How to Overcome The Hardest Essay Roadblocks

1) Ignoring the Supplemental Essay Questions

A common mistake is providing the same generic answer to the supplemental "Why do you want to go to this school?" question. Admissions officers have told me that if you can copy and paste your answer to every school, you're doing it wrong. The answer has to be personalized to each school: mention specific professors or majors unique to the school or something you discovered on your campus tour. Experts in Forbes second that opinion.

“If you are serious about securing your place at one of the world’s top business schools think again,” says my colleague, Julie Ferguson. Julie was a Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Chicago Booth, and before that was at the Lauder Institute at The Wharton School. “We could always tell when the applicant was just reheating something they had written elsewhere. But each school really does have a distinct philosophy and culture, and the best candidates reflect not only their own individuality, but also the alignment with the school and the unique experience that they hope to be a part of.”

2) Sounding Like a Pity Party

Admissions officers want to know if you've overcome hardships - that shows tenacity and leadership skills. But there's a fine line between heroic story and pity party. Make sure that you spend as much time describing how your obstacles have shaped you as you do on what they were. Don't forget to include how you've overcome them, like Morgan below points out. Still stuck? Try these tips to beat writer's block.

Dartmouth-bound Morgan said that as both a low-income student and as a first generation student, he was in the dark about the application process and found it difficult to gather the money needed to pay the fees for the college application. He also said that he had trouble being able to fully express himself in his college admissions essay.

“I didn’t want to sound like a pity party even though I have gone through a lot of struggles,” Morgan said. “Even though [these struggles were] a large part of who I was, it was a hard thing for me to use and balance out. In that, I lost a part of who I was.”

3) Coming Across as Mean

Tone is the hardest thing to capture in a personal essay. Even professional creative writers struggle with being able to convey their natural voice on paper. The best way to find your voice is by keeping a journal, writing the first draft as an email to a friend, or saying your story out loud. One thing to absolutely look out for? Making sure you sound positive.

Experts say that an MBA essay should express the author's personality and clearly communicate his or her reasons for wanting to attend business school. It's also vital to establish a cordial tone throughout the essay, experts say. "How you communicate is often more important than what you communicate," Don Martin, a higher education admissions expert and former admissions dean at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, wrote in blog post for U.S. News. "In other words, your tone needs to be positive but not pompous; conversational but not colloquial; thoughtful but not trivial."

4) Forgetting to Revise

Make sure you give yourself at least two weeks for the revision and proofreading process. Ideally, you would have enough time to ask someone you trust, whether a paid service like mine or your college counselor, for example, to proofread it as well. 

Once the MBA application is complete, it's essential to take a second look at the application a few days later, experts told US News.

"If you can come back to your essays days later with fresh eyes, you'll often think of a better example or more inspired language to illustrate a certain point," Blackman wrote in a blog post. "This won't happen if you're forced to work at warp speed."