Earth_recycleIf you are applying to multiple colleges this fall, you will need to write multiple essays for the different applications.

The Common Application helps you consolidate many of your applications and only requires one main essay.

But if you are applying to public universities and private schools that don’t use the Common App., you will need to write additional core essays.

Also, the Common App. is not requiring a supplemental essay this year, so chances are individual Common App. schools will be requiring more supplemental essays.

So how do you find topics for so many essays?

One approach is to get organized and recycle some of your best ideas, topics and even essays.

It’s completely acceptable to use the same essay for various applications, as long as the essay answers the prompt.

(You can’t get in trouble for copying your own work.)

Of course, you don’t want to flaunt that you are recycling some of your essays for different schools.

In previous years, students who were applying to the University of California schools and colleges on The Common Application often used one of their two essays for the UC application for the main Common Application essay.

The Common Application used to have one of its prompts as “Topic of Choice,” so it was easy to use one of the UC essays for that prompt.

Sorry to say, but that’s no longer possible. The Common App. removed the “Topic of Choice” option this year, and came up with five new prompts.

However, there’s still a strong chance that your main Common  App essay could work for one of the two UC prompts (and prompts for other applications).

You might need to change your essays a little to make sure  they clearly address the prompts, but several prompts overlap.

Here are a couple strategies for recycling essays among the UC and Common App prompts:

A. If you answered Prompt 1 of the Common App, you most likely could use that to answer Prompt 2 of the UC application.

Both prompts essentially are asking you to write what’s called a Personal Statement, which is a narrative style essay that uses a story or example to show the reader fundamental qualities about yourself.

(If you answer any of the other four Common App. prompts using a story about a “personal quality, talent, accomplishment or experience,” check to see if it might work for UC Prompt 2 as well.)

Here’s the Common App Prompt 1: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Here’s UC Prompt 2: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

B. If you answered Prompt 4 for the Common Application, which asks about a place where you are “perfectly content,” you probably could use that to answer Prompt 1 of the UC application, which asks you to tell about your world.

Both prompts are trying to get you to relate a literal or figurative place that has special meaning to you, and most likely shaped who you are.

If you decide to recycle essays, it’s imperative that you read the prompts closely and make sure the essay answers the questions.

If it doesn’t, make some changes so that it does. You should be able to use this approach in writing many of your supplemental essays, since many will ask for similar topics–such as writing about your extracurricular activities or why you chose a certain school.

Don’t Get Burned!

You must be extra vigilant, however, about re-using your own essays. One of my students from a couple years ago got burned when he accidentally left in the name of one college in an essay that he sent to another one saying why he selected that school.

You can imagine how much damage that could do. It’s like telling your boyfriend or girlfriend how much you like them but accidentally call them the wrong name. Ouch!!

Recycling essays is a way to be efficient in your college applications, but you need to make sure each individual essay matches up with each individual prompt. You can’t be too careful with this!

UPDATE: 8–07-2014 A savvy private college counselor who I have worked with gave me this heads up about recycling essays for the University of California applications. Some of the admissions counselors there warned her that they do not necessarily like it when students use their Common App essays for one of the two UC essays. They want original essays. 

I think that’s good to know, however, I believe you can still recycle your Common App essays for one of the UC essays, but you should make sure that it addresses their prompts. Alter it a bit if you have to. Also, make sure to leave out any keys words that would tip off readers that this was also addressing one of the Common App prompts–words used in their 5 prompts, such as “perfectly content,” or “failure” or “challenged a belief” or “transition from childhood.” Your essays may still address some of these topics, but just don’t make it obvious you were writing specifically for one of the Common App prompts. 

Although I have no inside scoop on this, I imagine that admissions folks who read Common App essays also would like to think they are reading unique essays, and not one also used for a UC essay. So just be smart, and again, avoid obvious tip-offs by including key words from the UC prompts–such as “world” or “dreams and aspirations” or “makes you proud.”

Just check your essays against the exact prompts before you send them in, and use your best judgment. I think it will all be fine. A good essay is a good essay.