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Yes, You Can Use Your Common App Essay for UC Applications. Here’s How:


By Lucas McAdams, ESM College Coach and Mentor

Essay writing during college application season can be a very time-consuming and draining process. Knowing that, we try to organize the process for our students as well as possible, ensuring that excellent essays are written, but also minimizing the amount of time and energy our students have to spend while doing so. One of the main ways this can be done is by re-purposing previously written essays for multiple essay prompts.

Here is a step-by-step process on re-purposing the personal statement for the Common App (CA) for use on the University of California application (UC). Of course, many of these recommendations can be applied to other applications, as well:

1) Finish your Common App personal statement. In all but a few scenarios, the personal statement for the CA should be the first piece of writing that you complete during your college application process. It’s the one essay that nearly every student will be required to write, and the prompts are broad enough to allow virtually any topic, making it a gentle introduction to the essay writing process.

2) Examine the UC Essay Prompts. Here are the two this year: (1) “Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations”, and (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?”. The first essay I will call the “community” essay, and the second I’ll refer to as the “talent” essay.

3) Decide which UC prompt is more closely aligned with the topic of your personal statement. The “community” essay works well for personal statements that discuss topics relating to a student’s upbringing or environment. The “talent” essay works well for personal statements that discuss topics relating to a student’s hobbies, passions, and extracurricular activities. Of course, it’s possible that your CA personal statement may not align well with either prompt; in that case, it’s usually best to start from scratch on both prompts rather than try to force the issue.

4) Make a plan for what you will write on the other UC prompt. This ensures that your two essays will complement each other well. You don’t want them to be redundant or contradictory.

5) Write the other essay first. Again, this ensures that the two essays will complement each other, but also it will give you a sense of how much you’ll need to cut from your CA personal statement for use on the UC prompt. The CA essay maximum length is 650 words, and most students usually run right up to that limit. The UC essays cannot add up to more than 1,000 words, and it’s typically best for the breakdown between the two UC essays to be between 500/500 and 600/400, so usually it is necessary for students to cut from their CA essay in order to apply it to the UC.

6) Once you’ve finished the other essay, or at least have a draft completed, begin to alter your CA essay. Ensure that the essay fits the UC prompt very closely. If it doesn’t, admissions officers will suspect that you simply copy and pasted another essay. That isn’t what we’re doing here; we’re adapting your original work for use in answering a related question. Let me emphasize this point: I have never seen a situation in which it was appropriate to use the exact same essay for two different applications. You should always make at least some minor changes to your previous work before using it again.

7) As always, have a mentor or essay editor review your work before submitting. The worst case scenario: you accidentally mention “CU Boulder” on your “UC Davis” application. Don’t be that guy.

Following these steps can ensure that you write high-quality essays in an efficient manner. Pay attention to the details; your future self will thank you for it!