Test Prep

Can Your Common App Essay Use Themes From SAT/ACT Writing Test?

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Some students feel like the writing they do on the SAT or ACT is among the most thought-provoking work they create -- and one College Confidential reader felt so strongly about this that she submitted the following question about her Common App essay:

"I took the SAT last week, and on the essay portion I had to argue against an idea that was presented in a book from the early 1900s. I really liked the argument I presented and would like to cover basically the same topic in my Common App essay (for the prompt that allows you to write whatever you want). Is that okay, or will the college see my SAT writing portion and know that I covered the same topic in both?"


First of all, let's quickly go over the differences between the style and the objective of the Common App essay and that of the SAT or ACT writing portion.

Common App Essay

This is what you might refer to as your “college essay,” and is a required section of the Common Application. This 650-word essay requires you to give a personalized response to one of 7 given essay prompts in order to provide college admissions officers with insight into who you are as a person and what is important to you.

SAT/ACT writing portion

On the other hand, the optional writing portion of the SAT and ACT is purely an academic assessment, which asks you to read, analyze and write an analytical response to a specific text of 650 to 750 words. The purpose of this essay is to measure your ability to analyze an argument and is not supposed to be about your personal or academic achievements.

But will the admissions officers who read your Common App essay also be reading your SAT or ACT essay? Most likely, no.

Alice Lissarrague, a certified educational planner and founder of Lissarrague College Guidance, says that while colleges are provided with a student's SAT or ACT essay, “I doubt that many admissions officers have the time to read those essays.”

However -- even if no admissions officer will be sitting with your Common App essay in one hand and your SAT or ACT writing portion in the other hand, that doesn't mean you should be reusing your SAT or ACT essay theme. Going back to our reader's question: A theme that comes from a book from the early 1900s has nothing to do with you, your values or your personal and academic pursuits and achievements. By not responding with a personal essay, you would be missing out on a highly valuable opportunity to share something essential about yourself with someone who is deciding on whether or not you will be a fitting member of the college's community and culture.

“Given that the point of the Common App essay is to give colleges a picture of who the student is, I would suggest responding to one of the Common App essay prompts,” says Lissarrague.

Unless it's a requirement by your target schools, there's also no need to take the SAT/ACT writing portion, which will cost you an additional $17 for both the SAT and the ACT.

“Because many colleges and universities no longer require the SAT/ACT writing portion, I suggest students not include the writing portion the first time they take the test. Once the high school junior has developed a solid college list, the student can opt to take the SAT or ACT with the writing portion if it is required by institutions on the student's list,” Lissarrague adds.