My School Environment Essay Questions

ESSAY #2 “Demonstrate How You Will Contribute to the School…”

byAnthony Russomanno on September 19th, 2010

With the upcoming application cycle getting closer, I have decided once again to connect with guest author Kofi Kankam, Co-founder & Director or Admit Advantage, an MBA advisory company. Kofi’s earlier articles include “I have a weakness – GPA” and ESSAY #1 Be Succinct but Responsive to the Questions. Here, Kofi discusses a key aspect of the MBA application- demonstrating how you will contribute to the school.

Take it from here, Kofi…

Every program, and certainly the top schools request within the MBA application that each prospective student indicate “how they will contribute to the school”.   Of course, if the situation was that obvious and prospects didn’t flub it – frequently, we would not be spending your time and ours missing reruns of Law & Order and the lead-up to the baseball playoffs reading and writing this short vignette.  The schools never ask the question that directly as the request can come in many forms and even sometimes as part of other questions.  These forms may include:

  • “Why do you want to go to ‘School X’”
  • “Trace your career progression”
  • “How will you introduce yourself to your classmates”

Be Aware of What the School Actually Wants To Know!

With the question never stated directly and candidates already not aware of the need to answer this question generally (even if it is not asked specifically), the potential for death by negligence is exceptionally high.   Too often, as MBA admissions consultants, we see MBA admissions essays which show only the perspective of why the candidate wants to attend an MBA program as opposed to what he/she is seeking to contribute.  While these feelings may be true in answering the question about why you want to go to School X, it is critical for MBA applicants to balance this focus on what they will derive from the program with a focus on what they will offer.   The reasons that candidates typically offer are:

  • Training
  • Networking
  • Brand/Prestige
  • Fulfilling a lifelong dream
  • Ability to become very financially successful, nab the corner office, drive the Benz, and hope to tee it up with Phil Mickelson, or trade ground strokes with Serena (don’t get her angry), etc…you get the point

Set Yourself Apart From the Pack…

Of course, those are the reasons, but how does that help an admissions committee member who is trying to decide which one out of five, six or ten MBA applicants deserves a seat in a program?  Not very much.   Neither does praising the school to no end, recounting the rankings, detailing famous alumni who have attended, deals that have occurred led by specific alumni, etc….Do you remember how annoying it was in high school when all the people trying to date you would just endlessly fawn all over you and tell you how great you are?  Wait….I don’t remember either.  But, when I observed it, I realized that the person who often “won” that contest often really made an impression on how they were going to make things fun, interesting, better for the person they were dating.  They didn’t just praise them to the high heavens.  Remember, you’re applying to impress MBA admissions, not to get a job with the school’s brochure committee.

Write From a Different Perspective.

Your MBA essay writing needs to include a focus on the admissions committee’s perspective.   While they certainly want to verify that you possess the intellectual horsepower, ability to do the work, likelihood of gaining employment, and desire to attend their specific program, the great MBA candidates (or at least those who prepare great MBA applications – not necessarily the same thing) offer much more:  They appeal to the MBA admissions committee’s desire to assemble a class which has unique individuals capable and committed to making a unique contribution to the MBA community.  Once you have demonstrated you are admissible by the aforementioned standards, the MBA admissions committee is most concerned about “fit” which is largely your ability to enhance the experience for your other MBA classmates.  Do you wonder who gets admitted to very competitive programs?  Those people who make the programs better for others.

So, as an MBA applicant, you should include a focus on how you will contribute in a few key areas:

  • Academically within the classroom
  • Academically beyond the classroom (i.e. “learning/study teams”)
  • With regard to your extracurricular activities
  • With regard to being an alumnus (where you will spend most of your days)

Transplant yourself into the shoes of an MBA admissions officer who is composing their class for the demanding professors to educate.  When you write your MBA essays, be sure to indicate how you will leave your mark beyond your career in the pursuit of impacting others and you will be well-situated to make a competitive run.

Thanks for reading and reach out if Admit Advantage can help you,

Kof

Anthony is a test prep and admissions expert in Orange County, CA. Click here to read more articles from The Princeton Review and to learn more about The Princeton Review's GMAT services.

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As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.

Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.

“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”

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Poke holes

The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.

“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”

But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.

“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?

“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”

Critique your own arguments

Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.

“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”

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Fine, use Wikipedia then

The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.

“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”

Focus your reading

Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.

Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.

You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.

“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”

There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.

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Look beyond the reading list

“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”

And finally, the introduction

The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.

“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”

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