Tips on the application essays

I had an email exchange last week with a 2011 applicant and friend of the blog, whom I’ll call “Friend.”  I asked Friend if he had any suggestions for future blog topics, and he asked us to talk about the application essays.  Friend also mentioned that he had liked the previous post by Marc Frankel.  Lucky for me, Marc volunteered to take on the new topic, too.  Although Marc’s an application writer, rather than an application reader, I think he has hit the nail on the head.  Here’s his take on the essays:

A few weeks ago, on the blog, I provided a few pointers on the interview process and how to prepare for it.  Today, I’d like to do the same with the two essay questions Fletcher requires of all applicants.  (Note: PhDs and MIBs have a third required question, so if you’re applying for one of those two degree programs, please make sure you do the third one, too!)

The first thing I want to stress is that you need to answer the question being asked.  Question One asks about your professional goals and why the Fletcher School is the right place to achieve those goals.  Your #1 priority on this question must be to answer the question you’ve been asked.  A good way to ensure you’ve done this is to take the prompt off the top of the document, hand it to a friend, and see if he can guess what question you’re trying to answer.  If your friend guesses that the question asks about your summer internship, it’s a sign you need to review the topic and what you’ve written.

During their interviews, a few applicants have asked me about Question Two and whether there’s one question or another that Fletcher would “prefer” to see.  The answer is no.  The Admissions Office provides three options to give you flexibility to address what you want to write about, but there’s no wrong or right choice.

Another tip on Question Two is to read the top of the essay prompt and remember that it asks you “…to tell the Admissions Committee something about you that does not fit elsewhere on the application.” (My italics.)  This is your time to shine:  share something new about you with the Committee.  When I applied, I answered this question by writing about a research trip to Siberia during my senior year of college.  Before my trip, I heard many horror stories and cautionary tales of crime and corruption.  When I finally went, I dispelled each of those rumors for myself by actually meeting with local people.  The importance of seeing a remote place firsthand was a valuable lesson for me.  Given the limited space in an application, I could never have done justice to the significance of that trip anywhere but the essay.

The last thing I’d say (and yes, I know I wrote this in the interview blog post, too) is to be yourself.  Just like the interview, the essays are an opportunity to talk about yourself — who you are, who you strive to become through Fletcher, and why.  The only wrong answer is one that doesn’t accurately represent you.  A few hundred words isn’t a lot to express your career goals or the uniqueness of your life experience, but make sure to at least give the Committee a glimpse of who you are, beyond the test scores and GPA.

Good luck!

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