People often ask us how they can write multiple essays at once, without getting them mixed up or submitting them with the wrong school name (RIP). And many of them groan at our best advice: The best strategy for managing multiple essays at once... is to do them one at a time.
By writing one essay at a time, and filling out one application at a time, you avoid the mental mix-ups that might blemish your candidacy. Moreover, it makes the essays easier to write because your head’s in the right place. Thus, the most valuable skill for managing multiple essays is not organization or timing, but simply the patience to put one foot in front of the other, instead of putting the cart before the horse.
We have several practical tips for putting this concept into practice. Firstly, keep each school’s materials in a separate folder. For even better organization, keep your essay drafts in sub-folders away from your short answers, recommendation outlines, etc. Second, when you finish writing all of the essays for a school, search each document for the names of your other schools, just in case. And lastly, if you don’t have the luxury of working on one school at a time, limit crossover as much as possible. Don’t work on more than one school in a day, or in a session.
If you have the time to write your essays in series, which school do you tackle first?
Your first instinct might be to start drafting whichever essay is due soonest, but the best strategy for ordering your essays is more subtle. Here’s a rough guide:
- If two essays are due at the same time, start with the easier one. While common knowledge says to start with the biggest task on a list so that you don’t procrastinate, starting with the smallest instead may give you the confidence and energy you need to confront larger tasks. Start with the easiest essays to build yourself up.
- If one is due sooner, but both deadlines are far away, start with the easier one. If one essay is due on October 3rd and the other is due on October 12th, but it’s currently July, those essays are basically due at the same time. If your focus is in the right place, both essays should be completed with plenty of time to spare. However, as you approach the two deadlines, things could change…
- If one is due sooner and its deadline is close, start with that one. This is the only situation in which the “do what’s due first” assumption holds up. As you move into late September, the October 3rd deadline we mentioned above will and should begin to feel more urgent. Get that essay out of the way before tackling what remains of your October 12th essay.
Won’t shorter essays take less time?
Can I reuse essays?
- You run the risk of not answering the question. This is the most obvious and straightforward risk of reusing an essay. If the original essay answers a question about your biggest strengths, and your new prompt asks about your biggest weakness, that essay is not going to fit the bill. If the prompts are closer together, say, “Tell me about a time when you overcame failure?” and “What has been your biggest challenge in life so far?”, you’ll be better off, but not by much. Undoubtedly, the supporting details and phrasing of the essay will give you away.
- Similar schools will know if you do. Applicants usually apply to a set of similar schools, and those schools generally know what their peer institutions are up to. For instance, HBS, Stanford, and Wharton are often considered the top three of the MBA world, and you’d better believe that Stanford knows what questions HBS is asking on this year’s application. Admissions officers will be able to tell if you’ve copied and pasted your essay from the application you’d rather work on into theirs. And they won’t take that knowledge with a grain of salt.