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 on your very first one. Encouraged, you might scan your third application and think, “Oh, look—here’s a ‘failure’ question. I can just adapt the ‘mistake’ essay I wrote for my first application 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!”
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 prompts, thinking carefully about the required word limit and about each component of the questions. They present prompts they believe will draw specific information from applicants that will then help them ascertain whether those candidates would fit well with the program. Therefore, if you simply reuse an essay you wrote for School A for your application for School B because you believe the schools’ questions are largely similar, you could easily miss an important facet of what School B is really seeking. 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 and outline 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.
In this case, if you were to simply take your 600-word Kellogg essay, cut out 75–100 words, and then submit it as your response to Tuck’s question, the admissions committee would immediately recognize this and know that you had not taken the time to sincerely respond to the school’s prompt. Believe us, the admissions committees have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in which applicants clearly submitted an essay originally intended for one school in response to another program’s question—and vice versa. Understandably, this is not the way to win them over. Although you may use the same core story for more than one application essay, always stop and 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.