This is a post I write basically every year because it comes from what I'm seeing each round, every day, on basically every application. That drum beat is really rigid, hard-to-read Why School X sections on essays.
I give the same note to every single client so now I'm giving it to everybody: the simplest and most important thing you can do to improve your Why School X portion of career goals essay is to personalize any and all content. This is a great way to avoid writing something off-putting, as well as a quick and easy method for making your essays warmer, more personal, and easier to connect with.
So, what do I mean by "personalizing" this part of the app?
Simple: make anything you write about the school specific to you, your experience, your desires, or what you require from a program. Never just state absolutes, generalities, or even known truths and facts - always make them personally-held viewpoints. Examples are the best way to understand this (after the jump):
"I am seeking an intense MBA experience, which is why INSEAD is my top choice."
"INSEAD is one of the most intense MBA programs in the world."
The first sentence is a statement about what you want (an intense experience), which is used as justification for pursuing the school. It doesn't matter whether you are right or wrong in your assessment, so long as you believe it and can then base a decision on that belief. Whereas in the second sentence, you are simply stating a fact. There are multiple problems with this:
- you might be wrong,
- even if you are right it might sound lecturing (which can irritate a reader who is far more of an expert on the subject than you are), or
- even if you are right and the reader is not mildly irritated, you still miss a chance to express something about you. Anything in any essay that doesn't tell the reader more about you, your world, and what you want is wasted space.
"One thing that drew me to Duke right away was the small class size, which has always been the ideal setting for me to grow and learn."
"Small class sizes are the best way to learn, which is why I love Duke."
This one has a wrinkle, which is that the "bad" sentence sort of seems to personalize the statement with the "why I love Duke" part. The problem is that the revelation is still not based on a personal belief, but rather a statement of fact. Indeed, this statement of fact is even more egregious than the INSEAD statement above because it's offering up as concrete fact something that is highly debatable. Maybe large classes are the best way to learn. Maybe it's online. Maybe it's one-on-one. Who are you to say? Who am I to say? None of us are experts in the sphere of ideal learning models, so this just sounds completely arrogant. Whereas in the "good" example, we see that it's simply a personal preference that is the basis for further interest in Duke.
I could go on and on and write 10 examples, but two is probably enough.
The main thing is to read every single sentence you write about a program and make sure that it's always personal - told from your perspective, your opinion, your beliefs, and your desires.
If it dissolves into "brochure writing" - just statements of fact, no matter how benign or flattering to the school - there is zero upside and plenty of downside.
It's a small thing, but we see it crop up in probably 90% of the essays we read, so it's obviously a fairly widespread problem. And while it may not be the entire difference between being admitted or denied, it can definitely be the difference between getting a good or a bad read of your file. And in our experience, *that* is often the difference between being admitted or denied.
If you are interested in making sure your essays are personalized (as well as everything else they need to be), hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.