How to interpret essay questions and instructions…

How to interpret essay questions.Essay questions are more than skin deep on applications to MBA programs and graduate school. Understanding the guidance from a school can help you tailor your responses and submit strong essays.

Specific essay questions

Some schools have very specific questions they want answers to. Schools can use this because tightly designed questions are easy to compare across the candidate pool. Good essays answer the question explicitly, and with clear, concise language.

Benefits for applicants

Having a specific question to answer gives you a framework to use. It reduces ambiguity and can make you feel more confident about your ability to submit a strong essay. Follow the school’s question roadmap closely.

Strategies for applicants

The absolute key thing to do here is to read the entire question and focus on it in your writing. Make sure you answer the question clearly and in a straightforward manner. Don’t leave it up to the admissions committee to interpret your essays and try to figure out where you provided an answer.

Vague essay questions

Other schools use vague questions and give you no guidance about how to answer them. These are “blue sky” essays where what you say and how well you say it are both being evaluated.  In other words, if you could say anything at all, what would it be and how well would you do it. The generic “statement of interest” falls into this category, especially when there is no length guidance.

Benefits for applicants

This let’s you say what you want, more or less. It is imperative that you say something meaningful and do it with clarity. Decide what your message will be and write a compelling essay that also integrates why that particular school is the best place to do your graduate degree and how you will integrate your academic experience with the content of your essay.

Strategies for applicants

Admissions committee assessment of this kind of essay question is likely focused on both what you choose to say and how well you communicate. Adcom evaluations for vague question are sometimes no more complicated than “is this good enough?”.  Compare that with the higher competition comparison possible with tightly defined, narrow essay questions.

PS: The next post will include tips that help you write strong essays.

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