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This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Valley India Times.

Barcelona, the enchanting sea side city of Spain, has a lot to offer to people of all ages and interests – museums, parks, beaches, night life, and historical buildings and monuments. Everything about this city is simply magical that charms you and make you want for more. However, the key reason why I included Barcelona in our itinerary during our Europe trip this April was its amazing architecture. To me, among other things, what sets Barcelona apart from any other city of Spain are its extraordinary architectural monuments created by Antoni Gaudi, one of the greatest geniuses of universal architecture who shaped the architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century in Europe. Gaudi’s outstanding works include – Casa Mila, Casa Batlo, Part Guel, and La Sagrada Familia, of which Sagrada Familia ranks at the top. It is an absolute gem that can keep you mesmerized in Gaudi’s extraordinary genius and vision for hours.
Before I begin to share our experience at this magnificent basilica, let me brief you about its history. The Sagrada Familia (‘The Holy Family’) is a massive Roman Catholic basilica under construction in Barcelona. The project began in 1882, and a year later, the famed architect Antoni Gaudi (1852– 1926) came on board. Once Gaudi took over the project, he completely transformed it. His goal was to combine Gothic and Art Nouveau forms into something new and unforgettable; he worked on the project for over 40 years, devoting the last 15 years of his life entirely to the endeavor before he could finish his masterpiece. At the time of his death, less than 25% of the building was finished. Regarding its extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have remarked, “My client is not in a hurry”. Luckily, Gaudi has left behind models and blueprints so that the building can be finished as per his grand design. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

DSCN0917
Now coming back to our journey to this extraordinarily magnificent monument, the Hotel manager had offered us two very helpful tips. First, he suggested that we should at least keep half a day to do justice to this work of art; and second, we should purchase the tickets online in order to avoid long queues. Following both the recommendations, we purchased online ticket for 2:00 pm so we could spend a couple of hours after lunch. After being granted a timely entry into the cathedral, we found ourselves face to face with this man- made wonder that we had viewed from a distance from the Tour bus the day before. It was amazing to watch tons of onlookers so absorbed in taking pictures of themselves and of the basilica from different angels. When on vacation, I always prefer to rely on audio guide for detailed information about the place, so we first spent a couple of minutes in a queue to get the audio guide before we started our tour.
Both the exterior as well as the interior of this cathedral captivated us with their unparalleled majesty and charm. You may want to explore it at your pace, making your decision which part hold your interest longer. However, the cathedral has so many details and stories to every part that you really need to take time to take it all in. It is projected to have three facades, and each is unique in its own way. The Passion Façade (to the West), is plain and simple; it focuses on the Christ’s final days on earth and his death and is based on drawings made by Gaudi. The Nativity Façade (to the East) is dedicated to the birth of Jesus. Built between 1891-1930, mostly in Gaudi’s life time, it represents faith (left), hope (right) , and charity (center) and depicts religious stories of Jesus’s birth and childhood through various sculptures. The Glory Façade is dedicated to the Glory of Jesus, and depicts the scenes of final judgment. It represents the path people need to take to God: death, final judgment, and then glory. It evokes deep questions such as ‘who we are and why we are on this earth.

Sagrada Familia- 11Nativity facade

 

 

As we stepped inside the cathedral, the magnificence and grandeur of this enormous structure left us awestruck. With audio guide strapped to my head, I found myself immersed in the story of this cathedral constructed over a span of more than one century. Walking from one pillar to another, I tried to make sense of the stories behind every detail of the structure- on the walls, on the columns, and on the high ceilings. The interior is a splendid work of stained glass windows. The geometrical pattern of the incredibly high columns is like trees; the ceilings look like cluster of leaves tree, and trunk is made of different stones with different base depending on the size and weight to bear. You have to crane your neck to glance at the ceilings .Gaudi was a nature lover and the tree like columns are an example of this.This has created an atmosphere of reflection, prayer, and seclusion which is heightened by artificial light that comes in through windows during night and sunlight that filters through these windows during day. This cathedral is testimony to his love of nature and religious fervor.

Place for prayerChrist
If you want, you may sit on one of the chairs and meditate for a couple of minutes. Such is the magic of this place that despite the presence of hundreds of visitors inside, the prevailing calmness and serenity allows you to quietly marvel at the architectural finesse, to reflect, to introspect, and to pray. The following words from the audio guide still echo in my ears, ‘This place gives sense to the church. The purpose of this place is to encourage prayer Leave your headphones for some time, and branch yourself a few minutes of introspection.’

Tree like columnsDSCN0942
You can also climb up the towers of the Sagrada Familia, to get great views of the city of Barcelona and tops of the towers that look like berries. But you will need to buy extra ticket for going up the elevator. We didn’t go up and spent 4-5 hours completely absorbed in this magnificent work of art at the lower level; before exiting the interior, we briefly visited the museum and Gaudi’s workshop. After stepping out, we again found ourselves captivated by the happy images of the Nativity façade, so we took a second and closer look at the sculptures portraying the happiness and jubilation at the birth of Christ and his childhood before we finally bade good bye to this priceless jewel of architecture, wondering how one man’s dream could continue on through the generations.

 

 

Though incomplete, Sagrada Familia is a masterpiece par excellence that takes your breath away. You don’t need to be religious to admire this cathedral; you only need to be a lover of beauty. No wonder every year nearly 3 million visitors marvel at this extraordinary masterpiece. Would you like to be one of them?

 

 

LOR-3

Letters of recommendation are a critical part of the MBA application package. They provide the only outside information to the admissions committee about you. A recommendation can validate claims you have made in your essays; it can add stories that you cannot fit into your essays, and it can also further build on the stories you have shared in your essays. A great recommendation paints you in a positive light and complements your application.

Who should be your recommender?

However, choosing a recommender who can write a valuable letter for you can sometimes be extremely challenging for the applicants. Your recommendation should come from people who know you very well, who are very familiar with your work, and with whom you have interacted on a regular basis.  These people are capable of writing a letter that discusses your talents, accomplishments, potential, personal and professional traits. Your peers should not be approached for recommendation letters because they are assumed to be essentially friends who will generally write a positive recommendation.

Your letters will have more credibility if they are written by people who are senior to you and are in evaluative positions. Your direct supervisors are familiar with your working style, work ethic, accomplishments and your contribution to the company and are in a position to substantiate them with powerful examples. The most persuasive recommendation letters are those which contain specific examples and anecdotes.

If your prospective MBA program asks for two letters of recommendation, then you should approach two of your recent supervisors, with one ideally being your current supervisor and the other your supervisor from the job you held   prior to your current position.  In such a case, you should talk to each recommender about the anecdotes and traits you would like each of them to focus on.

However, things are not as simple as they appear to be. Even though your direct supervisor knows you well, he still sometimes may not be the best person for you because not everyone who knows you and your capabilities well will make a good recommender. Therefore, you need to do your homework before making a decision about the person you would like to entrust with the important job of writing a letter to the Admission committee about your candidacy.

Ask yourself the following questions before choosing your recommender:

1.     Are you confident that they like you?

First, you should be confident that your potential recommender likes you and will write a positive letter for you! Whether you choose a current direct supervisor or the one for whom you worked before your current job, you should choose a person with whom you have maintained a positive relationship. If they like and respect you, their letters are likely to be much more positive and persuasive and they will speak well about your accomplishments, leadership roles and work ethic.

2. Can they write well?

You would also a choose recommender who can write well and is receptive to input.  Strong writing skills are important because if they are not articulate in their responses to the questions asked by the school, their recommendations will not add any value to your application. I often get to review recommendation letters that simply provide a laundry list of adjectives and do not answer the question adequately.

  3.  Will they devote the effort and time necessary to write a letter that will really shine?

Another key factor in choosing your recommender is his/her approach to your letter. It is important for you to know how committed he/she is in helping your with your candidacy. Does he understand the importance of his letter in your admission process? Do you think he will spend sufficient time and effort in writing a strong recommendation letters for you that will match your impactful essays? If not, then you may not offer him this important responsibility because a person who is not willing to  put any effort and time in writing a letter for you is sending a clear  message ,“ I don’t care about this candidate.”

I have often seen some of my students having hard time with recommenders for various reasons. Some have recommenders who present sketchy letters that hardly add any substantial value to the application, while others are procrastinators who think the applicants have all the time in the world to keep reminding them of the deadlines. In Round 1 this year, I worked with an applicant who had his resume and essays ready well on time, but he still couldn’t apply in the first round because his recommender was too busy celebrating ‘Dussehra’ (an Indian festival).

4. Are they aware that they will need to write personalized letter for each school?

Your recommender needs to be aware that writing a recommendation letter for business school applicants doesn’t mean creating a single template and sending it to all your target schools.  It is your job to apprise him beforehand that each letter must be personalized as per each MBA program’s questions and their response to each question needs to be substantiated with specific examples. Recommendation letters filled with tons of adjectives minus specific anecdotes from your professional experience will fail to create an impact. Please note that a well written personalized letter from an interested party will benefit you more than a poorly written letter from your supervisor.

Thus, choosing a recommender demands your time, effort, and intelligence. You should spend time with your recommender so that they truly understand what themes (goals, accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses etc.) you are discussing in your essays and how much this means to you. They are busy people, so you should give them as much time as you can because you don’t want a missing recommendation to be the reason your application wasn’t accepted. If you plan ahead and start engaging your recommenders early on in the process, you will not only save yourself unnecessary anxiety before the deadline, but will also succeed in getting stellar recommendations.

Note: This article was first published in  the January 2015 issue of  Valley India Times.

Web / Free resources/LinkedIn/ Facebook

Email Poonam  at  poonam@myessayreview.com.

Letters of recommendation are a critical part of the MBA application package. They provide the only outside information to the admissions committee about you. A recommendation can validate claims you have made in your essays; it can add stories that you cannot fit into your essays, and it can also further build on the stories you have shared in your essays. A great recommendation paints you in a positive light and complements your application.

Who should be your recommender?

However, choosing a recommender who can write a valuable letter for you can sometimes be extremely challenging for the applicants. Your recommendation should come from people who know you very well, who are very familiar with your work, and with whom you have interacted on a regular basis.  These people are capable of writing a letter that discusses your talents, accomplishments, potential, personal and professional traits. Your peers should not be approached for recommendation letters because they are assumed to be essentially friends who will generally write a positive recommendation.

Your letters will have more credibility if they are written by people who are senior to you and are in evaluative positions. Your direct supervisors are familiar with your working style, work ethic, accomplishments and your contribution to the company and are in a position to substantiate them with powerful examples. The most persuasive recommendation letters are those which contain specific examples and anecdotes.

If your prospective MBA program asks for two letters of recommendation, then you should approach two of your recent supervisors, with one ideally being your current supervisor and the other your supervisor from the job you held   prior to your current position.  In such a case, you should talk to each recommender about the anecdotes and traits you would like each of them to focus on.

However, things are not as simple as they appear to be. Even though your direct supervisor knows you well, he still sometimes may not be the best person for you because not everyone who knows you and your capabilities well will make a good recommender. Therefore, you need to do your homework before making a decision about the person you would like to entrust with the important job of writing a letter to the Admission committee about your candidacy.

Ask yourself the following questions before choosing your recommender:

1.     Are you confident that they like you?

First, you should be confident that your potential recommender likes you and will write a positive letter for you! Whether you choose a current direct supervisor or the one for whom you worked before your current job, you should choose a person with whom you have maintained a positive relationship. If they like and respect you, their letters are likely to be much more positive and persuasive and they will speak well about your accomplishments, leadership roles and work ethic.

2. Can they write well?

You would also a choose recommender who can write well and is receptive to input.  Strong writing skills are important because if they are not articulate in their responses to the questions asked by the school, their recommendations will not add any value to your application. I often get to review recommendation letters that simply provide a laundry list of adjectives and do not answer the question adequately.

  3.  Will they devote the effort and time necessary to write a letter that will really shine?

Another key factor in choosing your recommender is his/her approach to your letter. It is important for you to know how committed he/she is in helping your with your candidacy. Does he understand the importance of his letter in your admission process? Do you think he will spend sufficient time and effort in writing a strong recommendation letters for you that will match your impactful essays? If not, then you may not offer him this important responsibility because a person who is not willing to  put any effort and time in writing a letter for you is sending a clear  message ,“ I don’t care about this candidate.”

I have often seen some of my students having hard time with recommenders for various reasons. Some have recommenders who present sketchy letters that hardly add any substantial value to the application, while others are procrastinators who think the applicants have all the time in the world to keep reminding them of the deadlines. In Round 1 this year, I worked with an applicant who had his resume and essays ready well on time, but he still couldn’t apply in the first round because his recommender was too busy celebrating ‘Dussehra’ (an Indian festival).

4. Are they aware that they will need to write personalized letter for each school?

Your recommender needs to be aware that writing a recommendation letter for business school applicants doesn’t mean creating a single template and sending it to all your target schools.  It is your job to apprise him beforehand that each letter must be personalized as per each MBA program’s questions and their response to each question needs to be substantiated with specific examples. Recommendation letters filled with tons of adjectives minus specific anecdotes from your professional experience will fail to create an impact. Please note that a well written personalized letter from an interested party will benefit you more than a poorly written letter from your supervisor.

Thus, choosing a recommender demands your time, effort, and intelligence. You should spend time with your recommender so that they truly understand what themes (goals, accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses etc.) you are discussing in your essays and how much this means to you. They are busy people, so you should give them as much time as you can because you don’t want a missing recommendation to be the reason your application wasn’t accepted. If you plan ahead and start engaging your recommenders early on in the process, you will not only save yourself unnecessary anxiety before the deadline, but will also succeed in getting stellar recommendations.

Note: This article was first published in  the January 2015 issue of  Valley India Times.

Web / Free resources/LinkedIn/ Facebook

Email Poonam  at  poonam@myessayreview.com.

This article was first published in the February 2015 issue of Valley India Times.

 

 

 

“I want to apply to top 10 schools? What are my odds for acceptance into top 10 schools?” This is the most common query I receive from many prospective applicants to business schools. Everyone wants to go to Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton. True, they are the top ranked business schools, but it’s not advisable to apply to only these schools or any other top 10 schools if they do not match your goals, interests, and personality. If you want to be sure of getting into a good business school, you need to use more than rankings. Focusing on ‘fit’ is one of the most important elements of finding the right business school.

 

What is ‘fit’?

Fit means the linkage between what an MBA program has to offer and what strengths/abilities/experiences you need in order to achieve your goals. Your job is to find out the unique offerings of each program and determine how these will benefit your career goals and interests.

Why is ‘fit’ important?

 

There are several reasons why finding your fit is critical for you. First, it will help you find the right program. All programs are different from each other so you want to be sure that you are in the right program where you will develop skills and network that will last for many years. Also, you will be taking one or two years off from work and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on tuition, so you will need to a carefully weigh whether your MBA will prove to be a good ROI. Most importantly, finding your fit will help you build a strong application because you will be able to demonstrate in your essays, and later in your interview why their school is the best choice for you.

How to Determine your Fit?

 

In order to determine your fit with the school, you should do your research about the following characteristics of MBA programs.

 

  1. The Courses/Other academic opportunities

 

You may begin with researching courses and other academic opportunities offered by the school. What do you want to learn, and in particular, in which areas do you plan to dig deeper? Exploring lists of electives is a good way of seeing which programs offer the education you are looking for. Your research will help you select your ideal courses with the timing that suits your needs. You may also research schools for other academic opportunities, for example, overseas trips or experiential programs that will add value to your experience.

  1. Teaching Methods/ Learning Styles

 

It is important to find out the teaching methods followed by various schools. For example, schools like Harvard Business School and Darden heavily utilize the case method which involves significant outside the class preparation and in-class discussion; Kellogg and Wharton emphasize group projects, whereas Ross and Booth focus on experiential learning. So ask yourself, if you work well by yourself or you need to learn to work in teams? If you need both, then might want to consider schools that balance both. I also suggest researching professors who will be teaching the programs you wish to attend. Some professors offer benefits over others, such as industry experience or a research interest in a particular area.

  1. Clubs and Extra-Curricular Opportunities

 

MBA is not only for academic experience; it’s going to be a unique life time experience for you. What are your personal goals? What interest and hobbies you have that you would like to pursue during your MBA? Finding clubs and organizations that match your interests (sports, dance, cooking, community service etc.) will also help you determine your fit with the school. If you want to go to school where not only you but your entire family can benefit from the international experience, then you should try to find the programs that are ideal for you as all programs have some variety of Partners Clubs or events for family members.

 

  1. The School’s Reputation

 

In addition to researching the school’s strength in a particular industry (marketing, fiancé etc.), you should try to find out if the school’s graduates have been successful in gaining employment in certain industries or functions, or in certain parts of the world. Have people who share your background and career passions been successful in getting into what you want to get into? What companies come to recruit on campus? If the companies you are interested in DO hire at the program, what are your chances of landing that internship or job?

  1. The Schools Culture:

 

It is critical to know that the school where you are going to spend the two extremely important years of your life matches your personality and values. The truth is that a top 10 or top 15 schools may not necessarily fit your personality. This is why it is important to visit the campus and talk with alumni of the program. Go check out campus, meet faculty and staff, get to know students, explore student organizations, and explore the setting. Visiting the campus will offer you an understanding of how students interact with each other in class, on campus, and in social events. As you do more research, you will discover each school is suitable for different personality types. For example, Tuck features a small class size in a small town setting, so it may be the right choice for people who prefer a more close-knit and highly involved community, whereas Stern provides a fast paced environment within a major city setting, so it may work for the people who prefer a big city culture.

Conclusion:

 

Thus, by putting time and thought into determining fit at your target programs from the beginning, you will make things easier for yourself. You will be able to address the ‘why our school’ question effectively and confidently in your essays and in your interview. Also, when the school offers you seat, you will happily accept it as you will be getting what you wanted.

 

Good luck on your applicationJ

Web /Blog/ Free resources/LinkedIn/ Facebook/ Email :poonam@myessayreview.com

 

“I want to apply to top 10 schools? What are my odds for acceptance into top 10 schools?” This is the most common query I receive from many prospective applicants to business schools. Everyone wants to go to Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton. True, they are the top ranked business schools, but it’s not advisable to apply to only these schools or any other top 10 schools if they do not match your goals, interests, and personality. If you want to be sure of getting into a good business school, you need to use more than rankings. Focusing on ‘fit’ is one of the most important elements of finding the right business school.

What is ‘fit’?
Fit means the linkage between what an MBA program has to offer and what strengths/abilities/experiences you need in order to achieve your goals. Your job is to find out the unique offerings of each program and determine how these will benefit your career goals and interests.

Why is ‘fit’ important?

There are several reasons why finding your fit is critical for you. First, it will help you find the right program. All programs are different from each other so you want to be sure that you are in the right program where you will develop skills and network that will last for many years. Also, you will be taking one or two years off from work and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on tuition, so you will need to a carefully weigh whether your MBA will prove to be a good ROI. Most importantly, finding your fit will help you build a strong application because you will be able to demonstrate in your essays, and later in your interview why their school is the best choice for you.
How to Determine your Fit?

In order to determine your fit with the school, you should do your research about the following characteristics of MBA programs.

1. The Courses/Other academic opportunities

You may begin with researching courses and other academic opportunities offered by the school. What do you want to learn, and in particular, in which areas do you plan to dig deeper? Exploring lists of electives is a good way of seeing which programs offer the education you are looking for. Your research will help you select your ideal courses with the timing that suits your needs. You may also research schools for other academic opportunities, for example, overseas trips or experiential programs that will add value to your experience.
2. Teaching Methods/ Learning Styles

It is important to find out the teaching methods followed by various schools. For example, schools like Harvard Business School and Darden heavily utilize the case method which involves significant outside the class preparation and in-class discussion; Kellogg and Wharton emphasize group projects, whereas Ross and Booth focus on experiential learning. So ask yourself, if you work well by yourself or you need to learn to work in teams? If you need both, then might want to consider schools that balance both. I also suggest researching professors who will be teaching the programs you wish to attend. Some professors offer benefits over others, such as industry experience or a research interest in a particular area.
3. Clubs and Extra-Curricular Opportunities

MBA is not only for academic experience; it’s going to be a unique life time experience for you. What are your personal goals? What interest and hobbies you have that you would like to pursue during your MBA? Finding clubs and organizations that match your interests (sports, dance, cooking, community service etc.) will also help you determine your fit with the school. If you want to go to school where not only you but your entire family can benefit from the international experience, then you should try to find the programs that are ideal for you as all programs have some variety of Partners Clubs or events for family members.

4. The School’s Reputation

In addition to researching the school’s strength in a particular industry (marketing, fiancé etc.), you should try to find out if the school’s graduates have been successful in gaining employment in certain industries or functions, or in certain parts of the world. Have people who share your background and career passions been successful in getting into what you want to get into? What companies come to recruit on campus? If the companies you are interested in DO hire at the program, what are your chances of landing that internship or job?
5. The Schools Culture:

It is critical to know that the school where you are going to spend the two extremely important years of your life matches your personality and values. The truth is that a top 10 or top 15 schools may not necessarily fit your personality. This is why it is important to visit the campus and talk with alumni of the program. Go check out campus, meet faculty and staff, get to know students, explore student organizations, and explore the setting. Visiting the campus will offer you an understanding of how students interact with each other in class, on campus, and in social events. As you do more research, you will discover each school is suitable for different personality types. For example, Tuck features a small class size in a small town setting, so it may be the right choice for people who prefer a more close-knit and highly involved community, whereas Stern provides a fast paced environment within a major city setting, so it may work for the people who prefer a big city culture.
Conclusion:

Thus, by putting time and thought into determining fit at your target programs from the beginning, you will make things easier for yourself. You will be able to address the ‘why our school’ question effectively and confidently in your essays and in your interview. Also, when the school offers you seat, you will happily accept it as you will be getting what you wanted.

Good luck on your application
Web /Blog/ Free resources/LinkedIn/ Facebook/ Email :poonam@myessayreview.com

Whats your story

One of the greatest challenges that stares the Business School applicants in their faces is that every year, business schools are getting more and more creative with their essay prompts. These questions are thoughtfully composed by the Admission Committee to get interesting and illuminating glimpses into the lives of B school applicants, the prospective business leaders. These essay questions challenge the applicants to use their imagination and creativity, but they also offer them an opportunity to showcase their interests and passions, their background and life experiences that have shaped their unique personalities. (Please refer to Business Week’s article Who Came up with that? How MBA essay questions get written?)

I would like to share some of the most interesting MBA essay questions that have intrigued my students in the recent years.

Georgia Tech’s essay question for the admission cycle of 2012-13 still lingers in my mind. If you could host a dinner party and invite any four people, living or dead, whom would you invite and what would the five of you discuss together? There is no right answer concerning the dinner guests; we want you to be creative and thoughtful in your response.(4,000 chars). This question gave a hard time to the students I had worked with. The purpose of this question was to gain insights into applicants’ views, ideologies, and perspectives. Their first challenge was to select four people (living or dead) whose life experiences, achievements, had influenced them, inspired or intrigued them. Then they had to come up with common topics of discussion/ questions. Their choice of guests, the topics and the details of discussion breathed life into the essay and offered insights into the writers’ thinking, values, and belief system.

Another essay question from last year that has stuck in my mind is Haas’s “If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why?”(250 word maximum) Again, this question also aims to get insights into the writer’s personality. To select a particular song that expresses a person’s thinking and values is more challenging than it appears. By explaining what is common between your personality and the lyrics of this song and how this song defines who you are, you are already sharing with the reader your emotions, feelings, values, fears and dreams which in turn reveal your personality traits that will set you apart from other candidates.

While recalling creative questions that stimulate the thought process, another question that crosses my mind is the ‘found time’ question that Ivy Richard asked last year. Imagine that you received an early morning call from your office telling you that due to a technical issue, the office wouldn’t be open that day: how would you spend your ‘found time?’ (250 word limit). The question expected the applicants to describe how they would use their new-found time off if they came to know that their office was unexpectedly closed for a day. Would they like to pursue your passions/ interest (read a book, play, hike) or would they prefer to spend time with your family, friends? Their response to the question provided the Ad Com an understanding of their interests and their personality traits.

Another fascinating but highly creative essay prompt that makes the applicants sweat themselves out is Cornell’s ‘Table of Contents’ (You are the author for the book of Your Life Story. In 1,000 characters or less please write the table of contents for the book in the space provided or upload it as an attachment. Note: approach this essay with your unique style. We value creativity and authenticity). By asking you to create’ table of contents’ of your life story, Cornell is also offering you a platform to demonstrate your passions/ abilities/ influences/ accomplishments that have not been described anywhere else in your application. Current students are allowed to use only 1,000 characters for the book of contents of their life story, while last year’s students were allowed 300 words.

I believe this discussion of creative essay prompts would be incomplete without mentioning Duke’s list of 25 random things -my personal favorite. For the last three years, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has been asking applicants to share a list of “25 Random Things” about themselves. This question allows applicants to showcase interesting and meaningful facts about themselves that they otherwise might not get a chance to share with the Ad .Com.

Some other interesting questions that allow applicants to showcase their creativity and imagination are ‘fun fact’ about you (Kelley 25 words), ‘a close person’s tribute on your 75th birthday (IMD), and MIT’sessay in the form of a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of themselves.

Finally, what makes handling these essay questions more challenging is the changing trend of shorter essays every year. Describing the song that defines you in 250 words, discussing ‘found time’ in 250 words, and creating a ‘table of contents’ for your life story in 1,000 characters is undoubtedly an arduous feat. I have discussed some useful strategy tips to help you deal with stringent word limits in my article titled Business School Application Essays-‘Less is more’ in the September issue of Valley India Times

To sum up, developing stories for these fascinating essay topics for B school admission essays is a skill that demands careful thought and preparation. To choose your best stories, you first need to comprehend the essay prompt well and then devote significant amount of time in reflecting deeply on your professional aspirations, life experiences, and interests. After selecting your stories, organize them coherently, and flesh them out with relevant details. Remember, the essence of writing is rewriting. So revise your essays multiple times to ensure that all the pieces of your story fit together, and then proofread them for any grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. Lastly, use economical expressions to fit your story to meet the stringent word limit specifications.

B School essay writing is a creative journey- the more time and thought you will invest in it, the more rewarding it will turn out to be for you.

For more MBA articles, visit myEssayReview blog. For questions, email me at poonam@myessayreview.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This article first appeared in September issue of Valley India Times .

Since the past couple of years, B- schools have been cutting down on the number of application essays and their word limits every year. To cite an example ,two years back, Ross Business School, needed the applicants to write 4 required essays (1400 words), and one optional essay. Last year, following the principle of “more is not more” Ross dropped one essay and wanted the applicants to write only three required essays (950 words) and one optional essay. This year, it has again gone on a diet and now requires only 2 essays of 400 words each. Similarly, UNC Kenna Flagler, INSEAD, and Stanford also have also dropped one required essay question this year.
What is the reason behind this changing trend? First, Admission officers have thousands of applications to review, so they don’t want to be frustrated with essays filled with overly lengthy paragraphs or sentences which they need to read 2-3 times to make sense of. Clearly, reducing number of essays and their word limits will ease the burden of the admission committee. In Adam Rubenfire‘s article, Want to Get Into Business School? Write Less, Talk More, the author shares a table showing how the Harvard Business School application has changed since the 2004-2005 seasons.
Secondly, B schools expect their prospective students and future business leaders to be original and innovative. According to Soojin Kwon, admissions director of Michigan Ross School of Business, “applicants increasingly tell us what they think we want to hear. They have become quite cookie-cutter,” so now they need to write just two short essays totaling 800 words. Sara Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at UV Darden School of Business, explains that they moved to single essay of 500 words three years ago because they discovered “applicants were writing one essay specifically for Darden and then recycling essays from their applications to other schools.”
Furthermore, by expecting you to answer the essay questions within the stringent word limits, B schools aim to evaluate you for your ability to make your point concisely and succinctly without beating around the bush. Also, exceeding word limit reflects your unwillingness to follow the guidelines.
However, following stringent word limits, and sometimes character limits as well (e.g. Duke’s short answer goals question of 250 characters) has undoubtedly become one of the biggest challenges for applicants. Some students find it hard to figure out when to stop writing and end up writing over1000 words for an essay with a specified word limit of 400 words, while some students limit themselves so hard that even their first drafts of a 500 words essay is composed exactly in 500 words. With the result, they hold on to many relevant details that the school wants to know about them through that question.
So the challenge is “How can I tell my story effectively within the word limit specifications?

I always advise my students not to be daunted by word limits when brainstorming ideas/stories for their essays. At that stage, your goal should be to put down on paper all of your ideas related to the essay prompt without fretting if the essay exceeds 100 or 200 words over the word limit. Go on a soul searching journey, reflect on your experiences/stories and choose the examples that touch upon a variety of key themes at once. Once you have made sure that you have chosen your best story and have narrated it in an organized and engaging manner, you should identify areas that you think are not adding significant value to the story. Then go ahead and begin eliminating those details without compromising on the essential components of the story. Also, omit repetitive content (if any), and replace big phrases by shorter ones. Brevity is the key here. If you choose your words wisely, you can accomplish this feat. Following is the list of some phrases that you can replace by their shorter equivalents.
Strategy Tips for Dealing with Word Limits:

Instead of                             Use
At this point of time            Now
Come to the conclusion    Conclude
Despite the fact that          Although
I am of the opinion              I think
In addition to                         Besides
Is indicative of                    Indicates
It is incumbent on me          I must
Make decision to                 Decide
On the grounds that           Since
Perform an analysis of         Analyze
Prior to that time                 Before
Provide information about Inform
Reached an agreement       Agreed
Subsequent to                       After
Under no circumstances        Never
With a view to                            To
With regard to                     About
With this in mind            Therefore

Let’s look at some examples:

Bad Example:
I would say that my family is the major factor which, to a large extent, led me to where I am today. (22 words)

You are the writer of this essay, so it is understood that you are voicing your opinion. So why waste 4 precious words in saying ‘I would say that?”

Good Example:
My family is the major factor which, to a large extent, led me to where I am today. (18 words)

Bad example:
When one of my best friends was placed on academic probation, I made it my personal mission to help her regain good academic standing. I spent many hours tutoring her in chemistry and calculus, and with my support, she regained good academic standing. (43 words)
Good Example:
When one of my best friends was placed on academic probation, I spent hours tutoring her in chemistry and calculus and helped her regain good academic standing. (27 words)

To sum up, in order to be able to present your personal and professional stories in an engaging manner within the stringent word limits, you need to remember two things:

1. Do a lot of reflection and choose your best stories/experiences to address the essay prompt.
2. Follow the principle of ‘less is more’ and be as precise and succinct as you can.

For more MBA articles, visit myEssayReview blog.
For questions, email me at poonam@myessayreview.com

Arch-This article was first published in the August 214 issue of  Valley India Times.

Last month, when we visited our relatives in Bloomington, a small town 130 miles from Chicago, the intent was not travel or sightseeing but only to hang out with them, get a break from the triple digit temperatures of Phoenix, and relax in cool weather. We never expected that besides Chicago (that we have already been to), there will be tourist destinations near this small town of Bloomington. We were taken by a pleasant surprise, when our hosts told us that they had already planned a road trip to the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri, 175 miles from Bloomington.
We headed out at 11:00 am, and after an enjoyable two and half hours’ drive through lush green soy and corn crops spread across most of the journey, we reached the quant old historical city of St Louis in the state of Missouri. After parking the car at the parking lot, we walked some distance before we caught sight of this enormous yet incredibly elegant man made monument. This 630-foot tall stainless steel arch, located on the banks of the Mississippi River, majestically rose above the skyline. The vision of renowned architect Eero Saarinen, the Gateway Arch commemorates Thomas Jefferson and St. Louis’ role in the westward expansion of the United States. The Gateway Arch structure and the surrounding landscape cover sixty-two acres of the area and is called Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Its construction began on February 12, 1963, and was completed on October 28, 1965. It was opened to the public on July 24, 1967.
We entered the visitor’s center and after purchasing the tickets from the visitors’ center to travel to the observation deck at the top of the arch, we waited in line to go up the top in a tram that runs inside the arch. As I waited in a line to get in the tiny tram cabin that seats only 5 people, I got a little nervous looking at the miniature size of the tram (door size: 2 feet by 4.5 feet) that requires the passengers to bend their heads before stepping inside the cabin. Hesitatingly, I asked, “How much time it will take to get to the top?” “Four minutes.” was the response. I heaved a sigh of relief. I am claustrophobic, and they were not aware of it. I suggest that if you are claustrophobic, you may reconsider your decision to travel in the tram. However, the good news is that the tram takes only four minutes to get to the top and three minutes to travel from the top to the bottom, plus an additional three minutes to load.

Arch-3
On getting to the top, we could capture the view below from the glass windows. The viewing area at the top had 16 windows on each side. The Mississippi River flows directly below the east windows of the Arch. From the west side, we could get the view of the Missouri side of the river and downtown St Louis and from the east side, we could view Illinois side of the river and the vast industrial complexes of east St. Louis. Catching a glimpse of both the legs of the arch from the glass windows was an awe-inspiring experience. Irrespective of the fact that the view from the top was spectacular, we stayed up there only for a couple of minutes as there was no place to sit, and I was feeling a little uneasy in the closed space.
After coming down to the visitor’s center, we walked down to the movie hall to watch a movie (Part 2) about the construction of the arch. The complexities and the minutest details that went into the construction of this majestic monument left us spell bound. We gaped in wonder as we watched the visuals of the construction of the arch in its final stages when the last piece was fitted to complete the arch with hundreds of onlookers down there looking up to witness this historical moment.

Arch-2
After the movie, we strolled into the gift shop to buy some souvenirs, because a trip to a tourist destination appears incomplete without buying souvenirs. We could not check out the Museum of Westward Expansion since we were short of time. I believe hanging out in the open landscape surrounding the arch has its own charm. After coming out to the welcoming cool breeze, we took pictures with the arch from different angles. But honestly speaking, capturing the entire arch in the ordinary camera was nothing short of challenge.
If you happen to visit Chicago area, I would highly recommend that you plan a weekend getaway to experience this American landmark. Start early and buy tickets in advance to avoid waiting in the queue. Even though I experienced a little bit of uneasiness traveling in the miniscule tram, I am glad that I did it because without the tram ride the ‘Arch experience’ would have been incomplete. Walking around this magnificent monument and gazing at its complex structure is an experience that is complemented by a short journey inside this man made wonder in that space capsule type tram.
Quick Facts:
• The Gateway Arch is the tallest national monument in the United States at 630 feet. The distance between the two supporting legs is 630 feet.
• Construction began February 12, 1963, and the last section of the Arch was put into place on October 28, 1965.
• 5,199 tons of stainless steel and 38,107 tons of concrete were used to build the Arch.
• The Arch was built at a cost of $13 million.
• The Arch is exactly 63 stories tall.
• Learn more on the National Park Service website.
• Hours
• Summer (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend): 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Winter (Labor Day weekend to Memorial Day weekend): 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
• Link to the movie-Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A25pysArRwk

This article was first published in the  May, 2014 issue of  “Valley India Times .

 

Some of the most common questions that invariably come up during conversations when people of Indian diaspora get together at dinner parties or at some cultural functions are, “When did you come back from India?” “How often you visit India?” or a more serious question such as “Are you thinking of moving back to India?”

In case you happen to meet with someone for the first time, get prepared to respond to a standard question,” How long you have been in the US?” While all the other questions are casual in nature and are easy to answer, the question about moving back to India is a source of eternal dilemma for some people who are unsure to make a final choice between their adopted country and native country. On the other hand, some of them have made up their minds to make the US, their adopted country, their permanent abode. Those belonging to the second category are usually the people who moved to the US two or three decades back and have their roots firmly entrenched in their adopted country.

Irrespective of which country they end up living at, it’s true that they all love to make frequent visits to India to meet family and friends and to be with them both in times of grief and celebration to share their sorrows and joys. These occasional visits have served well to establish their links with their roots, their native country, and upon their return to the US, they don’t get tired of sharing their interesting stories with family and friends.

In addition to making frequent visits to India, people of Indian origin stay connected to their culture through their involvement in diverse activities. By organizing cultural programs, concerts of Bollywood singers and classical musicians, by celebrating various Indian cultural and national festivals, and by attending temple pujas on religious festivals, they are making conscious efforts to keep themselves aligned with their cultural heritage and religion.

It’s heartening to see how parents of young children take pains to enroll their children in classical music and dance classes and drive long distances to introduce them to Indian classical art forms. The other day I asked my daughter, “Why do you drive 40 miles every week to make this six years old attend a 40 minute dance class?” Her calm response was, “Mom, everybody is doing that. I am not the only one.”

Truly, I admire these young immigrants’ willingness and sincere endeavors to introduce their offspring to these treasures of Indian culture and heritage. Last week, I and my husband made a trip to Ramakrishna Sarada Vedanta Ashram to attend a discourse of Swami Sarvadevanandaji. His inspiring discourse was followed by a series of devotional songs rendered by a high school senior. Her soulful rendering of bhajans to the accompaniment of tanpura transported the small gathering at the ashram to a higher spiritual level. Kudos to her parents whose motivation and support encouraged her to accomplish this feat.

I believe that the Indian Americans of all age groups have their feet firmly planted in Indian culture and heritage. They appear to be constantly living in two cultures- Indian and American- but they have imbibed the best of both the cultures.

Disclaimer: The thoughts presented in this article reflect the writer’s perspective and observations; the readers have a right to disagree with them.

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