Over the summer I spoke with an unsuccessful applicant from last year who had a big job gap in his employment history. Now the fact that he had the gap wasn’t what was troubling to us (we recognize that in this economy a lot of people unfortunately have found themselves in this boat), rather the bigger problem was the fact that he hadn’t addressed anywhere in his application what he had been doing during his period of unemployment. When I asked him that question, he seemed surprised and said he didn’t think we would be interested. Now, what he had been doing was actually quite compelling, but because he didn’t address it in his application, we didn’t know about it and had to make our decision based on the information we had. In this type of situation, we don’t know if the applicant is doing something amazing or if they are sitting on the sofa watching soap operas. Moral of the story: never make us guess about anything, because we may guess wrong.
The same advice it true for anything that may not be obvious from the face of your application. For example, many people are hesitant to ask their current supervisor for a letter of recommendation because they fear it might jeopardize their employment. This is not a big problem if you tell us that is the reason, but if you don’t explain it, we are left with the equally realistic assumption that you don’t have a good working relationship with your supervisor. Again, don’t make us guess.
Things that might seem obvious to you are not necessarily obvious to us. Another good example is when an applicant wants to make a major career change. Because you have probably been thinking about it for a long time, the reasons for the change may seem clear to you, but if you don’t explain them to us, we are left guessing. Remember, we don’t know you beyond what you put on paper.
My suggestion is after you think your application is ready to go, have someone who doesn’t know you very well read it to see if any lingering questions remain – to make sure you have connected all of the dots. If you haven’t addressed those questions, make sure you do. If that information won’t reasonably fit somewhere in the application, use the optional essay to explain. We are kind people and want to see all of you succeed, so please help us help you by providing all of the information we need to make the best case for your admission.