Writing Style Tips for Business School Admissions Essays
By: Natsuko Tohyama
You've stared at your application essay questions for hours on end, finally overcome writer's block, and identified which key experiences to showcase in your admissions package. However, you realize unique and relevant content alone will not get you into your dream program; you now face the challenge of delivering your topics with style.
Keeping in mind the most common writing bloopers our clients make, we've outlined below helpful tips to assist you as you pen down that all-important admissions essay.
Use the Active Voice
"I will always remember my visit to Wharton,"
is better than,
"My visit to the Wharton will always be remembered by me."
This is particularly true if you are writing for a US program. Perhaps it's the country's culture of independence, free will, unlimited opportunity, and action - who knows? - but most US English teachers urge their students to write in the active voice. Sentences in the passive voice are generally regarded as wordy and less vigorous. In contrast, writing in the active voice, in which the sentence's subject completes an action, is seen as more impactful and thus more interesting to read.
In addition, sentences in the active voice are almost always more concise than those in the passive voice. For example, in the example above, the sentence in the active voice cuts out the words, "by me". In an era and culture in which time is considered money, the faster you can say your piece, the better.
Craft Assertive Statements
Similar in its effect to writing in the active voice, putting statements in the positive form, or avoiding noncommittal language, will make your admissions essay more impactful.
First of all, beware of your use of the word, "not".
"She was not dressed in a professional manner,"
is weaker than,
"She was dressed unprofessionally."
Secondly, taking out the word "not" often makes sentences more concise.
"Ignored" means the same thing as "did not pay any attention to", for instance.
You will also sound more resolute and thus stronger in character if you avoid unnecessary auxiliaries and conditionals.
"If you would let me know of the admissions decision, then I would be happy to mail you the tuition deposit,"
sounds less powerful and committed than,
"If you will let me know of the admissions decision, then I shall be happy to mail you the tuition deposit."
Most admissions offices ask that you express yourself in a limited space, whether that is 300 words, 500 words, or, if you're very lucky, 1000 words. There is a good reason for this. Admissions officers are, for the most part, very busy professionals who must make difficult decisions that impact applicants' life paths. Although they need to glean a great deal of information about each candidate to reach admissions decisions, they, like everybody else, have only 24 hours in a day. In other words, they have neither the time nor the energy to read your entire life story.
That writing space is limited entails that every word you write must count, must answer the question, "Why should I be admitted?" Thus, write "whether" not "the question as to whether"; "utilized to interrogate" rather than "utilized for interrogatory purposes"; and "because" over "the reason why is that".
You can often make voluminous writing more effective by combining a series of sentences into one. Compare, for example:
"I heard that my new Belgian classmate had become homesick. Therefore, I sat down with him at lunch. I cracked a few jokes and talked about my experience studying abroad in Shanghai for a semester."
"When I heard my new Belgian classadmate was homesick, I sat down with him at lunch, cracking a few jokes and talking about my semester-long experience studying in Shanghai."
Omit Overly Complicated Words and Language
Remember you are writing an essay for admissions purposes, not a research paper. Avoid fancy, pretentious words such as "beauteous" or "odoriferous".
"The dilapidated apartment block's corridor had stagnant air permeated by an odoriferous cocktail of decomposing refuse,"
is simply ridiculous. Rather, write,
"The rundown apartment's corridor was filled with the stink of decomposing trash."
Of course, there are instances in which more complicated language is the better choice. You need to use your ear to determine when this is the case. At the most basic level, the admissions officer reading your essay needs to be able to get through it without a dictionary or style guide. Your goal is to make readers want to accept you into your dream school, not to show off your perusal of the thesaurus.
There is a notable exception to the rule: applications to highly cognitive, specialized programs such as the Master's in Financial Engineering or PhD in Marketing Management, whose the application readers have detailed knowledge of the particular field. In such cases, you should use some subject-specific language to demonstrate that you are competent in your field.
In addition, on any MBA application, you want to sound fluent in business terms relevant to your profession and thus market yourself effectively. Just don't overwhelm admissions officers with a torrent of technical jargon.