Part of the EssayEdge.com essay writing course.
Prompt: What one nonprofessional activity do you find most inspirational and why? (Wharton)
A little over two years ago I began tutoring high school students in several types of mathematics, including preparation for the S.A.T. Test. While I did this initially to earn money, I have continued to tutor (often pro bono) because I enjoy the material and the contact with the students.
I have always enjoyed math tremendously. I can remember riding in a car for long distances as a child and continuously calculating average speeds and percentages of distances covered as we traveled. In college I took upper division math classes such as Real Analysis and Game Theory (and placed near the top of the curve) though they were not required for my major. All this time spent playing with math has left me with a deep understanding of the way numbers work and the many ways in which problems can be solved.
When I first began tutoring I was stunned to find that most of the kids I worked with, although very bright, not only lacked the ability to solve complex problems, they were very uncomfortable with some of the basic principles of math. This discomfort led to fear and avoidance, and the avoidance led to more discomfort. A vicious cycle began. Instead of seeing math as a beautiful system in which arithmetic, algebra and geometry all worked together to allow one to solve problems, they saw it as a bunch of jumbled rules which made little sense that they were forced to memorize.
As a tutor, I found that it was important when starting with a new student to find out where his/her discomfort with math began. Often, this meant going back several years in their education to explain important basic concepts. For some students, fractions and decimals were the point at which math stopped making sense. For many others, it was the introduction of letters to represent numbers in algebra. Some students found that identifying their weaknesses was an embarrassing process. I explained to them that it was not their fault. Everyone comes to understand new concepts in math in a slightly different way, and the problem was that no teacher had taken the time to explain their “problem area” in a way which would make sense to them. Since math was a system, once they missed out on that one building block, it was not surprising that the rest of it did not make sense. Our mission together would be to find the way in which the system worked for them.
Once we had identified the initial “problem area,” I would spend a lot of time getting the student to play with questions in that area from a lot of different perspectives. For example, if fractions were the problem, then I would create games to get the student to think of fractions in terms of division, ratios, decimals or other equivalent systems. This would often be a fairly unstructured process, as I wanted to see how the student’s mind worked and keep them from feeling any anxiety. Usually it did not take long for the concepts to start becoming clear to the student, as he/she played with the numbers in the absence of the pressure of school. My goal was to not just white wash over a students weaknesses with a few rules which would be quickly forgotten, but to help them develop an understanding and an appreciation for the underlying principles.
I found this process to be very satisfying for both myself and the young men and women that I taught. It was a wonderful feeling to have a student laugh out loud with relief as a principle which had been unclear and causing anxiety for years suddenly made sense. Once these old “problem areas” were cleared up it was usually quite simple to make clear the subjects that they were working on at the time, especially since I already had an understanding of how they were best able to understand new concepts. Again, I found it important to get the student to play with the new material and look at it in several ways so as to develop a true understanding of the material.
I was quite successful as a tutor. One young man increased his Math S.A.T. by 150 points. Another student improved so dramatically in geometry, her test scores jumped from about 55 percent to over 90 percent, that her teacher kept her after class and asked if she was cheating. Although most of my students did not improve this dramatically, I walked away from every lesson that I gave feeling that I had helped someone understand and enjoy math. I hope to be able to continue teaching, if only for a few hours a week, for the rest of my life.
Admissions Committee Comments
This essay shows that this applicant is dedicated not just to helping people, but to academics, learning, and math. His tutoring does not make us believe his sincerity; the thoughtfulness and detail with which he describes it do. He has put obvious time into developing an effective method of teaching. The writer shows that he is result-oriented by measuring his success in terms of real numbers and percentage increases. Someone who applies such standards of accountability to his extracurricular life is sure to bring the same standards to school and business.
Prompt: Describe the characteristics of an exceptional manager by examining someone whom you have observed or with whom you have worked. Illustrate how his or her management style has influenced you. (Tuck)
In management consulting, strong analytical skills are valued as much as, if not more than, effective managerial and leadership skills. Unfortunately, for some consultants, these characteristics, at times, are mutually exclusive. I was fortunate, however, to work with [name] on my first major project at [consulting firm]. As my project manager, he demonstrated a superior combination of leadership, managerial, and communication skills. As a result of our interaction, I learned several important lessons and tools that I used on subsequent projects to improve my effectiveness as a team leader.
To begin, [name] is a true leader who exhibits courage and dedication. A powerful trait rarely found in the realm of business, courage is unique in its ability to unify and motivate people. Moreover, his courage is balanced appropriately with professionalism, strong values, and humility. He is sensitive to others’ feelings and recognizes that different people require different types of direction and treatment. Although he often works with diverse and difficult groups, he always seems able to reach consensus and create a shared vision and purpose. Furthermore, he excels at establishing priorities and proactively setting direction.
As an effective manager, [name] also is able to translate his broad direction into discrete, tangible tasks. Since consultants often use difficult or creative analytical approaches, clearly articulating tasks and defining outputs is very important. In addition, he exercises the appropriate level of supervision. Rather than micro-managing his team members, [name] establishes clear accountabilities and expectations and pushes work down to the correct level. As a result, he creates a strong sense of ownership and leverages the skills of his team members. Furthermore, he excels at creating a supportive environment and, when necessary, coaching team members to help them develop new skills.
Finally, [name] is a masterful communicator. He is the only project manager I have had who gave me consistent and constructive feedback, importantly, both positive and negative. Such feedback not only provides clear developmental objectives, but also signals to others that he values their contributions. This type of balanced and open communication quickly forms the foundation of mutual trust and respect. Furthermore, [name] excels in the art of negotiation and debate. He states his points with remarkable precision and is expert at remaining objective and recognizing all sides of an argument. And, regardless of the volatility of a situation or the strength of his feelings, he always listens to all positions patiently and effectively controls his demonstration of emotion, thereby gaining the respect of others and lending additional credibility to his positions.
Given my limited experience managing teams, my exposure to [name] was central to my early success at [consulting firm]. For example, although I had considered myself a leader in athletics, I had not learned to translate those skills into the business arena. [Name] taught me several effective methods to lead teams. Admittedly, as a highly motivated young analyst with very high work standards, I also lacked many of the skills required for effective team leadership. However, I quickly learned the importance of flexibility and became more comfortable providing feedback and directing the work of others. Furthermore, through his example, [name] taught me the importance of objectivity and the utility of several effective communication techniques. For example, I learned to use my sense of humor as an effective tool to persuade, disarm, or motivate others.
Early in my career at [consulting firm], I had several rare opportunities to lead client teams. In part due to the lessons I learned from [name], these projects were a great success. As a result, I went on to manage a half dozen diverse and difficult client teams that ranged in membership. With each project, I further refined the lessons I learned from [name] and developed new techniques for leading and managing teams. Due to my rapid development, I was promoted to [position], a managerial, post-M.B.A. position at [consulting firm], signifying that I can progress to the partner level. Although I realize my tool kit is far from complete, these skills will be invaluable both in business school and beyond.
Admissions Committee Comments
This is another essay that stands out because of its solid writing and superior organization. It starts with a bold assertion to catch the reader’ s attention and then uses the assertion to introduce the mentor’s most outstanding quality. Each of the next three paragraphs clearly asserts and describes an additional supporting quality. The essay concludes with examples of how the mentor’s influence has tangibly affected the writer’s actions and work performance, resulting in rapid promotion.
Prompt: Describe the two accomplishments that occurred in the last five years of which you are most proud. (Columbia)
Strategic Advisory for American Savings Bank
In January 1994,my group was engaged by Robert Bass’ Keystone Partners to evaluate their investment in California company, the culminating point of a five-year banking relationship. Keystone Partner however, engaged Goldman Sachs as co-advisor, thereby infuriating the Lehman team. We swore to keep control of the valuation process by solely handling the modeling work including complex simulations and projections, which I was solely responsible for. I quickly drafted a couple of pages that I distributed to both teams. Overnight, the Goldman team reproduced them line by line and sent them directly to the client as their work. It was a great strike against our team. I decided to design a completely different model, and to draw upon the information that I could gather from a long and fruitful client relationship with Lehman Brothers. I convinced the senior vice president, vice president and associate who had covered the company for years to pass on their knowledge, persuaded them to be available for 36 hours straight to answer all my questions, and for four more hours to be trained by me on the model. I designed a 23 page model, stuffed with information, that we presented to the 42 person working team, gathered at our request. The presentation, led by myself for technical explanations and the senior vice president for strategic conclusions, was a great success. The Goldman Senior Partner, recognizing the “excellency” of our model, proposed that I remain in charge of “all the number”.
I value this experience because I gained respect from the senior executives at all three firms. But most of all, although one of the most junior banker, I was able to inspire a cohesive spirit to our team in pursuing our goal to produce a high quality presentation.
Learning to Surf
My move to Los Angeles in August 1992 represented not only a great professional challenge-to work with only two senior bankers and cover all California financial institutions-but also a personal opportunity, a chance to broaden my horizons. I grew up in Paris and lived in the capital for 21 years before moving to New York; I definitely was a city girl! Los Angeles demanded however that I adapted to a whole different world, where sport rather than opera rhythms the season. I knew that my first year in the Los Angeles office would be extremely busy due to the small size of my group. In fact I averaged 90 hours of work per week that year. To keep my sanity and maintain a good spirit, I resolved to try and learn a sport that had always fascinated me: surfing. Thus I bought a brand new wetsuit and longboard and started the experience bright and early on a sunny Saturday afternoon under the merciless scrutiny of the local surfers, all males, who did not hide their contempt for my pale skin and weak arms so typical of investment banking Corporate Analysts. Surfing seemed at first an impossible mission: my board always mysteriously rebounded on my head, while the waves would break exactly where I was paddling. At work, there was an explosion of laughter when I proudly exposed my (only) personal project: why, a twenty-six year old Parisian, surfing? This had to be French humor! I resolved however to practice every week-end before coming into the office. Last summer, I finally stood up on my board and rode the wave to the beach. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life and although I still surf regularly, nothing matches my first wave nor the pride that I felt. Because I received little help and encouragement but prevailed, I cherish this experience which was actually a tremendous confidence builder.
Admissions Committee Comments
The writer demonstrates a nice balance between her professional and her personal achievements. Her first accomplishment shows the essayist to be a savvy business professional and highlights her good political sense, dedication, and technical skill. The second accomplishment rounds out the image by painting a picture of a young, healthy, active woman willing to take risks and learn new skills at the expense of laughter and embarrassment. The latter may have been a personal achievement, but these translate into very lucrative professional skills as well.
From Essays That Will Get You Into College, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.