I have been researching on this topic for a long time now in order bring my essays as close to perfection as possible. I thought of sharing some of these points here with all and hope this would help someone out there. Please note that there would be absolutely nothing ground breaking but just a humble collection of facts.
so here it goes:
1. Do you believe what you write? If not be assured that no one else is going to. If you say that i wanted to be a leader since age 12 you are just wasting time & valuable word space. Instead focus on why you wanted to be a leader, what or who inspired you and show proof by writing events which motivated you. When you read an essay make sure you believe it. If you do so your job of convincing the reader will become easier.
2. Focus is on the terms "Why and how". Be it a career goals essay, your strength and weakness essay, or achievements essay, the focus is never on "What". Of course you need something to fulfill the 'What' part but adcoms are more interested in the Why and How part.
3. Why MBA is a question behind every other question. This is absolutely one aspect the committee will looks for - you motivation and need for an MBA! Herez one guy with his career progress and aspirations - "I have been working for the IT consulting industry for 5 years and have led.. blah blah blah... I even was quickly promoted to a team manager. In this position i ...blah blah blah... In the long term i want to become a "Technology consultant" handling multiple projects and would like to make the world a better place." Well, does this guys really need an MBA for this? I don't think so. With a few more years of experience he'll definitely get there. After all, he just wants to be in the same field, same function, so why an MBA?
4. Enough of your work. Who are you? I spoke to a guy who recently got admitted to a top b-school and during his interview, he was told that the most interesting essay that he'd written was not his work as a Consultant for McKinsey nor was his multi-million dollar cost saving project with a top i-Bank. It was his vacation trip to Brazil and his adventure there.
So here the moral of the story - B-schools need something fresh, something that tells them who you are as a person and what actions do you take is the most casual non-professional ventures.
5. Generalities generally go to the garbage. Avoid generalities. Period. My greatest strength is my leadership. I am a great team player and i'm a great problem solver. These are great assets but you should atleast be able to quote one specific event in your life where you have demonstrated these. Remember "facts and stories" are stronger than the typical b-school quality manbo-jumbo.
6. The optional essay is NOT a conclusion essay. Most schools give you an optional essay at the end. This essay is only to be touched if you have one very important fact/story/incident/factor which you have not mentioned anywhere else in the application or in any of the essays and which could get you admitted. If not skip the trouble. Never use this as a space to just provide a statement of conclusion.
7. Honesty is the best policy. This probably goes even without saying. I was reading an essay from Richard Montauk's book and it read - I would be lying if i say i have a clear cut career path pre-decided. I have a few options and want to use the MBA to decide on whats best for me. This dude got an admit to a top-5 b-school in the US. Lesson learnt - Don't fool around. Just be honest.
8. Indulge me, honey. Do you like to read a boring book? Can you read the same book 100 times over an over? can you work at a place which asks you to analyze statistical reports 8 hours a day and 6 days a week for 6 months? If no is your answer to one of these, then you'll be surprised to know that every adcom member does this for a living. Why don't you cut them a break. Write something interesting, captivate their attention and give them a breath of fresh air. Start with a strong hook, and make your essay interesting. You don't have to write an journalistic article but atleast write about something that the reader hasn't already read a 1000 times.
9. Stick to the word limit. There are two negatives to going over the word limit. One is that you are taking an undeserved advantage over other applicants who stick to the word limits. Second is probably even worse. You are at a risk of irritating the adcom by making them read another long essay. Either case, it will work against you.
10. Recycling is good but not so good with b-school application. Re-using a well written essay for another b-school application is a nice idea but just copying the same text word-for-word is stupidity. Although all schools give you the same MBA degree, each school has its own strength and focus. This calls for tailoring your essays to address those strengths and requirements. Even an essay like the career goals will reveal your fit with the school. So use it but be sure to tweak it!
11. Microsoft has given you the 'Spelling and Grammar check' functionality to use. Need i say more.
If i come across any thing else i'll add it to this list. Please feel free to comment below if you think any other factor would be helpful in writing the perfect b-school essay.