Essays are certainly an important part of the application. Essays fill in the gap between who you are as a person and your paper credentials, such as your test scores, GPA, and resume. However, crafting a beautiful essay is not enough unless it specifically fulfills its intended purpose—showing why you should be admitted.
Error #1 – Not Planning/Strategizing
Before you start to write, it’s imperative to make a list of all the stories that you could possibly tell. Then carefully decide which stories to write about in your essay(s). People often make the mistake of choosing the story they are most emotionally attached to. What really matters is to share a relevant side of you that was not otherwise told through the other components of your application.
Careful introspection and deep reflection are essential to discovering what to write about. The richest stories show growth, character, and future potential.
Error #2 – Not Compensating for Your Gaps
It is sometimes uncomfortable to confront areas that you need to improve upon. Some people even feel the need to ignore them or cover them up. Is your GPA much lower than the average GPA of admitted students? Do you lack extracurricular involvement? Is maturity an issue?
If there are any visible issues in your profile, don’t leave it to the admissions officer to guess what happened. Be proactive about explaining your gaps. Then show evidence of how you have succeeded despite those gaps, and the steps you have taken to outgrow those issues that you had.
Error #3 – Harping on Your Strengths
If you’re already carrying a high GPA and high test scores, or if you have a fast-track career at a well-known company, don’t use the essay to re-emphasize your accomplishments in your academic or professional field. If you do, you’ll risk looking like you’re bragging or a workaholic.
If you carry strong paper credentials, use the essay to highlight something unique about you, so that the audience gets to know the personal side of you.
Error #4 – Way Too Familiar
Telling personal stories are good—to the extent that they provide some color about your character, your passions, and the events that led to important choices that you’ve made.
But remember, this is still an application. You need to keep a professional tone and limit yourself to relevant content. When in doubt, ask yourself, would I share this with a trusted colleague? Is this adding information about my candidacy?
Error #5 – Soliciting Too Much Feedback from Others
Your personal network is certainly a valuable resource when it comes to critiquing and proofreading your essay. However, if you ask for 20 people’s opinions, you risk being pulled in 20 different directions. People will provide a myriad of opinions and perspectives, and addressing all of them is simply impossible.
If you ask for opinions from alumni, their feedback will probably relate to their journey. Some well-intended people think that their approach was the only potential path to admission; understand that your path is likely to be different.
Some people have access to former admissions officers. Although they can provide great insights into the process and the criteria for admission, there is no “secret sauce.” No admissions decision is made by a single person in a vacuum. Admission officers evaluate a candidate, then discuss him/her with a committee, leaving the decision to a final vote. Remember that evaluating a profile is an analytical job; presenting a profile is a marketing job.
Writing a beautiful essay is not enough. The essay is one piece of a larger puzzle. All of these pieces should fit together to show a compelling, coherent picture. As you assemble your picture, make sure that it is presenting the whole you.