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April 22, 2016

Some brief pointers for editing MBA and other graduate school application essays

 Chances are extremely high that when you initially write any application essay and even when you have a good working version of it going, it is likely to be over the word count.  If it is not over the word count, especially at the initial stage that itself is actually a problem.  In another blog post, I will explain why writing to the word count initially is a very bad idea.  In this post, I will assume that you have a good working version of your essay, but it is just too long. 

Here are some suggestions for editing statement of purposes, Why MBA and why this school, leadership/teamwork/values questions, and personal statements down to word or page count: 

1. Is there anything in the essay that repeats what is said in the other essays? If so, you can probably cut it out.  For applications that involve multiple essays or essay-like application form content, part of your job is to fully leverage the entire application. Hence don’t repeat information that can be easily found elsewhere unless it is really useful to do so. You may be using the same data points (facts about yourself) or experiences in multiple parts of the application, but you should be doing so to maximize the value of that information, which is rarely achieved through mere repetition.  With each part of the application, figure out what really needs to be communicated there and look at the application as a whole to make decisions about how to divide your experiences effectively.

2. Do you find yourself needing to explain too much context about your background? If so, consider whether any of it can be explained in the application’s optional essay. If that does not solve the word count issue, consider whether the problem is that you are approaching the story from the wrong angle. Often the problem with context heavy essays is that they don’t tell a story from the right starting point.  In general, defining the right starting point and building content into an action-focused narrative can help.  I know this sounds abstract, but looking at the starting-point often helps clients reframe their stories for both great impact and for purposes of word count.

3. Do you find yourself extensively name dropping? “I met with Anand Kumar (Class of 2006), Sally Johnson (Class of 2009), Taro Suzuki (Class of 2010), Anat Weinstein (Class of 2011), Mohammad Efendi (Class of 2012), and Tom Lee (Class of 2013)…” (Note all these names were made up and any relationship to actual people alumni is merely coincidental). If you do, consider cutting or summarizing it. Also, consider whether such lists can be included in an optional essay. Some schools have a place for including who you met with from the school, so it is not necessary to repeat that in the essay.  On the other, if you are writing a Ph.D. or LL.M. statement of purpose and you want to work with Professor Mada Sukram, you should mention him. In other words, name drop only if doing so is key to argument you are making about why you want to attend a particular program.

4. Do a paragraph by paragraph and then a sentence by sentence search for redundancy. When a client asks for my help in cutting words, which is typically for the last draft, I look for redundancy.

5. Now the really hard part. You have a tight text and it is still over the word count. You have cut something “important.” Prioritize your content and eliminate low priority items. Killing good content is never fun, but sometimes is simply necessary.

Happy Editing!

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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