8 Steps to Writing a Great Essay for Business Schools
Your essay must serve two purposes in your business school application. First, it must show the admissions committee that you can write, and second, it must convince them to invite you to their school. This is easier said than done! Here are eight steps to writing a great essay, whether you’re applying to Harvard or community college.
Research an area of interest . The more you know about a topic, regardless of how oﬀbeat or potentially niche it may be, the easier your essay will be to write. There are two important aspects of research: primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are books, articles, and websites written by experts in that specific field. Secondary sources are information or data collected by other researchers on top of those original primary source documents.
Know What You Are Meant To Do – This is about asking what it is that you really want in life and doing it. Part of being happy, fulfilled and successful comes from knowing who you are meant to be. If you find yourself stuck, then try thinking about what drives you. Look at your values, beliefs and passions; write them down; reflect on them regularly and think about how they relate to your future career. Does one interest stand out more than others?
Who’s Your Audience? It may seem obvious, but it’s one of most important things you need to consider when starting an essay. Write for your audience and not for yourself or others. You can do so by considering what kind of people are reading your paper and try to keep that in mind as you write. If you know, who is going to read your essay, (e.g., international students) then choose a topic which is relevant in their country as well.
Now that you’ve actually drafted your personal statement or essay (see how I never use these terms interchangeably?), go back and read through what you’ve written. Now edit—or rewrite
—it until it reflects who you are and why you want to go to business school. Don’t forget: If you received coaching or feedback from someone, be sure to integrate his or her comments into your draft. And if your essay is lacking, try rewriting it one more time.
Don’t just write and run. At HBS, you’ll learn that business is all about relationships. Professors want you to get their feedback on your work—and they want to get yours. That’s why we encourage students to make professors part of their extended peer network—to turn them into mentors and even friends, who can guide and support you throughout your time at HBS. From my experience I know that these are often some of my most valuable relationships during my time here. It makes sense—who else do you have during a two-year period with such similar background, experiences, and interests? You should never hesitate to send professors an email or stop by their oﬃce hours if you have questions or want advice. In fact, our career center has done extensive research over several years showing that having more contact with faculty leads directly to better outcomes in career advancement after school.
Give Your Ideas Time and Space : Allow time for ideas to ferment. This can be either time spent in solitude or physical distance from your normal routine. Studies have shown that people are able to be more creative when working from new locations. Also, not doing anything specific will free up your brain’s resources and help you develop new ideas. Let go of what you think you know; try something completely diﬀerent that has nothing to do with work or school, like cooking (the food is amazing) or playing sports.
Edit, edit, edit! : Grammar mistakes and typos are embarrassing. And if you’re applying for an MBA program, it’s likely that your essay will be read by business school professors and admissions oﬃcers—professionals who know how to spot even minor errors. Ensure that your essay is polished by reading it aloud. If it sounds wrong out loud, then it probably is!
Step 8 (Bonus Tip)
An Intro and Concluding Paragraphs. No matter how much you plan out your main body paragraphs, it’s important that you wrap up each essay with an introduction and conclusion paragraph (and don’t forget: each section of your essay will also have an intro paragraph!) These paragraphs should concisely summarize what you’ve written in previous paragraphs, so that readers who haven’t gotten a chance to read your entire essay are able to understand its core argument or point of view. The introduction is particularly important as it needs to immediately grab attention—it is where you begin to really engage with your reader (who has hopefully made it through your persuasive evidence-based arguments!). To do so, introduce yourself and express your passion for the topic. Explain why they should keep reading. What is at stake? How will they be changed by what they’re about to read? At minimum, remember to include these two sentences: In my essay, I argue X because Y. In my opinion, Z because A B C… It might seem like overkill now but trust us: it’ll make more sense when you look back on your writing process months from now!