We’ve all heard the classic college application horror story: sending off the “Why Princeton” essay to Yale or some variation thereof. And while this is a far from favorable scenario, “recycling” or reusing application essays can be a useful and even necessary practice. Senior year is filled with not only college applications but also scholarship applications and fly-in applications. And many of these forms ask the same things: hobbies, leadership, hardships, and intellectual passions. Instead of writing about the same experiences multiple times, tweaking and perfecting one piece of writing can be much more effective. Here are six tips for “recycling” your essays and short responses.
1. Recycling doesn’t mean “Copy and Paste”
This is the simplest and most effective way to prevent the scenario presented at the start of this article from coming true. Reusing essays requires revision so that the response will cater to the nuances of the question. The amount of editing depends on the situation, but never assume you can just copy and paste a response just because the prompt seems similar.
2. There are certain essays that shouldn’t be recycled
The typical “Why ____” response should definitely not be recycled, it should be different for each school and not a generic response. This is one of the most important short essay responses–colleges want to accept students who are genuinely interested in attending. In other cases it’s inevitable to run across new questions. Don’t try to fit in a response that simply won’t work and write a new one!
3. Draft and save all of your responses on Microsoft Word or the like
This point reiterates the instructions of many applications. Drafting on a word processing software not only gives you time and flexibility with your writing, but it also allows you to save. I suggest having a folder with all your drafts. Many times I have been applying to a program and I notice that a prompt sounds familiar, so I look through my application essays folder and find something that helps me out.
4. Essays and responses of rejected applications are still useful
The feeling of rejection is never good, but it’s important to fight the impulse to condemn not only yourself as a student but also your application. There are several factors that shape a college or scholarship decision. What did not work for one program may work for another. Likewise, it can be helpful to read over an essay from a rejected application and critique or analyze it. This can help improve future essays and make a “failure” into tool for your success!
5. Juniors, take your fly-in and scholarship applications seriously
Those applications you fill in during the summer are previews to what you will face during the fall. Moreover, even though fly-ins often ask for shorter responses and have less extensive questioning, you can expand these preliminary responses in your college apps. Or these short essays can also get your mind going and help you brainstorm the longer essays.
6. Seniors, don’t delete your college application essays!
For many prospective college freshmen, there exists an impulse to delete any remnants of the painful application process. But many students don’t realize they will be filling out many similar sorts of applications all throughout college. If you get a new laptop, as freshman students tend to do, transfer those files over. You’ll never know what internship or extracurricular application will make use of them.
Juniors keep these tips in mind as you approach senior year and graduating seniors don’t be quick to delete months of hard work that could pay off in the future. Value the work you do and concentrate your efforts on producing a great response instead of rewriting the same thing multiple times with varying degrees of success. Your future college self will thank you when they have to apply for clubs, special programs, internships, and/or volunteer trips.