All articles

Can You Reuse Essays for College Applications?

a young woman works on drafting her essay in the school library

The college application process can be demanding and exhausting. It requires you to put a lot of time and effort into every aspect of the application. The application involves multiple writing responses, including personal statements, Common App essays, college-specific essays, and supplemental essays.

It’s not unthinkable that you would want to save time by reusing the essays you write for different colleges. But is it advisable or even doable?

The simple answer is yes, with a few caveats. While repurposing essays can be doable, it requires careful planning and attention to detail to ensure each application receives the attention it deserves.

Can you use the same Common App essay for different colleges?

If you’re applying to colleges using the Common App, you can submit the same essay to every college on your list. The Common App offers seven prompts:

Below is the full set of Common App essay prompts for 2023-24.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Many colleges will also allow you to submit an additional personal statement or supplemental essay. Be sure to take advantage of those opportunities even though they may be listed as optional.

Can you use the same supplemental essay for different colleges?

You also might be able to reuse a supplemental essay for multiple college applications. Colleges ask supplemental questions on various topics, and some questions are broader than others. If reusing one of these, be careful to remove and replace any references to another college.

My daughter was able to reuse an essay about her family’s cancer journey for multiple colleges that asked this similar question: share a personal experience that challenged your belief system.

Can you use the same college-specific essay for different colleges?

For college-specific essays, it’s typically harder to reuse. 

Most colleges ask the “Why us?” essay question, and you will not be able to reuse these essays because they are specifically designed to elicit a response regarding the uniqueness of their college. 

“Why us?” questions should be answered by sharing specific aspects of the school the applicant enjoys. Therefore, since every college is unique, writing a “Why us?” response that would work for multiple college applications is nearly impossible. 

Can you submit the same personal statement to different colleges?

Colleges can either make the personal statement optional or required. In the writing section of your Common App tab, you will see a table that lists each college's requirements. Since these statements are personal in nature, it would be easy to reuse them with multiple colleges.

7 tips to use to reuse your essay

 Now, here's how to reuse your essay and stay organized in the process. 

1. Understand the prompt variations

Before repurposing essays, carefully review the prompts for each college application. While many prompts may appear similar, subtle differences can significantly impact how you tailor your response. Take note of specific keywords or themes emphasized in each prompt to ensure that your essay directly addresses the requirements of each application.

2. Identify common themes

Look for common themes or topics among the different prompts. For example, many colleges ask about your academic interests, extracurricular activities, or personal experiences. Identifying these recurring themes will allow you to repurpose essays more efficiently.

3. Customize your content

 While it may be tempting to use a one-size-fits-all approach, resist the urge to recycle essays without customization. Admissions officers can quickly spot generic responses lacking personalization or relevance to their college or university. 

Take the time to research each college's values, culture, and academic programs, and incorporate this knowledge into your essays. Highlighting specific aspects of each college that resonate with your interests and goals demonstrates your genuine enthusiasm and fit for the institution.

4. Avoid generic statements

Generic statements that could apply to any college are a red flag for admissions officers. Avoid clichés, vague language, or overly broad statements that can be used with any college. Each college is looking for a unique candidate that gives them a unique essay.

5. Be strategic when choosing which essay to repurpose

Not all essays are suitable for repurposing across different colleges. Choose essays that showcase your strengths, experiences, and values in a versatile manner. Essays that are too niche or specific to a particular college may require substantial revisions to align with the requirements of other applications. Prioritize essays that offer flexibility and can be tailored to fit multiple prompts effectively.

6. Stay organized using spreadsheets and trackers

 Make a chart of each school you are applying to and whether they require the Common Application essay, a supplemental essay, or both. This way if you find that one or more supplemental essay questions are similar to or the same, you can select accordingly.

The College Essay Guy recommends these steps:

Gather your college essay prompts for all your colleges.

  • Paste them into an Essay Tracker, (here’s a sample) which is basically a simple spreadsheet with all the essays you’ll need to write.
  • Play the overlapping prompt game: read through all your prompts and decide which might potentially overlap.
  • Brainstorm the content and structure for a few essays (i.e. essays that can work for several prompts).
  • Write your 4-6 great essays to reuse and repurpose.

Keep track of which essays you've repurposed for each application to avoid inadvertently submitting the wrong essay.  Use the spreadsheet to track your progress and ensure you stay organized throughout the application process.

7. Revise and proofread

Even when repurposing essays, it's essential to thoroughly proofread and revise each response for clarity, coherence, and grammar. Typos or errors can detract from the overall quality of your application and create a negative impression with admissions officers. Take the time to review each essay carefully, seeking feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers to ensure that your writing is polished and error-free.

By following these tips, you can effectively reuse essays while still customizing them to fit each application's requirements. Remember to approach the process thoughtfully and carefully, and you'll increase your chances of crafting compelling essays that resonate with admissions officers.

Final thoughts on reusing essays 

Repurposing college essays can be an effective way to streamline the application process and maximize your efforts. With careful planning and attention to detail, you can leverage your essays to highlight your strengths and enhance your chances of admission to the colleges you choose.

After wrapping up essay writing and submitting your applications, then the waiting game begins. Some students find waiting for colleges to get back to them can be stressful in its own right. One way to navigate the wait is to check out colleges with rolling admissions still since they generally fill their incoming classes through the summer. 

Click the button below to browse our comprehensive college database and find backup schools you can apply to if needed. 

Create a free Appily account to find, finance, and attend the college that's right for you Get Started Now