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Can You Use the Same Essay for Different College Applications?

It’s no secret that the college process is grueling. You’ll need to put an extensive amount of work into every piece of every application. It’s natural to want to find ways to save time and energy. This is an especially tempting prospect when it comes to your college essays — can you reuse your essays for different colleges? 


The short answer is “It depends.” The long answer is a bit more involved, but we’ll be going over the different scenarios and best practices in this post.

Can You Reuse Your Common App or Coalition Application Essay? Yes 


The very purpose of the Common App and the Coalition Application is that they save you time. You won’t need to re-enter your personal information for every application — and you won’t need to write separate essays, either. Given the number of colleges that now accept the Common App and Coalition Application, this will greatly expedite your personal application process.


Another perk of these multi-use applications is that they tend to have the same prompts year after year, so you can get a head start on brainstorming or even writing your essays. Read our Common App essay guide and Coalition Application essay guide to learn more.


That being said, if you want to edit your Common App or Coalition Application essay, or even change it entirely, you can do so, even if you’ve already submitted some applications. The applications you’ve already submitted won’t be changed, but your future applications will include any changes you make. There’s no need to change your personal essay, however, unless you feel that it’s not as strong as it could be.

Can You Reuse Your Supplemental Essays? Maybe


There are some instances in which you can reuse supplemental essays for different schools, but you must do so carefully.


You should not, for example, reuse a college-specific essay like the “Why this college?” prompt or related ones. You also can’t reuse essays that you wrote in response to questions about specific programs or majors. However, in both instances, you might be able to reuse parts of the essay, such as when you’re describing why you have a specific personal interest. 


Take a look at this prompt from Northwestern University:


Other parts of your application give us a sense for how you might contribute to Northwestern. But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals. Help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you’ll make use of specific resources and opportunities here. (We HIGHLY recommend you complete this essay.) (300 words)


Because this prompt is very specific to Northwestern and your interest in the university, you definitely can’t repurpose the essay for another application. However, you might be able to take aspects of the essay and reuse them, such as contributions you might make to the community. These contributions should be as school-specific as possible though, so you should be mentioning particular clubs or opportunities at Northwestern, like their Philharmonia music ensemble. If you were to reuse this section of the essay, you’d want to find the equivalent at the school you’re repurposing the essay for. 


One example of an essay you can reuse is one written in response to a prompt along the lines of “Describe an extracurricular,” like this prompt from Harvard:


Your intellectual life may extend beyond the academic requirements of your particular school. Please use the space below to list additional intellectual activities that you have not mentioned or detailed elsewhere in your application. These could include, but are not limited to, supervised or self-directed projects not done as school work, training experiences, online courses not run by your school, or summer academic or research programs not described elsewhere. (Optional – 150 words)


Because this prompt asks you about your intellectual pursuits that aren’t tied to your interest in Harvard, if another college has a similar prompt, it’s probably fine to reuse the essay — just make sure you’re fully responding to the particular prompt. You should also pay attention to the word count, as you may have to expand or cut your essay when adapting it to another school’s prompt. If the second school has a very similar prompt, but requires 250 words instead of 150, you should include more detail in your original essay. Otherwise, an essay that’s too short will make it look like you don’t care about the school in question (and an essay that’s too long will get cut off in most application platforms, or it will make it look like you can’t follow instructions).


Another essay prompt you’re likely to encounter is the “Why this major?” question, which asks you why you’re choosing to pursue a particular discipline. Whether or not it’s included in the prompt, you do need to address why you’d like to study that program at that school. That means your essay, at least in part, needs to be specific to the school and can’t be reused for another. 


Consider this prompt for the University of Pennsylvania:


How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay. (300-450 words)


Here, you’re being asked not only why you want to explore your intellectual and academic interests, but also why you want to explore them at UPenn in particular. That means you might be able to reuse some parts of the essay for another school, but you won’t be able to repurpose the entire essay since it’s specific to UPenn.


Keep in mind that if you can simply change the school name in a college-specific essay and apply it to another school’s prompt, then your response isn’t specific enough. You will need to name opportunities specific to each school, and if you decide to repurpose parts of your supplemental essays, remember to change the corresponding details.


The Bottom Line


Ultimately, it’s certainly possible to save yourself some work on essay-writing, but you should be careful not to do so at the expense of the essay’s specificity and quality. 


Remember, too, that your essays should collectively present a picture of who you are as a person and student, but they shouldn’t overlap. In other words, don’t be repetitive. For example, if you write your Common App essay about your love of robots, choose another facet of yourself to share in your supplemental essays.


Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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