One element of MBA application essays that can be challenging for business school candidates, no matter how skilled they are as writers, is staying within the target school’s word limits. Sometimes, cutting just a few words is all that is needed to keep from exceeding the set maximum, but after looking at a draft multiple times, seeing where the opportunities are to do this can be difficult. Here are a few common phrases that can be shortened without negatively affecting a sentence’s meaning (and that in many cases may even improve the text).
1. be able to
Replacing variations of “be able to” with simply “can” in the present tense or “will” in future tense constructions can easily save you two or three words.
Because of my strong organizational skills, I am able to accomplish more work in less time. (16 words)
*Because of my strong organizational skills, I can accomplish more work in less time. (14 words)
With this latest round of funding, my venture will be able to expand into new districts. (16 words)
*With this latest round of funding, my venture will expand into new districts. (13 words)
2. decided to
If something you mention occurred because of a decision you or someone else made, you can bypass discussing the decision part of the process and focus exclusively on describing the resulting action. Avoid using “decided to” and make your action verb the primary verb of your statement.
Once I saw the numbers, I decided to call a meeting. (11 words)
*Once I saw the numbers, I called a meeting. (9 words)
My supervisor decided to promote me first. (7 words)
*My supervisor promoted me first. (5 words)
3. despite the fact that
This wordy phrase can and should be replaced with simply “even though.”
I was passed over for the promotion despite the fact that I had committed more hours to the project. (19 words)
*I was passed over for the promotion even though I had committed more hours to the project. (17 words)
4. in order to/in order for
Very simply, “in order” adds nothing to the clarity or meaning of the phrase that follows it. Simply use “to” or “for,” as appropriate.
We had to wake up three hours early in order to get to the site on time. (17 words)
*We had to wake up three hours early to get to the site on time. (15 words)
I knew that in order for my team to stay on budget, we needed to find a new distributor. (19 words)
*I knew that for my team to stay on budget, we needed to find a new distributor. (17 words)
5. prior to/in advance of
When discussing something that occurs ahead of something else, simply use “before.” “Prior to” and “in advance of” confer no special or additional meaning and can sound affected, in addition to being wordy.
Prior to leaving for the airport, I called to confirm my flight. (12 words)
*Before leaving for the airport, I called to confirm my flight. (11 words)
The club officers contacted all the contracted sponsors in advance of the conference. (13 words)
*The club officers contacted all the contracted sponsors before the conference. (11 words)
These simple changes can tighten your writing and save you a few words—and sometimes, that is all you need!