Category Archives: MBA Adcom

What MBA Adcoms Want is an Authentic Expression of Self

There is an old post from Business Week that I find as current as ever, about how MBA Adcoms set about thinking up MBA admissions essay questions.

The context is, increasingly over time, business schools are asking fewer essay questions in total, often swapping text questions for multimedia input.

Part of the reason b-school Adcoms are asking for fewer questions is they don’t get what they want from the answers.

What they very often get is a generic “promo-style” answer from the applicant, telling the admissions committee what they think the committee wants to hear.

If an essay prompt results in thousands of formulaic responses it will be pulled when Adcoms sit down to refine their questions based on the quality of answers they got the previous year.

There’s a lot MBA applicants can learn from knowing what Adcom’s task themselves to achieve (or more specifically, what they try to avoid getting back) when they compose a good admissions question.

Liz Riley Hargrove, Associate Dean for admissions at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, told Business Week how admissions officers pass boardroom hours lobbing edits back and forth to craft the perfect question.

They answer each other’s questions. If Adcom members themselves answer the question generically, it is back to the drawing board.

What they don’t want is your elegantly varnished cookie-cutter answer that takes no risks about who you are and the choices you have made so far in life, and how those have worked out. What they do want is an authentic expression of self, something that reveals at least a part of who you really are and what has shaped you.

Taking risks doesn’t mean you are welcome make mistakes in grammar or tone or style, or you may discuss inappropriate topics or waste words capturing little admissions value. That’s taking a bad risk.

It does mean you can be yourself. Really, truly. Being who you really are, and saying what your really want is a good risk.

How can you “be yourself?” By saying things about you that are honest, that are specific in time and place, and unique only to you. This is the way to achieve an authentic voice and intimate tone in your communications.

If what you say could just as easily be in the next applicant’s essay, you’ve failed an important test in MBA admissions essay writing.

How to not be ‘Excepted’ to a Top MBA Program

One from the files – but in this regard nothing changes. No matter how the MBA admissions process may iterate slightly with the times, correct English grammar and word usage remains the bedrock of successful MBA Admissions essays.

Any slip makes you look at best undereducated, or incompetent or just sloppy.

English has famously “low startup costs.” You don’t have to decline nouns or conjugate many verbs, so it is comparatively easy to get going with. The flip side is, with so many, many words, each with subtle nuances of usage and meaning, getting English to be actually correct is very hard – even for many mother-tongue English speakers.

Part of the problem is that many errors have become so commonplace they no longer stand out in everyday use. But your Adcom readers for business school admissions will absolutely know right from wrong. You have been warned!

The last section of MBA Admisssion Strategy book is devoted to English usage and better writing, and on this theme, I re-cite this LinkedIn post by Travis Bradbury, detailing commonly misused pairs of words – of the kind I find myself flagging frequently in editing MBA admissions essays.

“It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc. We throw them around in meetings, e-mails and important documents (such as resumes and client reports), and they land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them…

“Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more ‘correct’ or sophisticated that don’t really mean what we think they do. There are 20 such words that have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.” Have a look to see which of these commonly confused words throw you off.

Accept vs. Except
These two words sound similar but have very different meanings. Accept means to receive something willingly: “His mom accepted his explanation” or “She accepted the gift graciously.” Except signifies exclusion: “I can attend every meeting except the one next week.” To help you remember, note that both except and exclusion begin with ex.

Affect vs. Effect
To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb. Let’s start with the verbs. Affect means to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. “Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.” As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

Lie vs. Lay
We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you lie down and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lie is something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay. It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is—you guessed it—lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

Bring vs. Take
Bring and take both describe transporting something or someone from one place to another, but the correct usage depends on the speaker’s point of view. Somebody brings something to you, but you take it to somewhere else: “Bring me the mail, then take your shoes to your room.” Just remember, if the movement is toward you, use bring; if the movement is away from you, use take.

Ironic vs. Coincidental
A lot of people get this wrong. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic—it’s coincidental (and bad luck). Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. O. Henry was a master of situational irony. In “The Gift of the Magi,” Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold. That is true irony. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental. If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.

Imply vs. Infer
To imply means to suggest something without saying it outright. To infer means to draw a conclusion from what someone else implies. As a general rule, the speaker/writer implies, and the listener/reader infers.

Nauseous vs. Nauseated
Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles. Still, it’s important to note the difference. Nauseous means causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea. So, if your circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’m nauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.

Comprise vs. Compose
These are two of the most commonly misused words in the English language. Comprise means to include; compose means to make up. It all comes down to parts versus the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves.” When you use compose, you put the pieces first: “Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.”

Farther vs. Further
Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. “I can’t run any farther,” but “I have nothing further to say.” If you can substitute “more” or “additional,” use further.

Fewer vs. Less
Use fewer when you’re referring to separate items that can be counted; use less when referring to a whole: ‘You have fewer dollars, but less money.'”