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What are the best topics for essays? I’m having writer’s block and don’t know how to get started. Is this section getting easier to pass?
Potential student, 31
Chioma is chief executive of Expartus, the business school admissions consultancy, and author of The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets. Her answer appears below.
There is no ‘magic’ essay topic that will put your application on the fast track to admission. What works well for one applicant might derail another and you need to be careful to choose topics that authentically tell your story. The best essay topics accomplish three objectives:
• Reveal something that truly matters to you. There is a reason that the Stanford Graduate School of Business consistently returns to their most famous essay question: What matters most to you and why? It cuts to the heart of what schools want to learn about you and the essay section is your best shot to show them. Make sure that you are writing about something that you truly want to be writing about, not just what you think the committee wants to read. Believe me, I have read so many essays where applicants tried to feign interest. It is immediately apparent and never advantageous.
• Reinforce the major themes of your personal brand. Your entire application - including the essay section - should tell one cohesive story. When choosing your topic, think about the three major themes you want to convey in your application. Perhaps you are a business-minded engineer looking to make the leap into the tech sector. Maybe you are a tough, determined entrepreneur with a stellar business idea. Whatever your brand, your essays need to bring it to life. Don’t lose sight of that end goal.
• Add a new element or nuance to your application. I just told you that your essays should reflect your personal brand. Now, I am going to remind you that they should not simply restate it. The essay section is the most free space you have in the application - use it to show the admissions committee something they will not find on your transcript or in your recommendations. Anecdotes about hobbies or interests will give another dimension to your application and will help you stand out among scores of well-qualified applicants.
If you are struggling with writer’s block, let go of the idea of finding the perfect topic, at least for the moment. Instead, simply make a list of what comes to mind first, even if you think it is no good. Take a walk, ruminate for a while, and write down as many ideas as possible. Once you have thought about those ideas for a few days, come back to the list of objectives above. Which topics achieve all three objectives? Which ones fall short? Can some be combined or tweaked? If you are still stuck, run some of your ideas past a trusted advisor or mentor to gain a fresh perspective.
Next, it’s time to put pen to paper. It’s okay if you hate your first draft, many great writers do. You will be fine as long as you give yourself time to edit. With so many schools cutting their word count requirements over the past few years, applicants are more tempted to leave their essays until the last minute. Do not do this. Just because the essay sections are shorter does not mean they are easier. In fact, I would argue that it is often harder to say all that you need say. So, give the essays the time and attention that they deserve. In a pool of highly competitive applicants, this could be your best shot at differentiation.
Read more articles on applying to business school:
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Tips on campus visits
Tips on one-year v two-year programmes
Tips on MBA interviews
Tips on entrance exams