DISCLAIMER: This post is not trying to tell you that you can reuse your essays from one school to another!
Because really, you can’t.
Even if the essay prompt is nearly exactly the same — which, this year, there’s at least one pair of schools where this is true — even when the questions are identical, you can’t just do a save-as and slap the essay your wrote for School 1 into School 2’s application.
Of course, every year applicants do that, and every year, admissions folks at Wharton are reading essays from people who are telling them why they really want to go to Columbia.
So, don’t be a bonehead.
But do be smart! There’s strategy to be applied to this process, to make something grueling be not quite as horrible, if you take a macro approach first. It’s way better not to just begin writing essays for a school that happens to have the earliest deadline. Instead, take stock of what your entire project looks like; find commonalities; understand the realities of the very steep learning curve you’re facing; maximize opportunity accordingly. You don’t want to cut your teeth on the “how to write an essay” skill on the hardest essay questions in the world.
These two schools have long been paired in other ways, in that they tend to look for similar qualities and strengths in their candidates, and admissions outcomes at one are often mirrored at the other as well. What we mean by that is, if you do a bang-up job on your application to Columbia, and you do a similarly bang-up job on the app to Wharton, and your profile is solid, then you may be the proud owner of two offers of admission when decision time rolls around a few months later.
Both of these schools care about career goals quite a bit, so if you’re sitting here salivating at the prospect of seeing such outcomes, then that’s the best first place to begin.
When it comes time to sharing those goals, then Columbia and Wharton are making it semi-simple, because both of their Essay 1s, and Essay 2s, are similar enough in their wording that the same approach will work nicely. We suggest starting with Columbia, because it’s a tiny bit more straightforward in how they’ve asked things, and also it’s a slightly lower-stakes operation. Your first essays are not likely to be your very best work, since you’re dealing with the learning curve of how to write essays when you are tackling those. Your second and third apps are likely to be your best, so since most people would choose Wharton over Columbia (in most cases) then put Wharton as your project #2, once you’ve built up some skills on how to do this essay-writing thing.
Then, please please please be super careful if you choose to reuse your content! Search-and-replace is not your friend. Even if you think you’ve only said “Columbia” in your essay, it’s highly likely there’s also a reference to “CBS” in there too, or maybe “Columbia Business School.” It’s not the end of the world if you change that to “Wharton Business School” but it’s not actually the name of the place. The adcom will notice. You need to carefully proofread — and we actually suggest not relying on search/replace at all. Do it by hand. Scrutinize every word.
The schools also have different cultures, and obviously they have different clubs and classes and professors, so all of these details will need attending to as you figure out what exactly you want to say to convince yourself most effectively for the respective admissions readers.
So what other schools have this type of synergy available, where you
write once/apply everywhere maximize your efficiency by leveraging the hard work you’ve already done on a prior set of essays?
In addition, UCLA Anderson has a fairly straightforward question on goals, so if you’ve done the heavy lifting on figuring out what your post-MBA plans are going to be through an app to a school like Columbia or Wharton or NYU, then you may have a lot of the hard work behind you in writing an essay for them also.
Here’s more opportunity for perhaps unexpected leveraging of content:
Tuck’s Essay 2 is: Tuck students recognize how their individuality adds to the fabric of Tuck. Tell us who you are. (300 words)
Dang, 300 words is short! But guess who else has short questions?
And they also are looking for evidence of something “real” about you — which is totally what’s needed for that Tuck Essay 2 also. If you’re thinking of Ross and UCLA in Round 1, do the Ross essays first; those will give you fodder to leverage for this Tuck question.
And back to UCLA: Their Essay 2 is even shorter (250 words – gulp!). And also offers some potential overlap with both of these two, given what their question is: At Anderson, we believe our students are engaged, courageous, humble, and open. Describe a time when you demonstrated one of these traits in your personal life. (Hmmm, definitely getting some whiffs of those Tuck values here too aren’t we? UCLA was actually emphasizing values in their application before Tuck was, but this list does end up sounding a lot the same. Again, overlap means reuse potential? You bet! Provided the topic literally fits what the individual prompt is asking you. Always — ALWAYS — doublecheck that as you’re going about your drafting and rewriting and cranking through words.)
And then more potential synergies available in questions asked by these two schools:
Kellogg Essay 2: “Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you and how have they influenced you?”
Darden Essay 1: “Darden strives to identify and cultivate responsible leaders who follow their purpose. Please provide an example of a situation in which you have made a meaningful impact.”
Obviously those questions are totally different, and we recommend that you use a personal example for Kellogg, and a professional one for Darden — but the introspection and reflection that you’ll do as you consider the ideals and definitions of “values” and “purpose” may have some opportunities for cross-germination.
Oh hey look! Here’s another!
That should get you moving in the right direction for your planning purposes. Because really, August is basically here. And you know what that means?
Want real guidance on what needs to go into the actual essays for an individual school? Our SnarkStrategies Guides are a goldmine of insights and info on how to structure your essay in response to each school’s particular prompts; common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid; and what tends to resonate most with the adcoms at that individual school based on how they are asking their questions and why. Don’t waste time and effort by committing the standard errors and making the avoidable mistakes!! Read up on what goes into a good essay for your school before you start writing one word. No cutting corners, Brave Supplicant! While it’s true that the clock is ticking, you still totally have time to do this process right.