It’s very tempting with certain schools, especially Columbia and maybe Wharton and also sometimes Stanford, to want to have essays interrelate, and talk about the same topic in more than one place. Like, you have this one big project that is sooooo important, and hey, why not mention it here, and here? (And maybe here?) Or, you’re going to tell Stanford in Essay B how you want to go out and start this sexy and cool new career in sustainable energy, and so you spend Essay A talking about how sustainability is so important to you. (Or sports marketing at Nike in Essay B / sports in Essay A. Or a social venture in the education space in Essay B / how important education is to you in Essay A. Or entrepreneurship in Essay B / your grandfather and his business that so inspired you growing up in Essay A. Or one of the other so-very-common combination of related topics like this that we see from so many of you.) And both essays end up sorta sounding like one and the same.
This would be a mistake.
The biggest reason you don’t want to do this is that it can make you seem like you don’t have enough to talk about.
A well-rounded candidate always has the sense that she never has enough room for everything. This is especially true when there are so few essays to present your stories.
If you repeat the same content in multiple places, then it can seem like you’re trying to stretch that content out to fill the gap – like you’re hitting the bottom of the well and don’t have anything more to say to the adcom.
Of course, any or all of the Stanford essay strategies we defined above could work. In fact, in our Stanford essay guide, we talk about when and if you should do this type of interconnected topic strategy for Stanford. Most people don’t execute on that very effectively though, and in many cases we see shaky draft 1s that are trying too hard, and we end up advising the BSer to go a different direction than that type of overarchitecture that they’d been attempting.
This one-trick pony perception can occur in other ways too though. It also can happen when BSers talk about conversations they’ve had with students and alumni. It’s very helpful to reference those directly in one of your essays – but you should be selective and only mention the same person in one place. If you repeat the name-drop in that other essay too, then it diminishes the value of the reference. Same thing with talking about a specific Columbia resource in their Essay 1 and Essay 2. Why would you do that? Again, it comes across like you only have so much to say, so you’re just saying that one thing all over again. Not helpful.
We should also take this opportunity to remind you not to cross-reference, either.
The next step is saying it. (Nobody can help you. You have to just do it. Write them drafts. Lay it out on the page. Read it. Rejoice. You are making forward progress!)
The step after that is realizing that you didn’t say it well and need to start all over again in saying it. (That’s what this is for. Yes it will be depressing. But revision is what good writing is about. Plan for it!)
There are many techniques for presenting your background in a compelling way in your essays. It’s highly likely that you don’t currently know any of them. Study this blahg for the tips and tricks – and then write some essays. And then come back and study some more. This is a new way of doing things and you need to spend time engaging the brain on it to figure it out.
Otherwise you’re just going to end up with flat, vanilla, boring and/or disjointed essays that have no life or light in them. Each essay is an opportunity unto itself to share something significant with your reader. Make the most of it, Brave Supplicant.