Fall 2017 Previous Application Review Notes - Post #17
During my time spent reviewing essays and other parts of applications from previous years for this series, many thoughts have come to mind from all of the years I have been reading applications. I thought about some of the things I recommend not doing in essay responses and composed the following list for applicants to consider.
- Do not make the error of putting the name of another school you are applying to in your essays. Yes, it does happen every year.
- Do not simply substitute a response you have composed for another school. Your response should be unique to HKS.
- Do not put obvious information in your essay responses, for example, the names of schools you have attended. We have your transcript(s) and your school information is in your resume - why would we need it mentioned again? Think of creative ways to describe your experiences without repeating information already apparent in other parts of your application.
- Do not quote someone “famous” in attempt to note your commitment to public service. Rarely is it effective to quote someone in a essay, unless you go on to analyze or synthesize the quote in a meaningful way. Gandhi is the most frequently person quoted in essays and I grind my teeth every time because the quotes, although full of meaning, most often do not advance the statement. Another way to think of it is, if you are quoting someone it basically means you are relying upon someone else to get your point across. You should not rely on others, you should get your own point(s) across.
- Do not compose essays that follow the exact format of your resume. Although there may be some overlap in the content of your resume and the content of your essay responses, seek to break new ground and present us with information about yourself in a different way. It is not inspiring to read a statement that is just a repackaged resume.
- Do not submit your essay responses without having at least one person who knows you proofread what you plan on submitting.
- Do not upload a draft version of your essay(s). Each year at least one embarrassed applicant (sometimes several) contact us and notes s/he uploaded the wrong version.
- Do not break out a thesaurus to write your essay responses. Compose your responses in your own voice. If you try to include words you normally would never use, your responses are likely to be awkward to read.
- Do not be vague. Avoid broad statements like “I am passionate about international development” without providing specifics. Think about who, what, where, and why? If you are interested in development, who do you wish to help? Where do these people live? What issues do they face? Why are you the person to help them? What have you done to connect to the issue to this point in your life? What skills have you developed and what skills do you lack? Be as specific as possible.
- Do not write your essay as if it is an HKS marketing brochure. Application readers know a great deal about HKS - your task is not to state what we objectively know about the school, it is to state how aspects of the school will help you to improve the lives of others and/or advocate for policies you believe in. If a sentence you compose could be substituted for text on our public website, avoid including it.
- Similar to the previous bullet point, while it is okay to provide objective content related to circumstances, do not dwell too long on stating facts. The purpose of the essays is to get to know the applicant and his/her motivation so the essays should not read like a news account. Much of your statement should not read like something that might be found in a CNN, BBC (substitute your news source) website article.
- Avoid using trite statements and clichés. Overused or unoriginal content is not likely to impress. For example, noting that admission to HKS will help you “spread your wings” or “blossom like a flower” is likely to cause groans from application readers. “Since I was young” and “for as long as I can remember” are other examples to avoid. Comparing your growth/journey to running a marathon or building a house is also likely to fall flat.
- When answering essay prompts regarding the impact you hope to make, do not wait until the last paragraph to provide insight on your motivation/goals/desires. Some applicants use the whole statement as a “set up” for the final paragraph where they finally provide insight into their motivations, and this is not an effective strategy. It is much more effective to state your motivation/goals/desires right up front and then use the rest of the essay as support. Another way to think of it is that statements should not be written as a suspense piece where you make the reader wait until the end to find out what makes you tick.
- Do not be afraid to write about past failures or circumstances that have not worked out the way you had hoped. I am not saying you need to absolutely write about things that have not turned out well for one reason or another, but if it helps you to craft a compelling narrative, do not be afraid to include such information/content. Some applicants erroneously think that they need to appear as “bulletproof” and perfect. Some of the most instructive moments in life come from circumstances that are not ideal.
- Do not submit your essay without reading all of the posts in this series - see the links below.
Post #1 - Series Introduction
Post #2 - MPP with little experience and no focus
Post #3 - MC/MPA application that is a bit detached
Post #4 - MPP - Ineffective one size fits all application
Post #5 - MPP - Very Strong Narrative
Post #6 - MC/MPA - A bit of a roller coaster
Post #7 - MPA2 - Timing
Post #8 - MPP - Competent, but distanced
Post #9 - MPP - Essay Mimics Resume
Post #10 - MPAID Application Advice
Post #11 - MC/MPA Transition from Private Sector
Post #12 - MC/MPA Who Builds Momentum
Post #13 - MPP - Essays are not a Creative Writing Assignment
Post #14 - Notes on Optional Statement
Post #15 - MC/MPA Weaves Failure in Nicely
Post #16 - Capturing the Attention of Committee Members
Post #17 - What Not to Do
Post #18 - Personal History Essay
Повсюду мелькали красно-бело-синие прически. Беккер вздохнул, взвешивая свои возможности. Где ей еще быть в субботний вечер.