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  • Crafting a B-School Essay That Explains a Weakness

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    If you have a glaring weakness like bad grades or test scores, you may be tempted to address it in your personal essay. Tread carefully if you choose to go this route.

    Admissions committees don't expect you to sail through life unscathed. They do, however, expect you to own up to your shortcomings and move on with confidence. It's best to address your weaknesses honestly, take responsibility for them, then discuss how you grew or changed as a result. Focus on the positive results of a negative situation. Don't whine or blame others.

    Pink Slips: Your candidacy won't automatically be in jeopardy if you have lost a job (or two). B–schools realize that the economy experiences peaks and valleys. Seamless resumes are a relic of the past.

    To properly address this issue, you should share the circumstances of your departure while side–stepping extraneous detail. Highlight what you learned and how the job helped you acquire specific skills and contacts. Were you able to stay in the industry and build upon your prior work experiences? Did you learn something about being an effective employee? Perhaps you were with an internet startup that went bust. In this case, describe how you stayed at the helm to the bitter end, and concentrate on the leadership you demonstrated in so doing.

    Bad Grades: There are numerous reasons for a weak transcript: you worked multiple jobs, you're a street–smart person who doesn't shine academically, you treated undergrad as one long party. Whatever the case may have been then, focus on who you are today. Tell the admissions committee why you acted the way you did, and how you've changed. Demonstrate how in your current position you've evolved into a highly motivated, capable and hard–working professional. Speak to your maturity and renewed commitment to academics.

    You may also wish to provide concrete examples of academic excellence in other areas. A great GMAT score could mean that you can handle the academic rigors ahead. You can also use courses or training programs in which you've excelled as additional proof of academic success.

    Bad Scores: It's okay to admit that you don't do well on standardized tests. Own up to the weakness and give the admissions officers plenty of reasons to admit you anyway.

    If your math score is weak, showcase your quantitative skills at your job and elsewhere. If your verbal score is poor, submit essays that shine. Convince them you have the intellectual wherewithal to perform successfully in their program. Provide them with other professional and academic examples of your brainpower.

    Remember that you don't need to address all (or any!) of your personal failures. It's best to focus on the positive, unless the deficiency is so glaring that admissions officers will be thinking about it anyway. If this is the case, approach the statement with candor and confidence rather than self–pity and excuses, and you'll find you can turn any negative into a positive.

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