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I Wrote 1 Essay for 8 Schools and You Can Too

Students always have a million questions about the essay. I’m going to share with you the lessons I learned about crafting the best possible essay and using it over and over again.

I applied to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Washington University in St. Louis, and Northwestern and got into all of them. The one school I didn’t get into was Princeton. The only real difference between those eight accepted applications and the one rejected application was my essay. Now it could’ve been that Princeton felt I wasn’t a good fit, but I can’t learn as much from that and that’s not necessarily something I have control over. So let’s assume it was the essay.

For the schools I got into, I spent over a month crafting my essay in my college composition (senior English) class, getting it peer-reviewed and graded. By the end, it was a really great essay that told my story and with a little bit of tweaking I was able to make it answer the questions for eight applications. Princeton had four short questions and answers that I spent one evening on. No wonder I didn’t get in. I would’ve still gone to Harvard, though, so no tears were shed.

Here’s the system you can use to do the same. I recommend you start working on your long form essay as early as the summer before senior year. I’ll go into detail on how to choose the subject of your essay. A lot of schools also require short question and answer supplements. Don’t make the mistake I made on the Princeton application and throw them together at the last minute!

Let’s talk about the essay-writing system that will reduce your stress and ensure you’re telling your unique story. Right after high school graduation, start putting all of the long form essay questions together in one document. I like using Evernote for note taking, but you can use whatever system you like. Most of the essay questions are already out, like the Common Application questions. Do the same for the short essay questions. If there is a school you want to apply to that hasn’t released their essay questions yet, make a note of that.

Once you have all your long form essay questions in one place, choose the one that is the most specific and that will allow you to tell your unique story that builds on the base of your pyramid. Look at your other questions and make sure with minor tweaking you can apply your essay topic to them as well. For example, I wrote my essay for MIT about being a girl who loved math and the excitement of competing with boys in that arena. Stanford’s essay question was about selecting a meaningful photo and writing about it. So I selected a photo of me as a child, added a couple of sentences to my existing essay, and submitted it. This simple system can drastically cut the amount of time and effort you spend on applications, especially if a number of your schools don’t accept the Common App. You also will end up with a much better essay if you just focus on one. Do not make more work for yourself!

You can do the same for most of the short questions. You will find that many are similar or generic. You can use a short answer about a meaningful EC to respond to the question “Is there anything else you would like us to know?” If you are applying to an engineering school, there is often a question about why you’re interested in engineering. This can be the same for all the schools you apply to with some minor tweaking where you mention specifics of the individual programs.

The keys to a stress-free essay experience are organization and starting early. You should spend at least a month with your long form essay and have it reviewed by a few people. You likely won’t need to spend the same amount of time on all your short essays, but definitely ask at least one person to review them. Instead of writing 5 mediocre essays and 20 lackluster responses, I want you to write 1 amazing essay and 2-5 killer responses that tell your unique story and Impress the Ivies.

Action Steps:
Start a collection of the long and short form essay questions for each school you want to apply to.
Pick a topic that will apply to all of your long form essay questions and start writing. Leave a comment about the topic and how it adds to the base of your pyramid.
Figure out the common short essay questions you need to answer and start writing.
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