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The Essay Rater

The Four Levels of B School Essays--What Level Is Yours?

I. Novice
II. A Face In The Crowd

III. A Sharper Face In The Crowd
IV. A Winning Essay

Want to find out where you are and why?

Level One: Novice.

Your essay could have been written by anyone, all it does is speak in generalities about such topics as consulting, or starting a company, or how good technology is, or why you want to run your future organization on a "win-win" model. Most of what you say is true--consultants do help people, "win-win" is good--but it has not been personalized, detailed, and developed to help your application.

Most first drafts, especially those written by people with quantitative and engineering backgrounds, are like this. Very often these drafts contain one or two hints in undeveloped form that can serve as the basis of a convincing and much better essay.

Level Two: Another Face In The Crowd.

In this essay we see a little of you--there are details about your work, your goals, your background and interests that only you could have written--so you are not clueless. But you are still not focused, sparkling, and tactical. Level Two Essays frequently contain laundry lists of achievements, goals, influences etc. and often [but not always] contain the classic Level Two shortcomings:

1. Listing Achievements Instead of Describing In Convincing Detail The Process By Which Achievements and Failure Happened: This is the mother of all flaws in the b-school application game.

2. The "I-Told-Them-So" Bad Attitude: "And when my plan was implemented instead of the one proposed by my immediate supervisor . . . . ."

3. Hitting Doubles Instead of Home Runs: Getting a lot of worthwhile material into the essay, but not fully exploiting it because 1. there is not enough detail, anecdote, quotation; and 2. you do not deeply understand the psychology of the interaction you are describing.

4. Omissions: You have not really located the key events in your personal and work life, nor have you figured out what your real vision, dream etc. is.

Level Three: A Sharper Face In The Crowd.

This is a Level Two essay which has been improved, or which contains a minimum of the errors listed in the Classic Level Two Essay--sort of the B+ of essays.

Most business school essays are Level Two or Three essays of varying kinds and many candidates have been accepted to Stanford, Sloan, Wharton, Kellogg, Harvard etc. with Level Two or Three essays (despite each school's protestations to the contrary) simply because these people were extraordinary applicants based on their academic and test records, their work history, their personality, interviews, and recommendations.

Of course, many, many more applicants have been rejected from Stanford, Sloan, Wharton, Kellogg, Harvard etc. with Level Two and Three Essays.

Could some of these rejected applicants have been accepted if their essays were better?

There is no scientific study which addresses this issue, but some schools--such as Sloan and Tuck--will tell you why you were rejected if you ask nicely in May or June. One piece of advice they often give to rejected candidates is to work harder on their essays. I have worked with candidates who were rejected by leading business schools one year and accepted by the same school a year later. Not much had really changed in that year--except their essays.

Level Four: Winning Essays.

Most winning essays are Level Two and Three essays which have been--by dint of blood, sweat, tears and help--worked into winning essays. The details are sharper and thicker and the maturity level is deeper. They have also been mercilessly edited.

The "tone" of most winning essays is concise, professional, and polished. The developed facts speak for themselves. What emerges is a candidate who is original, unexpected, engaged, self-knowing and ultra-qualified.

[Some books will tell you the winning essay presents a candidate who has developed a niche marketing position--if that helps you understand this, so be it.]

A Winning Essay usually means many rewrites, many false starts, much testing of your stamina. Thus, most Winning Essays are made, not born. There is no one magic moment of inspiration, insight, Muse intervention, or luck. It's just hard work and proper guidance if you need it--and most people do.

There is no clear line separating a Level Three Essay from a Winning Essay, and expert opinion may differ as to when an essay crosses the line.

Your goal is to write a High Level Three Essay or a Winning Essay.

The Platinum Standard:

There are some essays that are literary mini-masterpieces: not only are the details and maturity level rock solid, but the story the essay tells is inspirational, powerful, and affecting. [Many "merely" Winning Essays have short passages and incidents like this as well, but the tone or story-line is not sustained.] Don't fixate on the platinum standard--just work, work, work, with what you have. Your goal is to write a Winning Essay, not a Prize Winning Essay. Let's get you in to the best business school you can possibly achieve, the prizes will come later.

There's more, but why not just e-mail over your essay and find out where you stand. The most profitable thing you can do is to begin a dialog about your essays--reading about the process is one thing, DOING the process is the REAL thing.


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