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How is a big-box discount store like an application to a competitive school?  Read on and find out.

By Ben Feuer

In an intriguing profile, Businessweek analyzed the success of Costco, a company that pays well above industry average to its employees while charging much less than average for products.  How is this achieved?  The article goes on to describe a no frills approach from top to bottom at the company, with all the focus on delivering mission critical products to the consumer.  For a mature industry like brick and mortar retail, this is a great idea, focusing on what people care about the most -- quality and price.

Believe it or not, this is directly relevant to your job as an applicant to college, business school, medical school or law school -- you, too, can benefit from a 'no frills' approach, if you apply it to your essay writing.

So what is a no-frills essay, and why is it a good thing?  A no-frills essay focuses on the story or incident it is describing.  Like a great piece of reporting, the no frills essay gives all the necessary information to understand what happened in the story, and why it is important -- and nothing more.  This is much harder than it sounds.  It is depressingly easy to pontificate, generalize and speculate in essays, filling the word count without adding to the content.  Here are some powerful tricks that can help you trim the fat.

Are you describing simple things simply?  Think about your job.  I don't mean your title, your function, or the 8 million sub-headings and tasks it entails.  I mean the core, elevator pitch version of your job.  Do you make businesses run more efficiently?  Do you evaluate deals, judging them as good or bad for a company?  These functions are easy to understand, and described simply -- much better than company valuation in a mid-market private equity hedge bla bla bla, or operational efficiencies derived from careful analytics oh God please kill me now.  Think about it this way -- do you want to sound like a boring drone?  Of course not.  So simplify.

What are you talking about?  When did the event you are discussing begin?  When did it end?  Who was involved?  What were their names?  Why is it important that we hear about this story?  What did you think at the time, and what do you think now that it is all over?  These basic questions are so often ignored in essays.  Don't fall into that trap.

Get to the point -- now.  Does your first sentence have a date, place and a simple description of what is taking place in the essay?  If the answer is no, you're doing it wrong.  Don't open with a quote.  Don't ease us into the story.  Don't generalize before you start.  Remember.  No frills.  Now apply this to every sentence, everywhere.  Done.

The next essay you write -- make it a Costco essay and not a Gucci.  A no frills approach will make them love you in the end.


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