Remixing College Essay Material
by José Iván Román
It is okay to adapt the similar material for each college essay, but not the same essays verbatim. Universities that require supplements for their applications are sending a message that they would like for you to address their institution specifically. Read the question(s) or prompt(s) carefully to determine if an essay would require customization for the specific school. In many cases, you will discover that some of the supplemental questions may be concise and focused on your personal qualities, life experiences, intellectual curiosity, or impact on your community, among other factors.
It’s October. You might feel exhausted and stressed out. For the past several months, you have been immersed in the college application process. Among other tasks, you have been drafting numerous versions of your personal statement and supplemental essays, refining the content of your activities list, and researching various schools to assemble your college list. In addition, you are working hard on the assignments, tests, or projects that rigorous courses require of you in your final year of high school. Furthermore, you are managing the demands of your extracurricular activities and commitments with family and friends.
Although you are feeling anxious and weary, you also appreciate that “good” feeling of exhaustion because you recognize that you have made significant progress since the start of the process. You have learned a great deal about who you are. Congratulations! You have done the necessary work to get you to the eve of your early deadlines. You may have done more soul searching this past year than you have done so prior. You've taken time to self-reflect and embrace your identity. Heavy stuff, no doubt; but, meaningful and inspiring work! You might feel more confident than you ever have in your entire life—while staring up the remainder of the mountain you must climb. There is still much work ahead to complete, but you have built a strong foundation because you may have already endured the most difficult part of the process. Your personal statement is completed and your first set of supplemental essays are chock full of meaningful anecdotes and revelations.
You have internalized many of the ideas and thoughts that you painstakingly brainstormed and negotiated during your writing process. You’ve grown more understanding of who you are as a person, your values, and your aspirations. You have done much of the grueling work already and now it’s time for you to reap the benefits of that hard work. You are now ready to tackle the remaining applications that you expect to submit after the early application round. After your first set of essays are finalized, you may notice that you have a well-developed appendix of written material that you left out of your finalized applications. You may realize that the application process might be more manageable the rest of the way...
It is okay to recycle essays; especially if they are not uniquely school specific. Anyone in business would understand the efficiency of “not reinventing the wheel.” First, be sure to the read each essay question carefully to confirm if an essay prompt requires school specific content. Some essay questions appear similar across various schools’ applications; therefore, compare them carefully to be sure that they are similar enough to warrant the same essay (or similar essays with manageable adaptations). It could be the case that the same essay may be adapted to satisfy the questions or prompts for various schools.
Take the individual school’s supplement seriously enough so that you do not create a template that simply replaces that name of the school without making any meaningful adaptations that are more school specific. One of the biggest mistakes an applicant can make is assuming that an application reader will not pick up on a template or any other lapse in judgment. Application reviewers are experienced and pick up on many nuances. Please avoid creating templates by “finding and replacing” the name in the document. When an essay prompt is tailored for a specific school, it is imperative that you write a more unique school specific essay. Please avoid cutting corners. Be sure to reference the appropriate school programs, institutes, or offerings.
Try to minimize extra work or spending precious brain energy and stamina by writing an excessive number of essays. (Stay sharp, fresh, and creative!) The reality could be that an individual applicant may not have enough new original or meaningful content to produce and spread across each unique application. The brain work required for quality essays is challenging enough without making the logistics of the process more cumbersome than it already has been. An applicant can do themselves a major favor by keeping an approach to the process that is simple and manageable enough to help the applicant maintain pace during this marathon of a process. The Common Application exists in part because universities recognize that it could be more beneficial for both schools and applicants to have the process streamlined.
Since an applicant may be considering schools that are a good fit for their personality, it is reasonable to conceive that reusing or recycling essays may be a function of the schools sharing similar cultures and offerings that are congruent with the student’s values and interests. DO your research carefully for each school on your list. Make sure that you can speak to the soul of an institution and how it connects with your values, interests, and aspirations. If you wish to use the same essays for multiple schools, please be sure that you proofread them carefully for each school. It’s crucial to make sure that you did not accidentally include the name of another school in any of your essays. This piece of advice might seem intuitive, but the frenetic nature of the process could cause an applicant to overlook an essay because they are rushing to meet an application deadline.
You do not have to be concerned about a school discovering if you have sent the same essay to another school. Schools are prohibited from exchanging applicant information. The confidentiality of an applicant’s information is protected under law. In other words, schools are prohibited from colluding by discussing applicants with other institutions. The way an institution would know where else a student may have submitted applications would be by requesting that information directly from the applicant. It would be of concern to an applicant if any of their recycled essays accidentally included the name of another school.
These reusable essays have become your autobiography. I would expect a written autobiography to remain consistent and accessible. A point of emphasis here is that these essays may constitute some of the most meaningful writing of your life. The process for developing essay writing skills and styles is rigorous. Yes, you put your heart and soul into this writing. Well done. Please feel free to share them with your preferred schools. It’s cool to appreciate a process that is manageable, consistent, and authentic.