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Can You Use the Same Essay for Multiple College Applications?

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We get this question all the time and we think you’ll like the answer: yes, of course you can! In fact, we create spreadsheets for each of our students so we can look for overlap in prompt topics and strategize how to make the most of repeated themes. We are strong believers in writing as few essays as possible, let us show you a little bit of what this looks like in practice:

Let’s say you’re applying to Harvard, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and Michigan:

We recommend starting with Michigan. You’ll find out why in just a moment.

Here are the University of Michigan essay prompts:

Essay #1: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (Required for all applicants. Approximately 300 words.)

Essay #2: Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (Required for freshman applicants. 550 words maximum.)

We encourage students to start with these because they are two of the most common types of supplemental essay prompts out there: the Community and the Why essay. They are also pretty long essays, and believe us when we say it is soooo much easier to write one long essay first, then cut it down to meet the word counts for other schools, than it is to write one short essay and revisit it to add more content and flesh it out. (We have nightmares about this.)


Next, you’d move onto RPI:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (300 words)

Why are you interested in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute? (250 words)

The good news is you will have just written a 550-word Why essay for Michigan, so you should have a framework in place for this 250-word essay. You’ll want to swap out all of your Michigan-specific details for RPI’s offerings and cut the essay down to meet the 250-word limit. Then you’ll get started on your 300-word Activity essay.


Finally, you’ll move on to Harvard, whose supplement is a haven for recycling.

The Harvard supplemental essay prompts are as follows:

Activity: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words)

Academic: Your intellectual life may extend beyond the academic requirements of your particular school. Please use the space below to list additional intellectual activities that you have not mentioned or detailed elsewhere in your application. These could include, but are not limited to, supervised or self-directed projects not done as school work, training experiences, online courses not run by your school, or summer academic or research programs not described elsewhere. (150 words)

Writing: You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:

– Unusual circumstances in your life

– Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities

– What you would want your future college roommate to know about you

– An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you

– How you hope to use your college education

– A list of books you have read during the past twelve months

– The Harvard College Honor code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty. 

– The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission? 

– Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do? 

– Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates. 

This is the part where you let out a sigh of relief. While a lot of students we meet want to get started on their top school(s) first, that’s not always our recommended plan of action. Just look at Harvard. First, they ask for an Activity essay, which you have already written for RPI, so now you just need to trim it down to meet the word count requirement.

Second, admissions asks for an Academic essay, and it’s highly likely that you will have just done a lot of brainstorming as it relates to your academic and career goals for Michigan and RPI. Strong essays usually connect a student’s past experiences to the goals they hope to achieve in the future, so odds are you’ve just written about an intellectual pursuit or activity that you can draw from and extrapolate on for this essay.

Finally, Harvard admissions provides applicants with one of the most open-ended prompts out there, a near perfect opportunity for recycling an essay you’ve already written. This is where your Michigan Community essay can come back into play.

The trick to getting the most mileage out of your essays is to map out what you need and work from the highest word count down to the smallest. And be on the lookout for the most common supplemental essay prompt types: Why, Activity, Community, and Diversity, so you can better strategize how to most effectively use your time and strategize. 

And, as always, if you need some help getting organized, get in touch. CEA is here to help!

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