Writing MBA application essays is one of the most grueling tasks I've ever undertaken. From the brainstorming to the drafting to the merciless editing, it's all just one big, daunting exercise. My friends tell me that it doesn't seem that hard, and that I should just "recycle" the same essays for different schools. Wouldn't that be nice? But the huge problem with recycling your essays is (1) the questions bare worded just slightly differently between schools, and (2) the word counts are just different enough so that you have to do some large restructuring. Now don't get me wrong, I definitely think you should have a good 6-7 stories off the top of your head that you can recycle. But in terms of just copy-pasting entire paragraphs, or even entire sentences, it's just not going to happen.
For example, one of Wharton's essays is "Discuss a challenging interpersonal experience (600 words)." I had a great story that I thought I could also use for Harvard's "Tell us about three setbacks you have faced (600 words)." The problem is, for the Wharton app it's phrased as an interpersonal question where I have to emphasize how I dealt with people, while for Harvard it's phrased as a setback where I have to emphasize how I dealt with failure. Not to mention, the word counts between the two are way off (600 words for W vs. ~200 for H). Even though I'm using exactly the same story for both essays, the work effort is still two essays' worth. I didn't even save time in the brainstorming phase, since I still have to realign the essay focus (Wharton --> people, Harvard --> setback).
It's an interesting process, but the amount of introspection, writing, re-writing, and re-re-writing required can be a bit much at times, and I'm hard pressed to find a man who enjoys it.
Next I want to talk a bit about my recommendations.