We all hear warnings about using clichéd phrases and buzzwords in admissions essays.

While I entirely agree that it’s best to avoid using phrases like “diverse-class”, “giving back to the community”, or “thinking outside the box”, I also know how difficult it is to find an authentic voice and new ways to express your ideas.

The problem with repeating buzzwords like “leadership” or “communication skills” in your essays is that they aren’t memorable. Everybody uses them. The more well-worn keywords and clichés you include in your essays, the less memorable your essays, and therefore you , become to the reader (think the Admissions team at NYU, Stanford, Wharton, Ross). When you use your own words to express original ideas and tell interesting stories, you will stand out and be remembered. And by being remembered, you might earn your chance to express more of your ideas at the school of your dreams.

When they’re working on first drafts, I ask my students to simply write from the heart and not be judgmental about what’s on the screen.  Sometimes I schedule phone calls so they can just talk (while I type as fast as I can, like a court stenographer). That way I can capture my clients’ real feelings about a situation, their real stories from work, and what draws them toward a specific industries in casual, everyday language.

This problem is often exacerbated by the wording of the MBA essay topics, which tend to include buzzwords and ask about “innovative thinking” and “leadership style” which pushes you toward using clichés yourself. And that’s why you need a good editor -whether a friend, a colleague, or a consultant – to help you get rid of lazy words that aren’t producing results for you.

Here’s an example. I’ve highlighted  some of the buzz-words in bold, and rewritten the text from generic blah, to a strong paragraph with details and feelings which are personal and engaging. Let me know what you think………


A year into joining the TMT team at GZ Investment banking division, I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to test my leadership skills. My manager left on maternity leave, and, as a result, I was in a position to step up and act as a VP for that time period. It was the most exciting 2 months of my life. This experience has sharpened my communication skills, improved my time management skills, and given me confidence in my future career in finance. I have worked on 4 deals, totaling more than $$, and have become the go-to-person of my team and other senior VP’s in my group.


A year into my role as an analyst in Investment Banking, my associate went on maternity leave. As a result, I was working directly with the VP, and supervising three junior analysts. While I had good technical knowledge of our models and the deal flow, I wasn’t confident about how to communicate with the VP or give feedback to the junior analysts, who were frustrated by the long-hours and worried about the recent restructuring in our bank. Reluctant to share my concerns with my VP, I approached Adina, a grad of NYU Stern’s class of ’10, who worked in another group. She ……… (sentence not completed intentionally)


I can help you choose the best stories to get the attention of schools and help you present your profile to best advantage. Contact me at yael@admit1mba.com to talk more about your MBA application.