Most high school students in the United States are taught to write essays that have a formal introduction, a body that supports that introduction, and a conclusion that reinforces the main point presented in the introduction. Although this approach and structure yield easily comprehensible academic work, business school application essays are constrained by word count—so candidates often must use alternative, less lengthy openings because they do not have the luxury of “wasting” 100 words to introduce their topic.
We recommend sometimes using the “non-introduction” introduction, depending on the context and pace of your story. If you have a gripping opener that places your reader in the middle of a scenario, we suggest you launch right into your story to grab and keep the reader’s attention.
Consider this traditional introduction:
“Throughout my career, I have strived to continuously learn and develop as a manager, frequently taking enrichment courses, seizing mentorship opportunities, and seeking frank feedback from my superiors. When my firm staffed me on its $4.5M Oregon Project (our highest-profile product launch in a decade), I considered it a tremendous opportunity to deliver and never imagined that it would become the greatest test of my managerial abilities. When I arrived in Portland, I discovered a project deemed so important by our firm that it was overstaffed and wallowing in confused directives from headquarters in Chicago. I quickly surveyed the situation and began to create support for changes to…”
What if this essay, under the pressure of word limits, were to begin with a slightly modified version of the body?
“When I arrived in Portland, I discovered that my firm’s $4.5M Oregon Project—our highest-profile product launch in a decade—was overstaffed and wallowing in confused directives from headquarters in Chicago. I quickly surveyed the situation and began to create support for change…”
In this case, approximately 70 words are saved, and the reader is immediately thrust into the middle of the story, learning how the writer jumped into the project and ultimately saved the day. Although the “non-introduction” introduction should not be used for every essay, it can be a valuable tool when applied with discretion.
In addition, applicants should consider how to assert a sense of ownership in their essays. Many business school candidates unwittingly begin with platitudes—obvious or trite remarks written as though they were original. For example, when responding to the essay question, “Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision,” an applicant might mistakenly write the following:
“Managers constantly face difficult decisions. Still, everyone hates indecision.”
The applicant does not “own” this idea and cannot lay claim to this statement. A simple alternative would be to insert his/her personal experience and viewpoint into the sentence:
“I found myself back in the boardroom with Steve, anticipating that yet again, he would change his mind on the mbaMission file.”
By discussing your personal and unique experiences, you demonstrate ownership of your story while engaging your reader. Avoiding platitudes and generalities—and ensuring that you are sharing your experience, rather than one that could belong to anyone else—is a simple but often overlooked step in creating a compelling message.