February 21, 2013
When I was a college English teacher, I regularly warned my students about the dangers of plagiarizing their assignments. In addition to pointing out that plagiarism is simply unethical, I made it clear that plagiarists would be punished, through a failing grade on an assignment, expulsion from class, or even academic probation. Nevertheless, every semester I would catch at least a few students who either missed my warnings or chose to ignore them.
Today, some business school applicants take the same risks, ignoring schools’ warnings about plagiarism and submitting plagiarized essays, despite the steep penalties should they be caught. A recent article in U.S. News and World Report reports that both Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management recently rejected over 60 applicants due to plagiarized material. Additionally, Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business has identified 50 cases of potential plagiarism, which are currently being investigated.
In today’s digital world, plagiarism is easier than ever–students can easily buy or copy essays from the comfort of their own bedrooms–but plagiarism is also more easily detected. Penn State, UCLA, and Northeastern are among the more than 100 colleges and universities that use Turnitin, software that checks for original work and flags potential plagiarism. Turnitin compares papers to other student papers within its database, public web pages, and commercial pages from books, newspapers, and journals, making the task of identifying plagiarized essays much simpler for admissions officials.
In short, plagiarism might be easy, but it’s not worth the risk. So, now that you’ve reaffirmed your aversion to plagiarism, what can you do to put together a solid MBA application essay? Here are few tips:
- Start thinking about your essays sooner rather than later. The earlier you start brainstorming and writing your essays, the more time you’ll have for revision and improvement.
- Be specific about who you are, why you want to go to business school, and what your goals are. The best way to stand out is to demonstrate your passion for your career interests and goals. Check out last week’s blog “Add Depth to MBA Application Essays by Owning Your Goals” for suggestions for making your essays more specific.
- Get feedback. Have a variety of people read your essays. Get feedback from friends, family members, AND co-workers so you can revise your essays from several different perspectives. You don’t need to go overboard–commentary from too many people can become overwhelming–but the insights of several different people will help you perfect your essay.
- Most importantly, be true to yourself. Business school is a big investment, and as much as you want schools to accept you, you also want to select a program that is right for you. Putting your true self forward in your essays will help to ensure that the programs you are accepted to will be good fits for you and your goals.
September 27, 2012
In an earlier post I wrote about the challenge of seeing yourself clearly and finding insight and inspiration for MBA application essays. I presented some design thinking tools to help you discover new insight about a character that you think you know well – yourself. Of course, that’s not the only method to gain insight. Here I am going to give you another, drawn from the intersection of design and ethnography.
The ethnographic interview is a powerful way to gain insight into the world around you and the challenges you are trying to address. What follows here is a short form of those interviews that can help you draw insight about yourself from the people in your life. These people often have a different perspective than you on your life. Some may see accomplishment where you see frustration. Others may see flaws in an area you hadn’t noticed. Drawing out these various perspectives can lead to powerful new insights.
Plan to interview about five people. Each business school interview should last approximately an hour. The first challenge will be who to select. It’s a good idea to select people who support you and want to see you succeed, and who are also willing to give you honest and direct feedback about what they see. Try picking people from various parts of your life – friends, family, peers at work, bosses, etc. This approach will give you a well rounded perspective.
Once you have gotten on the calendar with your interviewees, you’ll need to prepare for the actual experience. These interviews are not your average variety. You will not be reading from a script. Your goal is to make the interviewees feel comfortable so that they are willing to share their stories and perspectives on your life. Thus, it is a good idea to get clear beforehand on what you would like to learn by preparing a list of question. However, you need to be familiar enough with the objectives of each interview that you can deviate from the script and still obtain the needed information.
In terms of questions, try to be open-ended whenever possible. You want to see the world from their perspective. Yes/no or survey type questions tend to only reveal a narrow part of that view. Along this same thread, also try to avoid leading the interviewee into the answers that you want to hear or think you should hear. Your goal is to learn surprising new knowledge.
Finally, you will want to make sure to record the sessions so that you can refer back to them at a later date. This avoids the awkwardness of having to take extensive notes during the interview. You can just relax and sink into the conversation.
After all the interviews are complete, you can use the process that I described in my previous post to synthesize the data into a set of actionable insights that you can use to write you MBA application essays.
September 24, 2012
We all assume we know ourselves well. We think we know about our strengths, weaknesses, achievements, passions, and goals. We think that since we are the protagonists in our lives, the various threads, lessons and insights should be clear. We assume a lot…Then we start to write a b-school admissions essay. What happened to all that insight?
Right now many readers are either busy writing their applications for first round deadlines or are finishing up the GMAT and shooting for the second round. Either way you are smack up against the challenge of finding insight and inspiration. The only difference is whether you are confronting it now or you have no idea what’s about to hit you (but will be bludgeoned soon nonetheless). There are a multitude of ways to find inspiration and insight. Here’s one that has its origins in design thinking.
Design always comes back to sticky notes in one way or another. These little guys are one of the best inventions ever made. Even as a tech-lover, I have to admit that nothing has come even close to physical sticky notes. So gather a bunch of them along with a Sharpie marker and some of those little dot stickers.
Bring all of this to a big blank wall in your house. Start by writing one fact about yourself on each sticky note and sticking it on the wall in any random spot. Keep it simple; don’t write an explanation or an essay. Just write the one fact (it’s very important that it’s just one per note). What do you write? It could be an accomplishment, trait, strength, weakness, passion, goal, aspiration, experience, etc. The point is to keep writing until every important detail you can think of about yourself and your life is up on that wall. If you want, you can have a friend or family member look at it and add anything that’s missing. You could even involve them in the process from the beginning if you feel that they would have fun and contribute things that you might miss.
Once everything is up on the wall, start grouping items that seem related in some way. This process is called Affinity Diagramming. The idea is to be creative and keep moving things around until it just feels right. This is best done with more than one person in the mix. If there are two or three of you involved, be chaotic, with everyone moving things (and re-moving them) at the same time. In about 5 minutes or so, you will arrive at state of equilibrium.
After you reach that state equilibrium, think of a creative name for each grouping that captures its spirit or character. If you haven’t been working with anyone else, this is a good time to bring someone in. Stand back and look at what you’ve created. Write down any insights that pop out. At this point, you and your team will be able to makes some connections and draw some insight that you hadn’t seen before. Give everyone three dot stickers, each sicker is a vote. Have each person fix the stickers to the insights or individual notes that they find the most compelling. You will have the final say, but it is always interesting to see what other people think is important.
The last step is to map these insights to the various application components and develop a plan for how you can convey the richness, personality, and learning that is your life to the admissions officers at each of your business schools.
If you have questions about the process, please post them in the comments. Good luck!