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Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful?

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Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 06:05
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I read all these posts and I am kind of excited to write my essays. I can't imagine each school's essays taking more then 3-4 days of prep? And that is on the max end. Am I just being naive? Just reading about essays on the forums I have all these ideas that come in my head that I can put down to paper, so for me it doesn't seem to hard. Where am I wrong?
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 06:24
Getting the ideas wasn't the hard part. Condensing my work history, major accomplishments, short and long term goals, why I wanted an MBA and why from Michigan into 500 words was the hard part. I probably spent an hour or two (at least) every night from August until December working on my essays (with a 3 week europe trip in the middle).
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 06:36
depends on how good a writer you are... it can take a lot of time and effort to meld all your ideas into a cohesive 1000 word document. for most people if they just wrote down all their ideas they would have like 2000 words of incohesive text. filtering through your text and figuring out what is most important and how to present them in the form of a story is time consuming.

i probably spent a couple months on my goals essay, which i used for a couple schools.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 06:38
i think it's more stressful due to how many you have to write. If you apply to 4 or 5 schools then the essays can start to monopolize your time especially if you are trying to meet a deadline.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 07:00
I agree with dabots, it depends on your background. If you have extensive practice writing essays or reports, then the essays will be a snap for you. Just as there are people who can score a 51Q on the GMAT without cracking a math book, there are people who can put together a high quality set of essays in one or two days (not including research - just writing). I would count on it taking significantly longer if you have an average writing background and/or do not know what you want to say. The first set is the hardest -- after that, you can reuse a lot of what you already have written.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 07:53
As with anything else there is a learning curve. Your first set of essays and applications will take considerably longer than latter ones you will do. My first essays took about 3/4 weeks of gathering info, editing info, writing numerous drafts, gathering advice, etc... My last application took about 5 days total and had 4 essays; it was a breeze.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 07:56
Another dimension to this is how readily your experiences fit into the theme of the essay. Some essays, I had to spin the experience and massage it so, in order to answer the question. For other essays, I didn't need to think much.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 08:02
Hi Terp,

I am still a newbie when it comes to essays. For me I was exactly in your boat earlier this year. I thought essays will be easy. When I got to writing the essays I found that my essay skills were lacking big time. They do take a long long time to get right. Helpful feedback from a few people helped heaps and finally 4 weeks later, the night before the deadline, I submitted. I still wasn't 100% satisfied with them and got dinged w/o interview.

The most time spent during the essay writing process was starring at the screen for hours and hours. Sometimes after a few hours, words flow a lot easier. Also you will find that some essays are extremely hard to write due to the topics. The hardest for me was "How would you like to be remembered? (400 words)". I spent 1 week just coming up with a theme. Wrote and rewrote this 6 times (with different themes) and then finally chose a theme. I was never happy with this essay!

The bottom line is, be prepared to spend lots of time on the essays, and also be prepared to submit these essays. The perfectionist in you will never be happy with them.

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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 08:11
I have a lot of experience writing papers (history major), so when I wrote my essays, it really only took me a few lunch breaks to pound out some *good* essays. However for me to have taken it to take it to the next level, and to write *great* essays, I would have needed to dedicate many many more hours. It takes exponentially more time (for anyone) to crack those uppper levels, be it gmat or essays, and I think in many ways that's what the adcoms want to know. Do you have the drive and ambition to put in that kind of effort for something that you want.

P.S. It was because I didn't have enough time to write great essays and study for the gmat long enough to get a great score why I postponed applying until this fall!
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 08:51
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It is great that you are so enthusiastic about writing -- when your essays are able to convey this enthusiasm, they tend to stand out.

I personally think there is no quick solution to good essays. After all, it should be a carefully planned SET of essays that will show the schools many different facets of your personality and professional background. Every paragraph counts! Plan every single paragraph in your set of essays in terms of its strategic importance to your whole application.

You also need to see your application holistically so that it is balanced, and strong in every area. Essays are also a chance for you to do some damage control.

Turned out, people thought my first drafts sucked, although I thought they were absolutely GREAT. So it was really helpful to seek different oppinions. If you can afford consultants, do work with them at least to get an idea of what exactly you're doing right, and what -- not so right. You will have to write your essays yourself (this is very important!), but they will give you TONS of very spot-on advice both on your essays and your resume/CV and the whole application.

Your SET of essays is a powerful tool so use it wisely, and take your time to fully utilize its power. Hastingness may hurt.

Stock up on popular MBA essay writing books -- there is a plenty of great tips and examples there. Paul Bodine's book is arguably the best guide.

I spent seven long painful months on data mining, strateginc planning, drafting, writing, editing, seeking feedback from all sorts of knowledgeable people, re-editing, seeking feedback again (repeat two last steps as many times as needed). It paid off in the end, though!
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 09:01
I agree with the original poster, I don't see how essays can take weeks on end. I have very little essay experience since high school, and I probably put 3 hours personally into each essay, and I think mine were pretty good all things considered (and not the reason for my one ding I don't believe).

Having said that, I also realize that a forum like this is full of the most "Type A" people on the planet. That isn't a knock, but an understanding that for some folks the pursuit of perfection is a tireless pursuit.

Another component, is I get the feeling that a lot of the international applicants make up a good number of the folks who have stories of involving these marathon essay writing episodes. Now this is just my opinion of course.

I say you should spend as much time as you need to get to where your essays are good. That could be after 3 hours of work, or 13, it depends on the person.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 09:12
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The toughest part about writing essays is the strategy and thinking that you gotta put into your essays before you pick up the pen (for each of the schools you write an application for).

Sure - in actual writing time it might take you 3-4 days of actual writing time (though you also have a job and life that you will have to fit in that will spread that out.). However, if you want to be successful in getting into UEs you're going to have to budget significant amount of time around crafting your overall application story (both your personal story - which is a lot of prep time that can be used for every app - and then massaging your personal story to fit with the spirit, culture, and direction of the schools you're applying to).

Not only do you have to craft your story and adapt it to the school, but then you have to figure out a way to get your story across in the essays that you've been prompted to write. Sure you can answer questions quickly - but can you answer them on your terms quickly? This takes time and consideration to do well.

Finally, you have to ensure that your essays stand together as a package. They need to play off one another, address your different strengths and weaknesses as a package, and also stand alone at the same time.

I definitely agree with Baer that there is a learning curve with time - you'll get quicker and better at this process. However, don't discount the fact that if you skimp on time, you're likely going to skimp on quality. There is many a horror story of extremely qualified people (GMAT, GPA, ECs, great experiences, amazingly dynamic in person) who have thought that after a few good drafts of well written, stand alone essays they are ready to get accepted to H/S/W/K/Ch/Co/etc. and subsequently get dinged.

At the end of the day - what differentiates b-school applicants is their ability to craft their essays in a way that makes them stand out. This takes both thought and time - budget your time accordingly.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 09:46
Really excellent post, steel!

I definitely agree with the learning curve thing. Also, keep in mind that if you're planning a big career change, adcoms will expect a good explanation. That will likely require additional time and effort. I spent by far the most time on the "Why MBA? Why Wharton? Why Now?" essay. It was the first time I had to sit down and explain in a coherent manner why I was making such a bizarre career transition, and how an MBA would help me achieve it. I didn't keep a log of how long I took- I tend to write in a burst for thirty minutes, walk away for an hour, then come back for another spurt. I would estimate, though, that the "Why Wharton" essay probably required > 30 hours including all edits. Some of the essays for Stanford and Sloan required a lot of time as well.

As a comparison, Kellogg was the last application I did. It's a difficult, broad-ranging application but I had gained experience from the other apps. So I was able to complete Kellogg in a much shorter time.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 09:53
i think you also have to factor in the reviewing process. i had a couple people read over and and provide feedback on my essays, and that does not happen over the course of a few days.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 12:30
It's gonna come down to you: your skills and your requirements of yourself. Rhyme is one of the best writers on the forum, and it took him a zillion drafts. I had just a couple drafts of each. Mine were pretty quick.

I also reused TONS of stuff. Some folks here think that's a bad idea, and probably some writers would have a hard time massaging one essay into another. Some do it well.

My advice: give yourself LOTS of time, get feedback, and take your time. It's an enjoyable process, particularly if you can take the time crunch out and focus on the learning.

good luck.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 09 Apr 2008, 13:00
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Wow, great thread! I will put this in the Knowledge vault for the 09-ers!

I think everyone said most of what I was going to say anyway, so here are my 2 cents:

Yes, you can write your first draft in probably 4-8 hours (assuming 500-1000 words), but the refining process is what will take 2-4 hours at a time with each essay major draft, and multiple revisions. If you're not on the extreme end like rhyme (who had like 30+ revisions per essay :P), you probably will need at least 4-5 MAJOR revisions until you have a great essay. And these days, you need a great essay to get into a greatschool. So on average 4 essays per school, 5 revisions (3 hours each) and the initial 6 hours to write an essay, that's roughly 80+ hours for your first set of essays. If you're a great writer, then probably 50-60 hours for your first set. Then you need time to let your reviewers read through the essays and give you comments, etc...

The time it takes definitely drops per school, especially if the essays are similar. Like AAu, I'm a STRONG believer in reusing essays, and I know quite a few people on this forum who believes in writing again from scratch. To each their own, but you have to find YOUR style. If you think you are very good at reusing and making each essay sound like you wrote it just for School X, then do that. It'll save you a LOT of time. For example, Berkeley took me about 80 hours for the first set. UCLA probably took about 20 hours because all the essays are essentially the same (80% reuse), except for one 500 word essay (which took 10-15 hours to hammer out, and the rest of the 5 hours is refining the other essays to gear towards UCLA). Stanford took 30-40 hours because of the "What Matters Most" essay, and I reused probably 60% of my stuff.

Kellogg took about 4 days of 5-6 hours each to churn out, so roughly 20-25 hours, because I was able to reuse 75% of my stuff. Only had to add a new story to the uniqueness essay and add past leadership expereinces (so adding 50% to 2 essays). That and UCLA were definitely the easiest.

So that's what, 160 hours for 4 schools. Say you can spend 2 hours a night on weeknights and 6 hours a day on weekends to work on that, that's 7+ WEEKS to get 4 sets of essays out. Granted, I'm not the best writer, but even if you are a good writer, I would still put in 4-5 weeks of work if you want top essays.

And you still need to incorporate student/alum interviews and campus visits and website searches into your essays, so that's more hours spent just to help your essays out. So budget at least 1 month per school and you'll do a great job without rushing anything.

Good luck to you and all the 2009 applicants, hopefully we've been helpful!

EDIT: One more thing, I've had a couple of reviewers say my first drafts for Haas was better than their final draft that got them into Haas and UCLA, but it still took me tens of more hours to get them to my final version. Once you get access to the Essay Vaults and once we put some essays in there (especially our first drafts), you'll see how great the difference is. My first drafts now look like Biryani that's been left out for 3 weeks (instead of 3 days). :P
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 10 Apr 2008, 05:26
Do a simple assessment of your essay writing skills. Write an essay on a generic topic, like "My career progress to date. Why I need an MBA. Why I need it now." That's a time well spent anyway, since you will be able to later use it as a draft for your "real" essays. Then have it reviewed by somebody who has an idea about MBA. And compare it with the examples of best essays from Montauk, BW, Vault, etc.

For me, it took weeks if not months to finalize my essays and still I was not 100% happy with them, when I hit SUBMIT button :-D
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 10 Apr 2008, 06:50
It took about 1 week of solid work for me to flush out my essays, working anywhere from 5 to 6 hours a night. (There were a total of 5 essays for LBS.) I hadn't planned it this way, but I was also reading a great novel during that time. It definitely helped put me in "writer mode", and is probably what contributed most to the style quality of my essays--what I like to think won me over with adcoms. That would be my tip for this year's essay writers: pick up a book or short story that inspired you in the past, and read it again. You'll be surprised at how much of that inspirations translates back to your own writing.

Also, if you have the luxury of doing so, try to arrange being present while your reviewers are reading your essays for the first time. It's a great opportunity to gauge first impressions and find out which passages didn't resonate enough. That's arguably more useful than getting an email from them 3 days later after they've had time to compile their thoughts. Sometimes I think giving too much time leads to over-simplification or over-summarizing (it's just inherent in the way we like to give feedback). "Yeah, overall it looks great!" isn't as good as sitting down with them to pick through individual sentences as they come up.

And finally, one thing I've learned from working in my current job is that planning too far in advance (with the hope of finishing early) rarely works out. You'll think you can start 3 months in advance, and finish it with 2.5 months to spare... think again. You'll probably just end up dragging out those two weeks of work into a 3-month oppression.

********

Coles Notes version of post: Read more. One-on-one with reviewers. Don't start too early. Depending on your strength as a writer, it could be done in under a week.
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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 10 Apr 2008, 07:17
I'd say that even if you’re an excellent writer, the essays demand you to research, especially on the “Why MBA, why this school, why now”. You will have to know special things about the school, faculty, city, culture, and so on, and this you won’t acquire in a couple of hours, it takes weeks, sometimes months.

I’m not a good writer and the most challenging essay for me was the “What matters most to you and why”. I knew what I wanted to say; however, as any engineering guy I didn’t know how to clearly express myself: well I think I didn’t do the right way anyways, hehehehe.

I wouldn’t under-estimate how time consuming the process is, and perhaps the worst mistake of an applicant is to consider that what he/she has it’s enough. Especially in the last 5 years, the competition has increased so much that you really need to stand out of the crowd.

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Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful? [#permalink] New post 10 Apr 2008, 07:50
Ya, some sort of essay vault would be great. I would love to see an example of a first draft/final draft. We all talk about our writing, and how great our essays are, but we (or at least I) have nothing to compare ourselves to. It would be nice to get some sort of general idea of where you're stacking up in your writing.
Re: Are essays really that time-consuming/stressful?   [#permalink] 10 Apr 2008, 07:50
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