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How to Recycle Admissions Essays When Applying to Multiple Colleges

Going green this holiday season is more than embracing your inner Christmas tree or placing glass bottles into the blue bin instead of the trash can.

For seniors applying to college and still working on their applications, going green means working efficiently; it means knowing how to repurpose previously written college admissions essays for other college applications with similar (or even different!) prompts.

Before we get too far, let’s address the fact that certain web portals or types of applications allow you to submit a universal essay that multiple schools can review.

You’re probably familiar with the Common Application, the Coalition Application, ApplyTexas, and the University of California System, all of which allow you to write a single essay (or set of essays) that can be submitted to multiple colleges.

There’s of course one flaw shared among all of these systems: they are still different. Fortunately, essay topics for Common App, the Coalition, the UC System, and ApplyTexas have many similarities.

But, how do you take an essay that you wrote for one application and use it for another? Follow these guidelines:

#1: Write essays with longer word-count restrictions first (if possible).

ApplyTexas and the UC System deadlines have passed, so you should have a few essays to work with as you shift focus to your Common Application and Coalition Application schools (as well as universities that are separate from both).

The good news for people who applied to ApplyTexas is that the word requirements are fairly generous in comparison to those of other applications and colleges. So you can take your 1-2 pages of writing and have content you can cut down, which is much easier than adding in more information.

If you do find yourself working with essays that could be longer (to meet the new word-count limits), then it is best to focus on writing a strong conclusion that relates your essay’s narrative to the school to which you are applying. Or you should fill in details about the events you’ve already discussed.

#2: Make sure your recycled essay answers the prompt clearly and directly.

This is important. Just because your essay is mostly related to a new topic doesn’t mean it is answering the question.

For example, a story about your greatest strength is not a story about how well you would fit in with your freshman cohort.

There may be a lot of overlap, but if you just copy-and-pasted this essay into the new submission portal without tweaking the message, you would fail to answer the prompt.

What’s so wrong with that? Well, when you don’t answer the question, you are revealing how much you didn’t really care about doing the application well and also showing that you can’t follow directions. Both aren’t a good look!

So take the extra time to (a) read the prompt carefully, (b) identify which of your previously written essays matches best with it, and (c) alter your thesis / conclusion whenever appropriate to ensure you are truly answering the prompt.

#3: Cut your essay in three stages (polish, micro, macro).

When you write your essay, you start with big ideas and then get smaller with your editing. When you cut, the opposite is true.

Indeed, when cutting down a previously written essay to get to the new word limit, you should first comb through each of your sentences to see if you can compress your ideas into fewer words without losing ANY meaning. Usually this can eliminate at least 100 words--maybe more!

Then you should start cutting out sentences that don’t really add much to your narrative, introduction, or conclusion. This will be trickier, so tread lightly but be honest with what you think matters.

Finally, when you still need more space, consider what parts of your essay’s story are nonessential for answering the prompt. And, if necessary, consider eliminating hooks and even reducing your intro to a thesis statement.

Just remember: when you cut your essay, don’t take out all the “spices” and turn it into a boring lump of information. That’s why focusing on the polish- and micro-level cutting is usually best.

#4: Switch relevant or school-specific details and double-double-double check.

Last but not least! Different responses will require you to explain why you like different schools.

Always, always, always make sure you have switched school names and department names and professor names and any other school-specific details.

Yeah, it’s not the end of the world if you accidentally name the wrong school, but you don’t want to give the impression that you don’t care.

Remember, you're selling yourself, and it would be silly if what tips the scale on whether you or someone else is accepted comes down to carelessness.

Need more help recycling or editing your college admissions essays? No worries! Check out B2A’s College Admissions Services (CAS)! Our professional, qualified admissions counselors and essay specialists can help you refocus and cut your recycled essays! Go green with B2A!

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