The 95% Solution


The biggest challenge applicants have is not writing essays, but rather managing the emotional ups and downs of the application process. The candidates that handle these challenges well usually enjoy the application process much more. More importantly, they are more successful because they are relaxed, confident, and manage their time well.

However, candidates that do not handle these challenges well will find themselves becoming confused, losing confidence, and wasting time. A typical example is a client who repeatedly makes minor changes that don’t add anything of real value to the essays.

“But I just want to do everything possible to be accepted,” he or she says.

Of course. However, repeatedly changing your essays once they reach a certain level almost never improves them. Why? Because for every word you add, you have to subtract a word from somewhere else. By introducing a new idea, you have to sacrifice a different idea. The net gain is zero. You will never be able to write a 100% perfect essay and you shouldn’t try. The admissions committees do not expect perfection. They want big ideas communicated clearly and passionately. If you can do that, you have reached the 95% solution and at that point you should stop. It's my job to work with you until you’ve reached this stage.

The impulse to refine your essays is natural. The problem, however, is that you waste precious time that could be spent on other essays, other schools, interview preparation, volunteering, or taking a class to make up for an academic/test weakness – in other words, things that will significantly improve your chances of being accepted. Often, the urge to make changes comes from showing your essays to others. This is also natural, and can provide valuable feedback. But every person you ask will have a different opinion, so you should limit outside input before you become confused. Sometimes too much input is worse than too little.

In summary, making insignificant changes simply wastes your counseling session time and prevents you from engaging in more productive preparation. Time is a precious resource. Make sure you are investing it wisely.