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Avoid Negativity and Multiple Famous Quotes in Your MBA Application Essays

Sincerity. Honesty. Candor. We encourage MBA candidates to incorporate these attributes into their applications, and when they do, successful essays tend to follow. Yet, can an applicant go too far? The answer is “yes,” especially when candor turns to negativity. Sometimes, when MBA candidates believe they are being candid, they are in fact revealing themselves to be predisposed to pessimism; as a result, the admissions committee has difficulty identifying with their file. Such situations are unfortunate, but luckily, they are often also avoidable; an ostensibly “negative” idea can almost always be expressed in a positive and optimistic manner.

Example:

“In my current position, I am no longer learning and am afraid I will continue to stagnate without my MBA. I cannot achieve my objective of becoming a leader in the marketing department at my firm unless…”

Common sense would say that the admissions committee would likely not be very excited about accepting an applicant who believes he/she has stopped learning or that his/her career progress can be thwarted by basic obstacles.

Revised Example:

“As I look to the future, I recognize that with MBA training, I could dramatically increase my impact on my firm. With an eye toward a leadership position in our marketing department, I am…”

In this revised example, the candidate is expressing the exact same need for an MBA in positive terms and is thus making him-/herself a more warm and engaging prospect, while still candidly stating a need for further education.

Before submitting your file, check for unnecessarily negative statements. Although we would never suggest that every line in your essays must be full of sunshine, you should certainly take steps to avoid portraying yourself as a pessimist.

Like negativity, you should also avoid relying on quotes in your MBA application essays. Sometimes, incorporating a famous quote (or perhaps a lesser-known quote by a well-known person) can add a little something special to the story you are trying to tell. If the quotation truly enhances your message in a significant way, it can serve as an effective tool, making your submission that much more compelling. Consider the following examples:

Example 1:

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s words are as true today as when he spoke them. The essence of a manager is…

Example 2: 

As Peter F. Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” I have found the distinction between management and leadership especially important…

However, some candidates may be tempted to use a quotation as a kind of crutch, essentially relying on someone else’s clever or poignant wordsmanship in place of their own. Think of using a quotation as a way of enriching an already interesting narrative, rather than as an easy shortcut to a more impressive essay.

Before using a quotation in your writing, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Does the quotation fit the essay’s main theme?
  • Does the quotation reflect who you are or what you believe?
  • Does the quotation truly enhance the essay?

If you can answer “yes” to all three questions, incorporating the quotation into your essay might be a good idea. But first make sure that your story is sufficiently strong to stand on its own without the quote, and limit yourself to just one quotation per application—not per essay.




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