The Re-Applicant Essay

Usually goes something like: How have you strengthened your candidacy since you last applied? Please reflect on how you have grown personally and professionally.

Who here has seen the movie Iron Man? [Feel free to skip some of this stuff.]

Well for those of you who haven’t seen it, (1) see it, it’s pretty tight and (2) here’s a bit of background before I make my patented absurd (but well-intended) analogy. Tony Stark is a pre-eminent industrialist, with an unusual brain for science and mechanics. He makes his fortune as CEO of a company that manufactures and distributes military weapons. Caught in the cross-fire of an unanticipated ambush, Stark’s body (and heart) is riddled with shrapnel. A hare’s breath away from death, a device connected to his heart (powered by an external battery) keeps him alive, barely. Trapped in a cave and held hostage by terrorists, he’s forced to build them a weapon of mass destruction. Instead, he (a savant inventor) builds himself a suit made out of iron… and escapes from the clutches of the extremists. The suit that he builds under duress, is JUST GOOD ENOUGH to enable his escape, but is worthless afterwards. It was clunky, bulky, inefficient… but barely worked. Time passes, and safe at home now, Stark sets his mind to building a NEW SUIT. This time, now that he knows what he is capable of, he does everything perfectly. And the suit is lean, efficient, has new capabilities: it’s an absolute thing of perfection.

Phew. Now, for all you re-applicants, here’s what happened. The first time around, you guys built a suit that was juuuuuust good enough to get yourselves out of that cave. But it was clunky. Bulky. Inefficient. Lacking somehow… but…. someone read through it. It worked, but not well enough. Here we are, one year later. Two years later. Whatever it is. And you have….

Figured. It. Out.

You are going to build a suit that looks and feels so different, it is almost unrecognizable. You’ve tinkered with the joints. You’ve understood how to make the breathing apparatus more comfortable. You’ve realized that aerodynamics are a function of XXX and not YYY. You’ve changed just about everything.

The key is demonstrating not just THAT you’ve changed (of course people are going to look different a year from now—that’s just nature), but rather… how SIGNIFICANTLY you’ve changed. This is the thing to capture. What is it you’ve learned since last time? And why should we care? What have you done toward addressing that?

Okay okay… how do you actually DO IT???

Look back on the application you submitted the first time around. Look at the person THEY saw.


If you’re doing this correctly, you should be nodding a knowing nod, saying “Hm. They made the absolute correct decision. Look at this kid. He didn’t have XX. He was weak in YY. He just didn’t have clarity in ZZ. Wow, they were WISE to have dinged the crap out this kid.” It may hurt to see yourself in this light, but this is crucial. This exercise will unlock the best possible version of your essay imaginable. Because now you have a frame of reference, against which you can compare “the new you.” The biggest mistake you can make is to say, well you fools didn’t see it a year ago, and this time I’m gonna yell a little louder and push harder to MAKE you see it.

No. They saw it just right. At least, that’s the way you need to approach it.

Acknowledge it even. Talk honestly about how, wow, one year ago I was confused about XX and it manifested itself THIS way. One year later, on account of this incredibly full and productive year or two, I now see it THIS way. Be earnest, admit to the fact that you have improved. But to do that, become comfortable with the idea that you weren’t quite there on that first application. Admit to yourself that that original suit was a great idea…. but a failure of execution. And you’re able to see that now, with some perspective. Build yourself a new suit by acknowledging what was wrong with the first one.

Wharton Essay Option 4 of 4 – 2010-2011