How to Write Fewer College Essays
Writing your college essays can be time-consuming. In addition to writing a Common or Coalition app essay, you’ll also have to write supplementary essays for nearly every, if not every, school to which you apply—in some cases several for each one.
Is it ever possible to use the same essay for multiple schools? Here are three ways to save time and significantly reduce the amount of writing you’ll need to do for your applications.
1. Use a “top-down” approach
Rather than trying to fit different essays into the same prompt after you’ve already written one, look at your prompts before you start writing and consider the overlaps or ways you could apply similar themes to seemingly disparate prompts.
Take these prompts from Johns Hopkins and Caltech. Both concern collaboration, but take different approaches.
Write a brief essay (300-400 words) in which you respond to the following question: Successful students at Johns Hopkins make the biggest impact by collaborating with others, including peers, mentors, and professors. Talk about a time, in or outside the classroom, when you worked with others and what you learned from the experience.
Much like the life of a professional scientist or engineer, the life of a “Techer” relies heavily on collaboration. Knowing this, what do you hope to explore, innovate, or create with your Caltech peers? (400 words)
Before you start writing, consider the thematic overlaps: both deal with your learning style, how you work with others, and how the impact of a project depends on collaboration.
Hopkins asks for an example of past collaboration, while Caltech prompts you to describes how you will collaborate in the future. However, in both cases, you should draw on past experiences AND describe how you would work with others in the future. In this case, you could write one essay and revise it to better fit the other, emphasizing the past and future depending on the prompt.
2. Reuse Portions of the Same Essay
Even with prompts that seem vastly different, you can often reuse portions of the same essay.
For example, consider Columbia and Cornell’s prompts.
Prompt #1: In 150 words or fewer, please list a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.
Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into their academic interests, discover new realms of intellectual inquiry, and chart their own path through the College. Tell us why the depth, breadth, and flexibility of our curriculum are ideally suited to exploring the areas of study that excite you.
While at face value these prompts are completely different, chances are, you’ll find some overlapping content. For instance, you might discuss how your ideal community is intellectually curious and that you want to be around likeminded people who will encourage you to explore your academic curiosities. This is an idea you could include in both essays. While you won’t be able to simply modify one essay to fit the other prompt, you can still reuse some paragraphs and sentences to save time.
3. Brainstorm for Common Supplementary Essay Prompts
You’ll tend to see similar themes and ideas in prompts for different schools. Common themes include:
- Why our university?
- How will you contribute to our university?
- Why your major?
Why our university?
Obviously, you can’t use the same essay to respond to the “Why us” prompt for multiple colleges word for word. Still, chances are the colleges on your list share common qualities.
That’s why you should brainstorm themes in advance. For instance, you might discuss wanting to attend a school with a rich history. In your essay, just modify this with specific details about that college’s history.
How will you contribute to our university?
This prompt is much more easily adaptable to multiple contexts and colleges. Consider Rice and Baylor’s prompts.
The quality of Rice’s academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspective would you contribute to life at Rice? (500 word limit)
What are you looking for in a university, why do you want to attend Baylor University, and how do you see yourself contributing to the Baylor community?
Your contributions to the community are likely to be the same or similar no matter where you matriculate, so this essay won’t need much modification.
Off course, you still need your essay to fit the prompt, so make sure you modify each essay with details. In Baylor’s, you will also need to describe why you want to attend Baylor specifically.
For any essay of this ilk, you should discuss the attributes of the school and how you can augment them. Still, consider the overlapping qualities of the schools and communities and how you would fit in. Again, it’s likely that many of the schools on your list share similar characteristics; it’s unlikely that you’re applying to schools that are wildly different in terms of the students they attract.
Why your major?
This prompt is also easily adaptable to multiple contexts. Look at Yale and MIT’s.
Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided.
Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer)
Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you, and why? (Response required in 100 words or fewer)
You probably have some idea of your major or program of study, so it’s not difficult to brainstorm and apply similar ideas to both essays. Yale’s essay requires you to go a step further and pick out other programs that might interest you, but you can still use this content in MIT’s.
Can I Reuse Essays on Different Applications?
The short answer is no—you can’t simply copy/paste essays and press submit. However, you can save a lot of time by employing these strategies. Since many schools have prompts that follow similar models, it’s easy to reuse portions or apply similar language and ideas to multiple essays.
A word of caution: don’t try to force it. If an essay you write really only applies to one school’s prompt, don’t try to make it into something it’s not; adcoms will notice.
To learn more about writing individual school essays, check out our database of essay breakdowns.
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