This post was first published in 2018, so the commentary on which schools have similar essay questions may not be relevant today -- but the "how many apps?" discussion totally is.
WOWZER! Every MBA app this year is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from every other one! Used to be, there was enough similarity and commonality in how certain schools asked at least one of their essay questions that you could use that overlap to your advantage, and repurpose core chunks of content from one application to another. NOT ANYMORE.
Almost all the schools have now released essay questions and based on what we are seeing, BSers applying for the Class of 2021 are likely going to have to temper their enthusiasm and scale back expectations on the number of schools they’ll be applying to.
In very recent cycles, we saw applicants submitting to as many as 8 or 10 schools — and often more. It’s rare that they did a good job on that many apps, because even when the essay questions were more similar, you still need to do a lot of rework to make your content fit appropriately into a different frame, based on how the schools asked questions using different language or from different positions.
But this year? We can’t think of much in common between hardly any of these programs!
The main synergies you might get are between the Yale essay question on “biggest commitment” and the Stanford question on “what matters most” — because these are both asking about values, and frequently, if you nail the Yale question then you’ll be able to use that at least in part for Stanford (potentially).
There are also a few schools that have shrunk down the scope of what they want in goals, specifically Darden and Ross. Not long-term, just short-term. But these are hardly “essays” since in Darden’s case it’s only 150 words! And those schools also have a variety of other answers that they want from you. So sure, you can figure out your S/T goal once and re-use that couple o’ sentences in a number of places… But then for most everything else, you’ll be starting from scratch and tearing your hair out anew with unique and varied questions from every single school.
So from a practical perspective, we are simply skeptical that you’re going to be able to do too many individual applications.
That is, you’re not going to be able to do a bang-up job on that many.
Most people start to burn out after the third application.
Because writing. (And thinking. And more writing.)
This stuff is WORK.
It’s serious heavy lifting, of the mental kind.
As a general guideline, you should be front-loading the effort into Round 1; don’t assume that you can just wait and apply to the higher-competitive programs in Round 2. Get those done NOW. Submit early where the chances are slimmest. But that doesn’t mean submitting to ALL THE SCHOOLS in Round 1. That’s just not realistic, and probably not feasible.
So, how many apps do we think you should do?
It’s impossible to make any proclamations on what you personally will be able to accomplish, since we don’t know your abilities or your tolerance for pain, and we especially don’t know the reasons behind your choice of the schools you’re interested in. For someone very interested in specific schools for a specific reason, there may be enough drive that fuels the process so that they can do a bang-up job on a larger number of apps. (Also: Red Bull.)
For many people, we are guessing that four apps will be the upper limit before quality starts to degrade.
You are going to get SICK of this process. It’s just the way it goes; it becomes a real slog, and you know how you get when you are dragging and unwilling to push through at the 1am hour. It’s work and becomes harder and harder, the further you go.
Or, for some of you, you’ll find your groove and be able to crank out some real top notch deliverables. But we can only have confidence that that’ll happen for you after seeing some results of that quality coming through consistently.
The standard pattern for BSers we’ve worked with in past seasons goes something like this:
July 1: MOTIVATED! HAPPY! BSCHOOL, HERE I COME – THIS IS GONNA BE CAKE!
July 15: DRAT! I KEEP HAVING TO START OVER! I THOUGHT THIS WAS GONNA BE EASIER!
July 31: OMG i hate it my drafts suck i’m quitting where’s the donuts
August 15: CRAPTASTIC I HAVE HARDLY ANY TIME LEFT SHOOT I’VE GOTTA GET WRITING!
August 30: What day is it? I haven’t seen the sun in a week. But i think i might have a good essay? It’s only draft #927 before it happened.
September 5: OK phew got harvard done i can do this
September 15: is this ever gonna end waaaaaaa
September 16: please god make it stop what did i do to deserve this level of hell
September 17: Yale, Wharton are in. That’s good, right? That’s enough for Round 1?
September 19: Second wind! I’m gonna do Booth and MIT and…. ugh look at those questions, EssaySnark was right.
(you get the picture)
All right, then. We say something like 5 apps will be the reasonable limit for most people in Round 1, given that the deadlines are somewhat staggered throughout a month-long period. Some schools have particularly late Round 1 deadlines, like UCLA and Duke and Darden.
Many people will find that 3 apps is the limit before they lose it mentally.
If you’re still thinking you’re going to do 6 or more, we just think you’re nuts. It’s very very rare that someone does good work on that many. You’re likely going to be throwing away a lot of app fees with little to show for it. Those add up fast.
Pick your battles, Brave Supplicant!
And oh yeah: If you want to get our input into your current plans and strategies, the Comprehensive Profile Review will do that!! It’s EssaySnark’s honest assessment on whether you’re being realistic in the schools you’re planning for, based on your actual background and core stats, and if the overall plan for the whole season makes sense when you look at the elements of competition and selectivity based on which round and which school. Hit us up for one if you want an expert’s take on your preliminary approach, to make sure you’re setting off in the right direction with a valid compass to guide you!
You may also be interested in
- How many apps should you plan for, then? (May 2014)
Ready to get started?
We’ve got brand-new Class of 2021 essay guides to help!