Essay Guides: How to Combine College Essay Prompts

When applying to colleges, many applications will follow the same formats: basic information, school details, high school transcripts, ACT/SAT scores, and, of course, the essay. If you have 8-10 colleges you’re applying to (or possibly more), that’s a lot of essays! It can be a daunting task and even cause you to apply to fewer schools. But there is an easier way. Combining college essay prompts allows you to save time and effort while still meeting all the criteria of the schools’ application processes.

To get started, you need to understand what the schools are asking from you in the essay, brainstorm, and get writing! Here’s how you can craft a detailed plan to combine those college essay prompts and still write stellar essays!

A student writing a paper. There are do's and don'ts of writing a paper

Flickr user Francisco Osorio

Combining College Essay Prompts in 4 Easy Steps

Step 1: Understand the College Essay Requirements

Have you noticed that many colleges have the same or at least very similar prompts to other schools? Or perhaps they’re open-ended questions like, “Tell us about yourself?” Just because they’re different applications, it doesn’t mean you have to actually write different essays for these schools!

To do this correctly though, you’re going to need a solid understanding of the college essay requirements. This starts with the prompt: what are they asking you to write about? And are there any specific perimeters they want you to stay in? This could include topics, word count, and more.

Step 2: Create a Spreadsheet or Other Tracker to Find Overlap

The easiest way to fully understand the overlap between college essays is to create a spreadsheet or other tracker. You’ll want columns for the school’s name, the prompt, the word count, due date, and any other requirements for the essay. 

This spreadsheet allows you to quickly go down the list and highlight the schools that have the same or similar prompts, or at least open-answer questions. While there may be outliers, you could find that 6 out of your 8 schools have extremely similar essay topics!

Step 3: Brainstorm a Foundation Topic

Next, it’s time to think about what you’ll write about. Is there a topic that will actually cover a majority (or even all) of these essay prompts? You could very well get away with writing a single college essay to these schools while tweaking the details – you don’t want to call a school by the wrong name, for instance! Or write down the wrong title for your future major (colleges sometimes have different titles for different majors even if they’re very similar in other ways). 

In other cases, you could discover that you could write a single college essay and take out bits and pieces to fit the requirements of the application or word count. This foundation essay may not work for all your colleges, but it can at least give you a starting point for many of them.

To help you brainstorm a topic, think about

  • Your achievements
  • Your experiences such as volunteer work or involvement in a club
  • Your goals in college
  • Your intended major
  • Your goals after college
  • Your struggles
  • Your family life
  • Anything that’s important to you

Step 4: Write!

Now that you know what you’re going to write about and have identified any college prompt overlap, it’s time to start writing! Build that foundation essay (or a single essay if you’re lucky) with the prompts in mind. 

As you write, you might discover that your essay doesn’t actually fit the criteria of one of your prompts. That’s okay – you can always tweak it later to better align. Right now, though, you want to focus on crafting the best essay you can.

Once you finish, be sure to read over your work, adjust any college-specific details, trim or expand to meet word requirements, and have someone else look at your writing. This will help you ensure you’re not only meeting the college essay prompt but also properly combining your college essays!

Combining your college essay prompts brings a whole host of benefits to the applicant. Not only does it save a lot of time and effort, but it also allows the writer to dedicate more time to making sure that essay is stellar. Instead of 8 middling essays where they meet the prompt, but it’s not their best work due to time crunches, students can really devote themselves to that foundation piece to be sure they’re putting their best foot forward with their college applications and essays!

An essay is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to college applications. Are you meeting the other requirements and criteria colleges and universities are looking for in a student? College Raptor’s College Match tool helps you find the best schools to meet your achievements, goals, and future! Get started for free by signing up here!