Thursday, October 15, 2009

Essay Reuse: How to Write 4 Essay Packages in 3 Weeks

In a recent post, I mentioned that I wrote my essays under a time crunch. I took the GMAT in the first week of December, then recuperated for a week before starting my essays. This left very little time to meet the second-round application deadline. Someone asked me how I wrote all of those essays in so little time.

First, I wrote my essays while on vacation, so I wasn't just working on the essays on nights and weekends. And second, I reused a lot of material between the essays. There are some risks with this approach that you need to pay attention to, but it can also help save time and spur ideas.

I started by organizing the questions in a spreadsheet:
  • I copied all of the essay questions for my schools into a spreadsheet, one column per school.
  • I organized the questions such that each row contained a similar question.
  • I created a "category" column that captured what the questions had in common in a few words.
Here's an example using this year's questions from HBS, Wharton, and Chicago. Notice that I split one of the Chicago questions into its separate parts.

Next, I started brainstorming around the categories. Actually, I had already started this process, so I copied some of the ideas I had already written down and added a few more. I found that looking for commonalities between the questions helped get the creative juices flowing.

Once I figured out roughly what I wanted to say, I started banging out badly worded paragraphs. For example, each accomplishment I wanted to talk about got a short paragraph. The writing was awful and nothing flowed, but my content was starting to come together.

I kept my material organized into these categories for a few days, until things started flowing a little better. Then I started tuning them to the schools one at a time.

What about the risks?
The biggest risk with this approach is losing focus on the specific question that each school is asking. The questions may be related, but they aren't identical. This approach will get you off to a fast start, but I wouldn't suggest trying to copy completely finished essays from one school to another.

Second, make sure that keywords from one school don't end up in your essays for the other schools. For example, HBS asks about your "career vision". If you say anything about "career vision" in an essay for another school, you may be sunk.

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