Tim Darling will be a first-year student at the Tepper School at Carnegie Mellon University. He calls himself a regular guy-an engineer for six years who didn't go to an Ivy League school for undergrad. Last year, he applied to five schools; ranked in the top 15 and was accepted to all but one. Darling says he tackled the application process without any prep courses or MBA consultants. He says while finding his way through the process, there was one method in which he approached the essays that might work for you. "I kind of went about the essays in a unique way and I started thinking about them over the summer. I don't think the essays for most of the schools are published until the end of August. I was thinking about them probably at the end of July and the beginning of August. So, I wasn't really thinking about answering particular questions. I'd actually just thought about the interesting experiences and anecdotes about my own life and wrote those out in kind of a loose and fun way. I was just kind of having fun with it and putting some ideas down, and then when the essay questions were posted-and even for a while I didn't even know what schools I was going to end up applying to-I just sort of looked through those essay questions, and I had all these sheets of paper in front of me of my own stories and tried to see if there were any creative interesting matches. My personal belief is that if you sit down in front of your typewriter with a clean sheet of paper, and crack your knuckles, and just type out an answer to the question-for example, tell us about a time you ran into an ethical dilemma-your response is going to be quite dry. It's not going to have a lot of spark and creativity. But if you look at that question and you can look over some stories about yourself that you've already put down on paper that are sitting right in front of you, you might think: 'Yes, there was that stereotypical time when my boss wanted me to adjust some numbers'. But what about this other piece of paper here? What about this time when I was in Venice and my traveling companion wanted to steal a gondola? I think you can come up with more interesting and unique responses to these dry essay questions when you've done more of a matching than sitting down with a blank sheet of paper".

Tim Darling stumbled upon yet another trick that helped him gain perspective and feedback on his application. "You're going to spend 50-100 hours perhaps writing your essays. One thing that you can do is find a school-perhaps one near you-that let's you interview early before even sending in an application. It might even be a school that you want to go and apply to. Go in for an interview and tell your stories-the stories that you're thinking about bragging about in your essays in the interview. And you get that instant feedback from that admissions committee member about what you're saying to them. And for me, I went into the interview early for some schools, and I was amazed because I thought, 'I'll go into the interview. I'll talk about my day job. I'll talk about my travels to Europe, for example, and the band that I play in. And I told those stories and the person who was interviewing me was sort of drifting in and out of consciousness. I think they had heard these stories a thousand times before that I thought were really exciting. And I just couldn't make them really be interested in it, and then I started talking about this necktie company that I actually started about 18 months ago. And I started talking about that, and it wasn't really something that I had started to beef up my MBA application. It wasn't really anything that I had started focusing much on. When I started talking about it in my interviews, I really just got a great reaction from the person who was interviewing me every time. And I said, 'I'm actually wearing a tie today that I made in my company'. I think that kind of story woke them up and they were suddenly really interested in me. And I went back before I sent in my essays and I thought, 'I really have to change some of my essays to focus more on this because this is a really a way to differentiate myself from a lot of the other applicants".