If you’re hurrying to finish your MBA admissions essays before the Round 2 application deadlines, chances are that at least one essay is giving you trouble when it comes to meeting word length requirements. While MBA admissions officers are fairly understanding and are not out to penalize you for going over a word limit by a couple of extra sentences, adhering to word limits as closely as possible is a strong signal that you can communicate clearly and succinctly.
It’s also a matter of consideration for admissions officers: If application readers need to get a few dozen applications in a day, they will appreciate the fact that you didn’t take up any more of their time than absolutely necessary. This sort of positive karma counts in admissions!
With that in mind, here are three things to try if you’re having a hard time getting your word counts down to within 10% of a school’s stated limits:
Verbally Describe the Story You’re Trying to Tell
Without looking at your essay, verbally dictate your story into your computer or phone. Or, tell it to a friend. The key here is not to look at what you’ve already written, and instead go by memory. Then, play it back (or have your friend tell it back to you), and see what parts of the story stuck, and which ones you left out. Chances are that there will be at least a couple of details that you left out in verbally telling your story. Consider each one of these to then be on the chopping block, and go back and consider which ones you can remove from your essay to trim your word count. If it wasn’t important enough for you to remember as you told your story from memory, then odds are that an MBA admissions officer won’t remember it, either.
Play “Kill the Paragraph”
One seemingly scary — but sometimes very useful — editing technique is to tell yourself, “Okay, I have one minute to decide which whole paragraph in this essay has to get cut. Start chopping!” Almost certainly, every paragraph will seem like a must-have, but eventually you’ll pick the least important one. Then, go back and find what one or two ideas from that paragraph you wish you could add back in, and then find a way to succinctly work them back into the essay in another place. This technique might sound crazy, but it’s another effective way to trim the fat. It works best when you have an essay with multiple similarly-sized paragraphs… Simply cutting out a two-sentence conclusion paragraph normally won’t be enough.
Cut Down Your Essay by 50%, Then Do It Again
We described this essay editing technique a couple of years ago: Re-write your essay as a 50%-long version of your current draft. Then, write one that’s 50% as long as that new one. Keep repeating until you’re down to just one sentence. What will be left will be the core purpose of the original passage, and you can then start building back up from there. You may find that you don’t need to go all the way down to one sentence; you will probably have already cut out enough fat after the first couple of times that you can stop, but we highly recommend trying this exercise at least once!
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