Reuse or Recycle: How to Manage College Essay Material

The key to the college admission process is being as efficient as possible. Here's how to be smart about organizing and reusing essay materials for multiple schools.

The college application process can be an overwhelming experience: you have to draft numerous versions of your personal statements and supplemental essays, refine the content of your activities list, and research various schools while also working on rigorous class assignments, tests, and final projects. And don’t forget the demands of your extracurricular activities and other commitments with family and friends. As Early Action and Early Decision application deadlines draw near, you’ll likely feel exhausted and stressed. 

Navigating the admission process is like managing a major project—there are many moving parts that require a great deal of attention. The Common Application exists in part because universities recognize the value of streamlining this process. Effective project management could be a stress reliever for any applicant, and you can start by streamlining your college essays. You may have several more applications to prepare, but you can be confident in your ability to pull through the remainder of the application process by reusing certain essay material efficiently. Here’s how! 

Adapting essay material

It makes sense for your Common App personal statement to remain the same for every school receiving a copy of your application. Customizing a personal statement for each school would defeat the practical purpose of the Common App. On the other hand, would it be beneficial or advisable to recycle your supplemental essays? You should develop your own system for structuring each essay that grants you the flexibility of customizing for each school receiving your application. There are two major categories of essay material:

  • Biographical
  • School specific

Biographical material offers experiences and reflections that are unique to an applicants character, while school-specific material addresses unique characteristics of a college that connect with the applicants values and interests. You may notice your early application essays already have quality blocks of biographical content that you can fluidly adapt for future essays. 

Carefully review each essay prompt for any school you’re applying to and determine if any essays require school-specific content. It could be that the same essay can be adapted to address the questions or prompts for various schools; however, you can improve the quality and impact of each essay by incorporating material that’s unique to each school. Streamline this process by creating a structure for your essays that allows you to predictably manage your school-specific content. For example, connect with each schools unique traditions, programs, campus culture, surrounding neighborhoods, etc. You could potentially save precious time and mental energy by applying a consistent structure to your essays. 

Related: Video: College Essay Q&A With Expert Kim Lifton

Proofread your work

Application reviewers are experienced and pick up on many nuances. It’s imperative to do your research on each school. Be sure to reference the appropriate schools programs, institutes, offerings, traditions, etc.If you wish to use similar essays for multiple schools, be sure to proofread them carefully prior to final submission. It’s in your best interest to not accidentally include the name of the wrong school in any of your essays. This advice might seem intuitive, but it’s easy to overlook these small details when you’re rushing to meet application deadlines. Although it’s not necessarily a disqualifying error, including the name of the wrong school in an essay certainly doesn’t give a good impression or make the admission process easier for you. Admission committees understand that we’re all human and are likely to make mistakes; nevertheless, they appreciate the courtesy and respect of applicants who follow instructions and proofread their work carefully.

Trust your approach

The college admission process can challenge a students stamina and spirit. Many hopeful students pour their souls into their applications, particularly the essays. As with many long-term projects, the earlier you tackle the most demanding tasks, the more manageable the process will become later in the timeline. One way to set yourself up for success is by indexing your essay material in a way that allows you to search and identify content in an efficient manner. This approach to managing essay material doesn’t suggest reusing or recycling entire essays verbatim. Stay true to your authenticity while remaining practical. 

Related: College Application Essays: Our Best Advice

Colleges and universities expect the most competitive candidates to be exceptional in their ability to manage time, prioritize commitments, and leverage resources. The college application process is a major test of a candidate's management skills. By remaining earnest and organized, you can be confident in your approach to the process. 

Check out the articles in our College Admission section for more expert advice on college essays.

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About José Iván Román

José Iván Román is a College Admission Consultant at Solomon Admissions. He previously served as an academic advisor at Northeastern University for six years, where he advised students in the University Honors Program, the College of Health Sciences, and the College of Engineering. As Assistant Director of the Northeastern University Honors Program, José Iván contributed to developing and overseeing programs for high-achieving students, including research opportunities, co-op and extracurricular programming, and scholarships.


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