Before proceeding, i must admit that i am not an expert of essay writing, or writing generally. Accepted, i did get a 6.0 in AWA as well as 30/30 in the writing section of TOEFL, but that does not necessarily testify my writing skills. May be i am a decent writer but a good test taker :) Considering that background, what i am going to say here is a result of the hardship i went through in the months preceding the R1 deadlines. I wouldn't call it a struggle per se, but the months were hard for sure. I should also accept that i enjoyed the hardship :)
In many ways, the essay writing process begins with the introspection process and the school selection posts 1 & 2 i made earlier. While i was doing these steps, i made sure i did not throw away any information i gathered. I created folders in my PC for each school and saved all the pages which i thought were important, interesting or had any information that i cud use. Over time, this swelled into a huge pile of information which i used both for the essays and for the interviews. So that's one tip I'd give u people - all information is important :)
An essay is a culmination of your thought process, and hence as the thought process itself - it goes through many stages. In this "Evolution process", i believe the essays go through the following stages...
This is where it begins - the stuff i explained above. After the data collection and introspection process, we'll have loads of data about the schools and also about our self. If we'd done any investigation about our future career options, we will also have data bout them. So in all, we will have pages and pages of information, which needs to be used to answer different parts of the essay questions.
With the data dumps in hand, one has to work with individual essays and answer each question to the best of their abilities. Consider all the essays of a school and chose incidents from your life that showcase various aspects of your profile and personality. Also, when you write about the incidents, make sure you don't waste a lot of words discussing the "what". The schools are more interested in the reasoning behind the incidents - the "why". If u made a job hop, explain why? If u were involved in community service - explain why. If there are interesting pastimes, explain why do u pursue them. The "why" part is where your personality comes out. Make sure u show enough of yourself to the AdComm.
Creative thinking does help, but those who cannot do that need not sweat. Plain, to the point writing will not affect your chances of getting an interview invite. While working with the loads of data one will have now, use your judgment to filter the important from the trivial, the interesting from the usual, the funny from the plain and make sure you maintain the school's flavor throughout the essays.
As we write the essays, there are many things we need to consider:
- Word limits - Some schools are lenient, others are strict - but no one will disqualify you if you really need to exceed the word limits. Don't write more for the heck of it - it is not an indication of your love towards the school. It might irritate the readers (who read many essays everyday) and lead to unexpected results. So do your best to stick to word limits and if you have enough reason to exceed the limits, go ahead and write as much as u want :)
- Formatting - Check this with individual schools. Some require essay questions to be in the header, some specify page numbers to be in footers, some specify fonts, some specify margins. So it changes from one school to another. This is usually in the fine print. So read the "Essay Questions" pages completely and check the page once again before u submit the essay - things cud have changed.
- Reviews - One cannot stress enough about the role reviews play in making the essays effective. But the review process will be successful only if the right kind of reviewers are used. It is important to have reviewers who know you life (to tell u what u have missed) and also reviewers who don't know your life (and to tell u what kind of an impression you make with your story). It is important to have reviewers who'd review your language and also who'd look beyond the language and review the content. It is important to have reviewers who know the Bschool admission process and also reviewers who don't stick to the definitions to the dot. It is important to have reviewers who have time (because they shouldn't do it as a "quickie") and also those who'd work whenever (you never know what crazy hrs you'd work) you send them your essays. It is important to have reviewers who wouldn't impose their writing style or personality into your essays and it is also important to have reviewers who'd improve your style as they review the essays. In short, see how much the essays improve after each review. You'll know what kind of reviewer u have. So as and when the process moves forward, you can add more reviewers or educate your present reviewers to review particular areas of the essays. It is important to make sure the reviews add value to the essays.
- Proof Reading - Even after the essays pass through multiple eyes - the writer, the reviewers - the essays surprisingly carry with them minor mistakes. They miss the eyes only because they are minor. So once all reviews are done it is necessary to sweep the essays to find out these hidden troubles and sort them out.
- Fresh eyes - It is also good if you can find a person, other than the reviewers, to read the finished essays and comment on them. It will be better if this person is a student or an alumni - of the target school (preferred) or of any school (take comments on school specific stuff with a pinch of salt) .
The final drafts will be ready after the essays go through these steps. Till this time, we'd have answered each essay within the scope of the essay - to try and answer the questions being asked in each essay. Now, consider the big picture effect and review the essays with the complete profile in mind. Also consider the data sheets of the application and see if anything is being said there, which need not go into the essays. These will not require any major changes, but a few minor adjustments between essays will improve the overall impact the essays make. Also if there are references to be made between essays, or to the application - add them to the essays. Overall, this is the time to make all minor adjustments. I am sure once we have the final drafts, we'll do it everyday we hit the submit button :)'
Once the minor adjustments are all done, it is GAME, SET and MATCH. Now get someone (yeah - fall at his feet to read the essays for the nth time) to proof read it one last time to see if there is something u missed. Even if u have reviewed and modified the essays a 100 times, every time you read it again you will want to improve something. So you should know when to stop doing this. If you are me, you will reach a time when you say "enough is enough" and submit the application. Before that, read the essay instructions one last time to verify if you have not missed anything. Carefully upload the essays, view the previews carefully to check if nothing has been truncated, and then u view the entire application once. If every thing is alright, u are all set to submit the apps.
I'll write about the recommendations next :)