One of the questions we are asked most often by college and graduate school applicants is this: “I’m applying to six different schools, and each one requires two to seven essays/personal statements. That’s so much writing! Can I reuse the same essay for different schools? How can I keep up the quality and not burn out while writing so many personal statements?”
We understand. We even sympathize. Best of all, we have practical solutions for determining whether you can reuse some of your essays for multiple schools.
First, if multiple schools are asking nearly identical questions, it’s logical to use some or perhaps even most of your essay response. However, the essay lengths might be different, and the wording will vary to some extent. Read each question out loud, so you can actually hear exactly what the schools are asking. Many times, an essay prompt has more than one question within it. You don’t want to overlook any of the questions in the prompt.
Additionally, we have this advice:
- Make sure each essay has a distinctive theme.
You can do this by developing different aspects of a single experience. For example, if you plan to write about your first summer as a camp counselor at a sleepaway camp, in one essay, you could describe how you worked to build a relationship with a lonely camper and help them develop their self-confidence and participate in more activities. During the same summer, you might also have been in charge of the drama group. This could offer the substance for a very different essay about teaching and organizing a group of highly energized, sometimes rowdy young teens.
Don’t waste an opportunity to write about multiple aspects of the same experience that opened different doors to personal growth. You’ll be stretching your available material to cover more bases.
- Chart your list of essays and the qualities you associate with them.
With multiple essays/personal statements to manage, consider using a spreadsheet to list each question, the school asking it, and which experiences, accomplishments, and skills you can associate with those questions. This will help you avoid using the same experience, accomplishment, or skill for more than one question at a given school.
- Portray your multidimensional self.
Make a list of what you feel are your ten most positive qualities. Your list might include such traits as intellectually curious, eager for new experiences, sense of humor, strong DIY skills, and leadership. That was fun! Now, make a much shorter list (two or three items at most) of what you would consider your weakest traits. These might include procrastination, too much binge watching, and impatience.
As you draft your essays, keep these different layers and textures of your personality in mind. (Sometimes, schools will ask you to identify a weakness and explain how you have worked to overcome it, so awareness of weaknesses isn’t necessarily detrimental to your application!) Having this list front and center will spark additional insights and angles for your essays. As a result, you will reward the adcoms with a rich, multidimensional portrait of you as a human being.
- Name dropping? Better double check the names!
Check CAREFULLY (and then check again) to make sure you don’t forget to change, for example, “Michigan” to “Chicago” when you adapt or reuse your application essay. Sending a “Why I want to go to UPenn” essay to the Yale adcom, or sending a “Why I want to go to Columbia” to NYU wouldn’t bode well for you!
- No matter how similar the essay questions are, never simply cut and paste an entire essay.
As we noted earlier, no two questions will ever be exactly alike. As you write or edit from a different essay, keep the image of the school you are writing for in mind. Try to individualize each essay as much as possible. And by all means, reread the essay prompts when you feel you are nearly done, to ensure you really did answer every one of the adcom’s questions within the prompt.
Do you need help writing (or recycling) your application essays? Could you benefit from an expert’s assistance in identifying the strongest elements of your experience and profile? We can help! , and work one-on-one with an expert advisor who will help you get ACCEPTED!
Sadie Polen has more than ten years of experience in higher education. She reviewed statements of purpose, personal statements, and resumes for political and public service opportunities and made candidate selections for elite programs at Harvard University. She also has experience advising individuals on their career and post-graduation plans. Sadie holds a BS from UC Davis, an EdM from Harvard, and a DEI certificate from Cornell. Learn more about Sadie Polen.