When you think of common business school application mistakes, I’ll bet some of the famed horror stories come to mind: the wrong-school typo, the too-personal essay topic, the inappropriate Facebook photo…

What about writing ability?

Not the baseline question of whether you can put an English sentence together—but the little things. The ones that aren’t deal breakers in and of themselves, but that pick away at the reader’s nerves. Things that distract the reader from the points you’re trying to make, and that make the experience of reading your application a less pleasant one than it could have been. And without meaning to, that slowly but surely begin to separate a weaker writer from other candidates in contention

Before you finalize your resume or get too deep into essay writing, I wanted to share some of the more common writing-related issues I see on candidates’ applications year after year. May these suggestions help you to come out of the gate with your best foot forward:

Active voice

Always use active voice (“I did X”) rather than passive voice (“X happened to me”). Take credit for the choices you’ve made—particularly when they generated a positive result! This applies to your essays, resume, cover letters, proposals, and any business writing you’ll ever do in the future.


Avoid terms that only an industry insider would know. The admissions committee works in education/academia, and they are not necessarily experienced in your line of work. Write with professional maturity, but if your college-educated relatives are asking you for clarification, rethink your wording.


A personal pet peeve: please don’t begin your essays by restating the question. It’s uncreative and frankly a waste of precious words. Have mercy on your weary admissions officers, who’ve now read three applications in a row beginning with “My greatest accomplishment is…” Instead, jump right into the scene (“There we were, at the 11th hour…”) and spend the essay showing them why it’s your greatest accomplishment, rather than telling them.


Have you ever read a best-selling novel that used the word “team” ten times within the same paragraph? Word repetition can actually be as distracting as a public speaker who says “like” or “you know” repeatedly; at some point, you begin listening for the next “like” rather than paying attention to the content. Capitalize on conveniences like thesaurus.com and mix up your word choices. Always keep something fresh and unexpected around the corner.


Did you know that there are multiple types of dashes/hyphens, and that none of them should have spaces on either end? Would you bet money that you use semi-colons correctly? Does “never end a sentence with a preposition” sound familiar? Refresh your knowledge of the basics, so you can use grammar and punctuation to strengthen the perception of your professional competence, rather than negatively impact it.

Story telling

Finally, if it enables you to think more freely, think of it as telling a story rather than writing an essay. Find beauty in the English language. Incorporate character development. Create a coherent flow, with a beginning, middle and end. Support the points you’re making, and passionately root for your protagonist to succeed. If you do, in all likelihood, your reader will too.

[For personalized advice on your MBA application, please contact us at info@shineadmissions.com]
© Hillary Schubach  September 5, 2011  12:46pm