Can You Use the Same Essay for Different Colleges? 3 Steps to Tailoring an Essay for Early Decision

September 24, 2019

The question of whether to tailor your personal statement for each school you’re applying to is a common one. If you’re applying Early Decision to a school, Justin Taylor of WOW College Essay shares his go-to 3-step guide on when (and how) you should customize an essay you’ve already written specifically for your ED choice.

Every year, around this time, I get messages like these:

“Help me! Vanderbilt came to my school and said they like social entrepreneurship. Myessay’s about my family dinner. Should I change my essay?”

“The Yale admissions rep said they want ethical leaders, but my essay is about teaching dance to kids…”

“UC Berkeley talked about global citizens, but my essay is about my home town rowing club…”

Sound familiar?

You’ve dug deep, written draft after draft, massaged every line and hit “save as.” You have researched and visited several schools, fell in love with one and committed to an early decision or early action. Now, rightfully, you are thinking of all the ways you could make your application stronger with your top-choice school, including tweaking your essay. Should you?

Don’t sweat it.

The answer to this question for most of you is a categorical NO you should not tweak your essay for your ED school. If your essay centers on a personal narrative in which you pursue and reflect on one of your interests, even a seemingly small and mundane one, then you are on the right track. (Stories about family dinners and teaching dance classes can work very well!) Your supplements are where you should share your specific interests in your ED school (see below) and your essay should stand alone as a portrait of your strengths of character and drive to learn. 

So no need to borrow trouble and tweak your college essay so you sound like a “social entrepreneur” or “ethical leader” or whatever else you learned your dream school says it’s looking for. (Admissions officers can tell when you’re putting on airs.) These are buzzy terms for what all schools want: curious, self-motivated, smart, engaged HUMAN BEINGS: people who will use their school like a giant personal research facility, take their education into their own hands, pursue what piques their mind, and join and lead groups outside of the classroom.

But what about the exceptions?

For a slim group of you, the answer to the above question is a qualified “maybe.” To help you decide whether a strategic tweak to your essay is right for your ED application, please go through the below questions and suggestions.

1) Does your ED school have a “why this school?” supplement?

Yes? Then don’t tweak your essay. Your supplement will be all the space you need to share your desire for that specific school. 

No? Then move to the next question.

2) Does your ED school have a “favorite activity” supplement?

Yes? Tell a story in which you pursue a passion (other than the passion in you main essay) and how you would pursue it or keep it alive at the ED school. 

No? Then move to the next question.

3) Does your ED school have any supplements at all?

Yes? Whatever the topic is, tell a story in which you pursue what you already love to study, create, lead, nerd out about and at the end, how you would pursue it at this ED school. 

No? This is where you might consider adding a tweak to your main essay. As you may be guessing by now, you could imagine how you would pursue your passion at this ED school at the end of your essay, but keep it brief. They don’t want a sales pitch. They want to learn what makes you tick. Literally, one line near the end is all you need.

“I see myself recreating family dinners with other students at Vanderbilt and, like at home, facilitate a circle sharing where needs and leads are matched.” 

“At Yale, I will keep a pair of Maria’s ballet shoes in my dorm room to remind me that empowering others starts with walking in their shoes for a while.”

What else can I do to improve my application with my ED school?

Contact your ED school’s admissions officer for your region and straight up ask them how you can do what you love at their school. A specific club you don’t see in their student club list? A dance or music group that doesn’t exist? Ask about how to start it. Meet them in person when you tour the campus or if they come to your school for a college fair. These admissions officers do remember the students who personally reach out, and it can make the difference between you and someone else. You can get their contact from the school’s website or from your high school college counselor.

About The Author

Justin Taylor, WOW College Essay
Justin Taylor, WOW College Essay

Justin Taylor is a college essay expert and Yale grad who’s helped hundreds of students raise their admissions prospects through his WOW essay process. As a writing professor, he has taught at Yale, Wesleyan, and the Sorbonne. His own essays have been featured in newspapers, magazines, and in university commencement speeches, including one at Radio City Music Hall! Learn about Justin’s WOW essay services here.




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amertz18
Yale ‘22


Accepted to Yale, Cornell, UMich, GA Tech, Case, Purdue, RPI, Lehigh

I am a former movie theater employee from the Midwest who now studies Mechanical Engineering at Yale University.
ryanbada
UC Berkeley ‘23


Accepted to UC Berkeley, UCSD, UC Irvine, UCSB, UCSC, CSULB, San Jose State, SDSU, Cal Poly, San Diego, U San Fran, Emerson

A first-generation student expected to attend UC Berkeley planning to major in Media Studies and minor in Journalism.
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veni, vidi, vici.

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