MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: I Can Use the Same Essay for Multiple Schools

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.

Manhattan Prep

Professor Profiles: Rawi Abdelal, Harvard Business School

Many MBA applicants feel that they are purchasing a brand when they choose a business school. However, the educational experience you will have is what is crucial to your future, and no one will affect your education more than your professors. Today, we profile Rawi Abdelal from Harvard Business School (HBS).

Rawi Abdelal is the Herbert F. Johnson Professor of International Management and the director of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. In addition to teaching, he serves as a faculty associate for such groups as Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

His first book, National Purpose in the World Economy: Post-Soviet States in Comparative Perspective (Cornell University Press, 2001), won the 2002 Shulman Prize for outstanding monograph dealing with the international relations, foreign policy, or foreign-policy decision making of any former Soviet Union or Eastern European state. In 2016, Abdelal was granted the HBS One Harvard Faculty Fellowship, and in 2013, he received the Robert F. Greenhill Award, given to outstanding members of the HBS community who are making significant contributions to the school. Moreover, in 2004, he was awarded the Student Association’s Faculty Award for outstanding teaching in the required curriculum.

Abdelal is a student favorite, we were told by those we interviewed, because of his willingness to spend time with students outside the classroom (even those who are not in his section), explaining macroeconomic concepts that can be difficult to grasp. He is also known for incorporating unusual references from literature and popular culture into his class discussions. He has made allusions to Shakespeare, the movie Fight Club, and even rapper Jay-Z’s song “Blue Magic” to help explain complex topics.

For more information about HBS and 16 other top-ranked business schools, check out our free mbaMission Insider’s Guides.

Harvard University (Harvard Business School) Professor Profiles

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Why GMAT Prep Is Like Training for a Marathon

Our friends at Manhattan Prep often tell students to think of the GMAT as a long-distance race. Successful runners conquer race day through specific goals, consistent training, and mental toughness. The same holds true for successful GMAT test takers.

Setting a Goal Pace

The best runners do not just aim for completion; they set a goal pace. How do they arrive at a specific, measurable goal? Marathon runners test their abilities on shorter races (5K, 10K, half marathon) to determine an achievable goal for race day. Also, many runners are looking to beat various thresholds, such as completing a marathon in under four hours.

Similarly, if you are taking the GMAT, you should have a goal score in mind. You arrive at that goal score by taking a practice test to gauge your current proficiency and then setting a challenging but reasonable goal score. Usually that goal score also coincides with the benchmarks posted by the business schools you’re looking to attend. Having a specific goal in mind helps you develop an appropriate study plan and informs your test day strategies.

Training Consistently

The majority of a race’s outcome depends on the work you put in before you are on the race course; all the training that your legs have endured will push you across the finish line. For runners, following a consistent training plan produces the physiological changes necessary for improving their pace; it gets their bodies ready for challenges they will face on race day. Just as runners aim to train four or five days a week with a couple of rest days sprinkled in between, GMAT test takers should aim to do ~30 minutes of practice on most days and schedule longer (but not too long!) studying sessions for the weekends. Why?

Well, first off, spending long stretches of time away from test material will wipe away some of the “gains” you made in previous weeks. If two weeks have passed since you looked at a Critical Reasoning question, you will need to refresh your memory on the various types of Critical Reasoning questions and the approaches for each. Regularly exposing yourself to the material will keep you moving forward instead of having to repeat a chapter that you previously covered.

Second, consistent studying is more manageable than attempting to cram in many hours of studying on the weekend. If you are aiming to run 50 miles in a given week, trying to complete 40 of those miles over the weekend results in overtraining and perhaps even injury. Long, exhausting study sessions leave you tired and demoralized, and more importantly, mastering all the content covered during those sessions is very difficult because your brain is on overdrive. In fact, studies have shown that knowledge retention improves when students space out their study time. Shorter but more frequent study sessions also let you “sleep” on certain concepts and problems, and you will find that you are able to tackle challenging problems with greater ease if you step away from them for a day or two.

Lastly, consistent training leads to incremental improvements. Runs that felt tough two weeks ago start to feel easier because you have been training almost every day and your body is making the appropriate physiological adjustments. Jumping from a 500 to a 600 on the GMAT is impossible without making many small improvements along the way. Significant score improvements are achieved through a combination of incremental changes, such as mastering Quant topics, using alternative problem-solving strategies, and improving time management.

So open up a calendar and set a consistent study schedule. Feel free to vary things by studying in different locations, mixing topics, etc. You will feel yourself training your brain muscles, and the incremental improvements in performance will sufficiently prepare you for test day.

Preparing for the Big Day

Before race day, runners spend approximately one week “tapering.” Tapering involves reducing training volume to give your body rest, giving you that “fresh legs” feeling on race day. Staying up late the night before your test is a bad idea. Instead of frantically taking practice tests and completing problem sets during the week leading up to test day, try to taper the amount of studying so that you are well rested and “mentally fresh.”

On the big day, all runners are nervous. The runners who hit their goals manage their nerves and exhibit mental toughness. They are optimistic because they know that they have set appropriate goals and trained consistently toward those goals, and they do not let the challenges of race day get in their heads, focusing instead on producing the best outcome possible. Also, they are ready for the long haul. Instead of gassing themselves out by running too fast for the first half of the race, they conserve their energy to maintain the pace required to hit their desired finish time.

How does that translate into strategies for test day? On test day, you will be nervous and that is expected. Stay optimistic, gather confidence from all the hard work you have put into studying, trust yourself, and stay mentally resilient in the face of challenging problems. Oh, and if you manage to also have fun on test day, I am confident that you will deliver your best performance.

Manhattan Prep is one of the world’s leading test prep providers. Every one of its instructors has a 99th percentile score on the GMAT and substantial teaching experience. The result? Two decades and thousands of satisfied students. By providing an outstanding curriculum and the highest-quality instructors in the industry, it empowers students to accomplish their goals. Manhattan Prep allows you to sit in on any of its live, online GMAT classes—for free! Check out a trial class today.


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Why Personalized Recommendations Matter but Some Details May Not

If your supervisor is writing your business school recommendation and you are having trouble ensuring that they are putting the proper thought and effort into it, you are not alone. Because of this asymmetry of power, junior employees can only do so much to compel their supervisor to commit the necessary time and write thoughtfully. So, before you designate your supervisor as a recommender, you must first determine how committed this person really is to helping you with your business school candidacy. In particular, your recommender needs to understand that using a single template to create identical letters for multiple business schools is not okay. Each letter must be personalized, and each MBA program’s questions must be answered using specific examples.

If your recommender intends to simply write a single letter and force it to “fit” a school’s questions or to attach a standard letter to the end of the school’s recommendation form (for example, including it in the question “Is there anything else you think the committee should know about the candidate?”), then they could be doing you a disservice. By neglecting to put the proper time and effort into your letter, your recommender is sending a very clear message to the admissions committee: “I don’t really care about this candidate.”

If you cannot convince your recommender to write a personalized letter or to respond to your target school’s individual questions using specific examples, look elsewhere. A well-written personalized letter from an interested party is always far better than a poorly written letter from your supervisor.

In addition, although details are important in recommendation letters, remember that sometimes small points in MBA applications are really just that—small points. We are often asked, “Should this be a comma or a semicolon?” and want to respond, “Please trust us that the admissions committee will not say, ‘Oh, I would have accepted this applicant if they had used a comma here, but they chose a semicolon, so DING!’” That said, we are certainly not telling you to ignore the small things. Details matter—the overall impression your application makes will depend in part on your attention to typos, font consistency, and grammar, for example—but we encourage you to make smart and reasonable decisions and move on. You can be confident that your judgment on such topics will likely be sufficient.

Application Tips

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Northwestern Kellogg Launches New Tech-Focused MBA Program

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University recently announced the launch of MBAi, a new MBA program focused on technology. The program, which is a joint offering with the university’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, spans five quarters and features courses “designed for leaders operating at the nexus of business and AI [artificial intelligence]-driven technology,” according to the Kellogg website. Students also take part in a full-time summer internship and a week-long industry immersion experience at the school’s campus in San Francisco.

“Our world-class professors at Kellogg and McCormick also collaborated to develop a new catalog of courses that combines business strategy with the complex principles of emerging technologies,” Kate Smith, the school’s assistant dean of admissions and financial aid, wrote in the announcement of the new program. “This blended curriculum will deepen students’ understanding of the interdependent relationship and dialogue that exists between these disciplines,” Smith said. The curriculum will explore such themes as computational thinking for business, machine learning, and technical product management. The program opens for applications in September and welcomes applicants with four to six years of work experience, an undergraduate STEM degree or major, and technical work experience.

News Northwestern University (Kellogg)

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