not a matter of using multi-syllable words, but is in fact an exercise in using past experiences to reveal profound contributions to the class while a student and remarkable career potential as an alumnus. [Ultimately], the admissions officers are interested in the entire candidate. GPA, work experience, GMAT, recommendations, interview skills, and more are all factors in a process that is evaluated on a qualitative basis. Admissions officers are at pains to tell candidates that this is a holistic process. After 10 years of experience, I can say with confidence that this is not just a cliché.
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