need work on extended metaphor for college admissions essay
February 19, 2004 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Attention writers: I am writing some admissions essays and I have identified a decent extended metaphor to liven them up a bit. Unfortunately, even though I've rewritten it a dozen times, the essay's structure is terrible. What, structually, is the best way to make an extended metaphor work?
posted by trharlan to Writing & Language (12 answers total)
Donald Asher's book on graduate admissions essays is very good, in my opinion, and worth checking out.
posted by mecran01 at 8:48 PM on February 19, 2004

An essay length extended metafor? Sounds dangerous. Just be careful not to use other smaller metaphors that will confuse your readers as they go.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:18 PM on February 19, 2004

Is this for graduate school or an undergrad program? What people want will vary tremendously depending on that.

A big extended metaphor in a PhD program essay won't help you, probably. Clear, direct, and concise are the watchwords there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:44 PM on February 19, 2004

ROU_X: It's a business school essay.
posted by trharlan at 10:00 PM on February 19, 2004

I always thought the rule regarding extended metaphors was: don't.
posted by adrober at 10:33 PM on February 19, 2004

MBA mill? I don't know much about what they'd want. The general rule, though, would be that in a graduate application I'd like to see writing that's similar to writing in the profession, if you see what I mean.

But you probably have to worry about stuff people in academic grad programs don't, like standing out in the pool of applicants.

I don't know what the best structure for an extended metaphor would be in an application essay -- probably make the initial comparison right off the bat, and then go through the different sub-comparisons. But I've been writing terse dry social-science-ese for too long now to remember what good writing looks like!

But better a less inspiring essay that's well organized than one people end up remembering for bad things about it. If you can't structure it well in a dozen tries, I'd move on to something different.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:39 PM on February 19, 2004

To be blunter:

If I were reviewing grad applications (for poli-sci, which no doubt works differently than MBA schools), and the next one had a big extended metaphor, it would send up red flags.

It would make me think that this person really didn't know what he/she was getting into, and so would be likely to leave.

It would make me think that this was someone who wanted to have erudite conversations over coffee instead of buckling down and learning to do good inference.

It might make me think that this person just wants another few years of student life, and might be likely to drop out rather than do the hard work (grad school is a full-time or more job, usually).

It would not make me think that the writer was creative, at least not in any useful way. It would make me see the writer as sort of superficial and trying too hard in the wrong ways. Extending a metaphor, however well, isn't going to impress me. Solid indications that you know why you want to go to grad school, and what you want to do when you're done with it, and that you have some idea of what happens to you in grad school... that would impress me.

But like I say, your incentives might be different in a B-school.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:45 PM on February 19, 2004

IMHO extended metaphors have no place in an essay. Dr Johnson famously chided John Donne for the extended metaphors ("conceits") in his poetry saying that they were "the most heterogeneous ideas yoked together by violence".

If it's out of place in a poem, it's out of place in an essay, and you'll be spending more time worrying about how to form it rather than what you actually mean.
posted by Pericles at 2:45 AM on February 20, 2004

I always thought the rule regarding extended metaphors was: don't.

I agree. Down with extended metaphors in university essays! Seriously.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:39 AM on February 20, 2004

I work in graduate admissions, not MBA but science related. However my advice is to avoid the extended metaphor. Remember that there are real people reviewing your application and they are probably looking at hundreds of essays. What ever the topic, they are looking for clear concise writing.
posted by mmm at 6:12 AM on February 20, 2004

How does clear, concise writing exclude an extended metaphor? Sorry, I'm just surprised by everyone's immediate negative reaction when there is little to no informtion about the essay's subject, intent, or what the metaphor is.

tharlan - you might consider using it very sparingly, as a frame. Introduce the metaphor early on, stimulate some thought about it, and let it hang while you expose the core of your essay. Make that core strong and clear, and visit the metaphor again at the end. This way, you can extract some of the punch of the metaphor without relying on it at every step, and provide an interesting opening and a punchy ending. These are pretty cheesy effects, and I would never advise them for a humanties student, but a business school admissions essay is a different story.

Or not. I can't really say without more info, not to metnion seeing a draft.
posted by scarabic at 12:45 PM on February 20, 2004

What scarabic said - excellent advice.

My only word of caution is that one extended metaphor might be a risk in that if your reader doesn't relate to it, well there it is resurfacing through the whole essay. Also, you need to be careful that it is not too labored a construct.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:52 PM on February 20, 2004

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