Tuesday, September 01, 2015 at 7am

22 Things to Avoid in MBA Admissions Essays

22 Things to Avoid in MBA Admissions Essays main image

Essays, theses, and other types of formal writing are an integral part of college life, to which one becomes accustomed when a student. After a gap of a few years, however, getting back into the swing of things for your MBA admissions essay can be tough.

The formal writing rules you learned in college work for MBA essays too, but business school admissions staff expect greater knowledge and critical thinking from you. With that in mind, you try to come up with ideas and facts, and unique approaches you could take to impress a committee.

You should not, however, focus solely on the content of your MBA essay. You need to think about the verbal devices you employ and the potential effect they can have too. There are specific types of informal writing that you are better off avoiding in your MBA admissions essay. Here are 22 of them…

1) Idioms

You don't write your admission essay to entertain or advertise professors, so it's better to avoid idiomatic phrases. Yes, idioms enrich our language, but an MBA admissions essay is an exercise in formal writing; admissions officers don’t want to be entertained by your prose, so steer clear of idioms.

2) Cliché

You don't need expressions that have been used so often they lose freshness and meaning. Phrases like ‘sleeping like the dead’ or ‘nip it in the bud’ are not a good way to express your thoughts in formal writing. Or any writing for that matter.

3) Quotes

Never start your MBA admissions essay with a famous quote. Yes, it can be a good way to hook readers, but admissions officers want to hear from you, not Shakespeare, Hemingway, or other famous people; the first voice they read should be yours.

4) Teen speak

Teen speak is not appropriate in formal writing; the English language is rich, so you should be able to find the right words to express your ideas without sounding like you’re a freshman.

5-6) ‘It goes without saying’, ‘needless to say’

It goes without saying that there’s no point in employing these phrases. If there’s really no need to say something, why say it?

7) ‘In conclusion’

This is unnecessary in formal writing because readers know they’re coming up to the end of the essay. Admissions staff want to see how you tie your ideas together in a finale, not be told you are going to finish your essay. Phrases like ‘in conclusion’, ‘lastly’, ‘finally’ etc. are good for speeches,  less so for written communication.

8-15) ‘Very’, ‘quite’, ‘really’, ‘totally’, ‘already’, ‘fairly’, ‘actually’, ‘much’

All these single-word modifiers don't enhance your meaning.  When you are asked to write a 2000-word essay, you may want to insert some extra words for quantity or emphasis, but the result is not always effective. These words are frequently redundant: ‘very unique’ (you know not to say this anyway, right?), ‘totally destroyed’, ‘quite enough’ – these examples demonstrate the irrelevance of such modifiers. They will not be helpful for your essay.

16) ‘Ironically’

Understanding and appreciation of irony differs, sometimes a great deal, across international borders as well as between individuals, so it’s best to avoid labelling something as such – particularly in formal writing.

17) ‘Dark’

Use this when something is literally dark and try to avoid it otherwise. It's unnecessary to make your MBA admissions essay macabre.

18) ‘Like’

There are no problems with the word itself, but it is used to show uncertainty; not a trait you want to convey in your MBA essay (though often a healthy quality to possess in real life). Be bold, limit the use of similes and try to find stronger comparisons for expressing ideas.

19-21) ‘In order to’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘nevertheless’

All these phrases are needless for expressing your point. Sometimes it's appropriate to use ‘in order to’, when ‘to’ alone can create confusion; but these occasions are rare.

22) Informal language

Never use informal words in your MBA admissions essay. Wordiness, clichés, slang, poor word choices, incomplete sentences – they all can kill your writing and prevent admissions officers from appreciating your work. If you sound like a Buzzfeed article, it’s probably time to rethink your approach.

Remember, you should use language to your advantage – the above instances are examples of things that can weaken your message. Don't forget to bookmark useful resources that will help you create clear and compelling essays to highlight your strengths and convey your skills.  Good luck!


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Lesley J Vos, a graduate of the University of Chicago, is a private educator and online tutor who helps students deal with their academic writing. She is also a passionate blogger - you can connect with her on Google+ and learn more about her and her work here.

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