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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.