Application essays are different than anything you’ve ever written before. You must tell a long story with few words, be detailed but big-picture, romantic but realistic, impress but not offend and, ultimately, create an irresistible urge within the reader to help you. Think of it as a pitch to a Hollywood studio head to finance a movie about your life story. Now, we may not be able to get a $100-million movie financed, but we are experts in securing admissions for our clients based on the strength of their personal statement.

Consultants with Twainstein are required to have both a professional writing background and experience in graduate school admissions, either as a successful graduate of a Top Ten Business/Graduate School or work history in said admissions department.

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Top Five Personal Statement Pitfalls

  1. Fake Fancy

    Some people are natural writers and so their prose comes off elegant and effortless, while others need to strain to come off sounding sophisticated. With some writing exercises this might work (office memos, cover letters, mission statements), however with Business/Graduate School personal statements, it is easily spotted and marked as “trying to be something you’re not”—automatic rejection. Two examples should crystallize this pitfall:

    Example 1: My inexorable desire for supremacy in my field led me to search far and wide for the solution that would ultimately prove foolproof.
    Example 2: I hate to admit it, but I can be a perfectionist at times. Still, it served me well when I was charged with finding the only existing solution to our website malfunction.

    The first one has a lot of shiny words and complex phrasing. The second one is clear and unpretentious. Rule of thumb: If you have to edit for effect, don’t! Edit for content only. Let a professional add the needed effect; it is an art that can spit back fire if handled improperly.

  2. “Vanilla” or “Orange-Infused Tahitian Vanilla Bean”?

    Which flavor of ice cream caused your mouth to water? Of course the second one, it has life in it and life is all about the specifics. Everybody lives, then dies, we know the story; it is the details in between that adds the color to our story. If your essay is a collection of impressive accomplishments and their accompanying challenges, well, yaay, good for you. Why not just send over a facsimile of your resume? The personal statement must be radiant in color and emotion, less fact and more feeling. Think of the best waiter you’ve had at a restaurant. Did he run down the specials by factual description: “Tonight we have a pasta rigatoni, braised lamb shanks and poached salmon.” Or did he INFUSE each dish with life: “Tonight you’re in for a treat…the pasta rigatoni is hand-rolled with a meat sauce unlike any you’ve ever tasted. Our braised lamb shanks have been cooking for six hours in garlic, olive oil, port wine and our house spices and the salmon is so light and delicate, forks and knives become shy around them.” Ready to eat? So are the adcoms and “vanilla” isn’t what they have in mind.

  3. More Feeling Less Thinking

    When composing your story, you want to identify more with the feeling and less with the event. That is, feel more and think less. We’re not trying to suggest you turn your essay into a personal diary entry; if you are naturally alpha, let it show, but identify with how that feels and less with how effective it is.

    Thinker: Working in risky derivatives on Wall Street enabled me to hone my skills in high-level quantitative analysis. By the end of my fours years in the department, after three promotions while leading the division in new clients signed, b-school became the next logical step for career advancement.
    Feeler: The derivatives market can be a scary place for a newly minted college graduate. Like the new kid in town walking into his first day at school facing established cliques and longstanding circles of friends, my first day was terrifying. After four years, several promotions and many missteps, I can look back and recount the experience as the best of my professional life for several reasons. First…

    Want to know more about the feeler’s story? Sure you do, you can identify with how she must have, wait for it…felt! So remember, for the personal statement to be effective, it must be felt, not heard.

  4. Be clear AND correct

    Clarity comes from simplicity and simplicity comes from brevity which, of course, is the soul of wit. Remember, 1000 words is not much space so say what you need to say quickly without being overly drawn out. More important than being clear, however, is being correct—grammatically correct. This can only be achieved using a second set of highly-trained literary eyes to ensure you don’t offend the scholarly sensibilities of adcoms who, remember, are academics at heart who appreciate precision in writing.

  5. No Pro Forma Essays

    If you think you can write a generic essay and change the school name for all five schools to which you’re applying and you’re pulling one over on someone, you’re dead wrong! You may as well stamp your application REJECTED and save yourself the painful anticipation time because that’s how it will be returned. Adcoms are more sophisticated than you can imagine and are intimately familiar with every other school’s essay questions, particularly those that are in the same tier as them. So if you’ve written statements like the one below, set fire to your essay and begin anew. Research the particulars of the program; examine your own personal history and career trajectory, finally offering a compelling reason why the fit is perfect.

    Example: “After my four years in risk analysis for Deutsche Bank in their Hong Kong office, I’ve gained the necessary experience to pursue my next career venture: opening a boutique consulting firm that provides Chinese businesses with new market analysis for start-ups. Harvard/Stanford/Yale/Stern/Columbia is the perfect place for me to gain the necessary management training to do this.

The Process

The Process
Figure 1. The Twainstein 3-step process

Thorough investigations will be done into three different areas before we begin the essay process:

Where you’ve been.

What you’ve been.

Who you’ve been.

This three-step process takes the form of in-depth questionnaires, a face-to-face session with our consultant and personal introspection through guided templates we’ve created. Once this is complete, a three-step write-edit-rewrite process is set in motion. We never write stories for our clients. Instead, we help craft your voice to capture the essence of your story and fashion it in the most compelling way possible to reach each of your target schools. Besides, adcoms don’t want stories, they want songs. Simply put, we turn your story into a song.

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