You have poured your heart and soul into your business school applications and taken the time to craft the perfect essays. Now, you are eagerly looking forward to finishing up a few more applications to your target schools. You have heard that you can expect to spend as much time on your second, third, and fourth applications combined (!) as you did to produce your very first one. Encouraged by this claim, you might scan your third application and think, “Oh, look—here’s a ‘failure’ question. I can just adapt my Harvard ‘mistake’ essay to answer that one!” or “There’s a question about leadership. I’ve already written an essay on that, so I can just reuse it here. It’s all so easy now!”
Not so fast.
First applications usually do take longer to complete than subsequent ones. However, this is not because once you have crafted several essays for one or two schools, you can then simply cut and paste them into other applications, adjust the word count a bit, change a few names here and there, and be done.
Admissions committees spend a lot of time crafting their application questions, thinking carefully about the required word limit and about each component of the questions. Schools pose questions that they believe will draw out specific information that will help them ascertain whether the applicant would be a good fit with their program. Therefore, if you simply paste an essay you previously wrote for School A into the application for School B because you believe the schools’ questions are largely similar, you will most likely miss an important facet of what School B is really asking about. For example, consider these two past questions:
Northwestern Kellogg: Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experiences. (600-word limit)
Dartmouth Tuck: Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience? (approximately 500 words)
Even though both essay prompts ask you to explore leadership experiences, they certainly do not ask the exact same question. Kellogg wants you to share more than one leadership experience as well as a forward vision of the areas you want to develop while at Kellogg. Tuck, on the other hand, asks about only one leadership experience—your most meaningful leadership experience, in particular—and wants to know what you learned about yourself as a result.
If you were to simply paste your 600-word Kellogg essay as your response to Tuck’s question and cut 75–100 words, its admissions committee would know that you did not answer the question appropriately—a “mistake” and a “failure” are not necessarily the same thing. And believe us, the schools have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in which applicants clearly submitted their “failure” essay for one school in response to another program’s “mistake” question—and vice versa. Understandably, this is not the way to win over the admissions committee. Although you may use the same core story for more than one application essay, take the time to examine that story from the angle proposed by your target school’s question and respond accordingly.
One simple rule will always stand you in good stead: answer the question asked.