It’s about time that I answered a question that is now on each and every student’s mind. How many essays will I write? What students really want to know is this: how much work will they be expected to complete and how much time will this take? These are important questions. Students are some of the busiest people I know and their time is limited.
Parents are also concerned about this question. If they are hoping to get advising for their student, how much help will they need? The underlining question parents have is this: How much will it cost?
At this juncture, most students and their parents have yet to understand what goes into the applications. And how should they know? Most parents I meet applied to five colleges with a single essay more than 20 years ago. Some parents studying outside of the country simply provided their grades and test scores. It is hard to imagine what is required by an application when you haven’t seen one.
How Many Applications?
First of all, most students will use at least two online applications to apply to ten or more schools. They will most likely fill out the Common Application and they will complete a state school application such as the University of California application (goes live August 1st). Each state generally has more than one state university system, so students may also fill out a second online state application such as the CSU (California State University) Mentor (goes live October 1st).
If students are applying to other state schools (for example, Western Washington University or Indiana University), they will fill out additional state applications. Some state schools have joined the Common Application: the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado, Boulder, are examples. All of these applications are straightforward and require students to report basic information and submit essays.
Do I provide separate applications to each private or state college?
Yes, in addition to these centralized long application forms within the Common Application or the UC application that go out to each selected campus, you will have additional short forms called supplement applications that you will submit to each college on your list.
If you are applying to Boston University and Pitzer College, for example, you will answer 10 or so questions on their separate supplement applications within the Common Application. On the University of California application you will answer 10 or more questions for each of the separate UCs to which you are applying. For single system state colleges such as Indiana University, or for private colleges that don’t use the Common Application, such as Clemson University, you will fill out a single application.
How Many Essays?
Just as there is a centralized application, so too there are also centralized essays called the personal statement on the Common Application or the personal insight questions on the UC application. Unlike most other state university applications, the CSU system requires no essays.
Just as there are supplement applications, so too there are supplement essays. And this is where the work begins to pile up. You are not expected to write separate supplement essays for each of the UC campuses. However, on the Common Application, for every college or university to which you apply, you can expect to write 3-5 short (250+ words) essays. The math quickly adds up:
10 colleges X 4 essays = 40 essays
40 essays / 10 weeks = 4 essays a week
Most students can’t write four essays in a week. So when I help them organize themselves and schedule their workload, I have them distribute their writing over 15 weeks. This means that if they start to write these essays on August 22nd and they work without procrastinating, they will be done by Thanksgiving. If you are doing the math on how many hours of advising you might need, then figure at least an hour a week for over 15 weeks. That’s 15 hours of advising on the supplement essays alone. Generally speaking, a student needs a minimum of 5 hours of help to write a personal statement for the Common Application or to answer the personal insight questions for the UCs.
Yes, it is A LOT of work. I always tell families that this is like applying to 10 jobs. Not only do you fill out applications and write essays, you also interview and communicate with admissions representatives. The good news: this work is not a waste of time. You are building a skill set in this process that prepares you to seek employment (you'll start applying to jobs as a college student). If you write your essays thoughtfully, you'll also know yourself better and begin to understand what it means to be yourself in college and to define yourself in the job force.
As in life, no effort is lost unless you lose sight of it, so the best mindset for the college application crunch is a positive one. You’ll be in the trenches with all of your peers, so know that you won’t be alone. As I recommend in almost every post here, try to make it fun. Pair up with friends, quit your desk and go find an inspiring place to put in a few hours of work. With just a little bit of creativity, this truly can be an enjoyable undertaking.
If you would like to get a jumpstart on your applications this summer, please consider joining me at my Camp Application during the weekend of August 18th-19th. You’ll have homework to complete over the summer and by the end of the camp you will have drafted your Common Application personal statement, outlined your UC essays, and completed the central sections of your Common Application and UC applications. You’ll also learn how to start on your supplement applications. Sign up soon! 4 seats remaining. See below for details.
How does done feel?
With May 1st in the past and graduation approaching quickly, powerful emotions are likely kicking in. My advice for graduation would be to enjoy yourself. You may start to feel the catch-22: the more you focus on being in the moment, the less you’re actually there. Try to let it all be as it is. Bring your best attitude, and allow things to be imperfect. Spend time with the people that matter most to you and attempt to put as little pressure on these moments as possible. Your fondest memories will never be the ones you plan or predict.
The dust is settling and the entire ordeal is pretty much over. Given that the whole college application process felt like it would never end, this may come as a shock of sorts. In my own experience, after an incredible hustle–touring an array of schools (admittedly, too many), going out for several interviews, clocking hours with each supplement, and ultimately reaching a final decision on where I would go–I remember a sinking feeling that none of those efforts amounted to anything. After all that work, I was only going to one school. To combat these thoughts, I frequently reminded myself that my hard work and time spent on everything was essential to my success and something to be proud of; nothing went to waste, I knew myself better and I’d thought about what I might want to do in college.
As much as you can, start to claim a positive mindset: you’re going to college. It is a milestone and major accomplishment. Try to let go of worries or doubts about the particular school. Think about what moving to college means for you personally, and what new abilities and resources college brings.
Going to college is no longer hypothetical. Now that it’s real, take time to soak in how you’re embarking on a big and wonderful change. Simply going to college is a huge privilege and a big step forward in one’s life. It is worth taking some time for reflection. Try asking yourself: what do I want to get out of college? What and who helped make this journey possible? When you look at it as more than the next predetermined step, what does a college education mean to you personally? What do you want for yourself now?
What to do over the summer
My best recommendation for summer is to spend time with yourself. In high school, a large portion of your focus is taken up by grades, classes, consuming extracurriculars, and college planning stress. This summer is a time to get to know yourself without any of these things in your life or on your mind. Depending on where you are and what you’re studying, you’ll probably encounter more “free” or unstructured time in college. Summer is the perfect time to begin discovering what you like to do with your time and how it feels to have time with yourself.
Furthermore, when you’re meeting people those first weeks, nobody is going to want to hear about high school. They want to hear about you instead; what music you like, what tv shows you watch, your general outlook on life (your zodiac sign, if you go to a hippy school). The more you yourself get to know your non-academic side, the more prepared and relaxed you’ll be when you arrive to campus and begin making new connections.
If you feel like you’re confident in your interests and self, take the summer to try out some things that are completely different. When you do get to college, you’ll be able to continue to explore becoming your best, most wholesome, person.
Can’t Wait To Start?
If you really need to focus on college, then fulfill your curiosity by doing research that will help you to improve your first year of life on a college campus. Consider looking into these things and asking yourself these questions:
The Pre-Freshman Summer. Many colleges and universities offer a summer immersion program that allows you to get ahead and experience college. You can familiarize yourself with the campus, courses and professors, giving yourself what Cal terms “the freshman edge.” Call the admissions office at your college/university if you can’t find a program on the website. For an example, here is a link to a Cal program for incoming freshman.
Next Up: For Juniors: How Many Essays Do I Have To Write?
Each year we hear about new developments in the college admissions process. On the West Coast we heard that the UCs would continue to increase their resident enrollments and place a 20% cap on out-of-state admissions. The big news on the East Coast came through Harvard’s petition to college admissions offices, parents and educators to change the culture of overachievement by promoting a focus on greater kindness and concern for others in high school students.
Admissions results from 2017 reveal that despite the optimism that college admissions might change, for now admission rates continue to drop and competition continues to rise. The most dramatic drop we saw this year was in admission to programs in computer science. The good news is that students appear to have even more control than in past years of shaping their admission to private small liberal arts colleges and some out of state public schools.
How to Proceed in 2017-18
Next up for Seniors: Post-Acceptance: Now What?
Why Workshops Work
Come June, it’s time for me to enjoy one of the highlights of my year: running my summer essay writing workshops for the next season of college applicants. Today, after a decade of teaching these workshops, my belief in the value of this experience is stronger than ever. Although the workshop is just 5 hours long, yet students complete many weeks’ worth of work and emerge from the immersion knowing themselves better. Here are the reasons that the workshop format is so powerful:
If a workshop isn’t possible for you, then try creating these elements yourself.
1. Create a space and time away somewhere. Creating a space is likely the most important because it forces you to find a time when you can step away from your daily routine and behaviors and go think and write somewhere. The best way to do this is to make a date with yourself and put it on your calendar. Choose a space that you can get to without too much trouble. Cafes, libraries, bookstores, casual restaurants, and parks are all great places to write. If you really cannot leave home, then look for a place in your backyard or occupy an unfamiliar space in your home. Build a fort in your room and write there. Set a timer for two hours. Or, even better, set the timer for 4 hours. This will be your workshop time. Turn off all distractions and get ready to write.
2. Get reflective. This step is easy. Go online and pull up the University of California Personal Insight Questions. These essay questions ask you to reflect on who you are and what you do. The website version includes guiding questions to help you develop your thoughts and ideas. You can also look at the Common Application Essay Prompts. I especially like the new question #6. This is a great one to start with. Alternatively, sit down and ask yourself any one of these questions: What has been meaningful or important to me in my life so far? What do I care about? Or come up with a question that you want to ask yourself. Write whatever comes to mind. Write for as long as you can. Whatever path you choose, allow yourself to explore. Don’t decide that this will be your essay or that it has to be done during this session. Just use the time to think and write about the questions and who you are.
Pulling these first two steps off is no small feat, mainly because you will have to fight the inertia to stay in your routine and busied by the repetitions and distractions of daily life. But it can be done! Today, I wrote this blog from Blue Bottle Cafe, my favorite getaway when I need to hunker down and complete a bunch of work. It may even spark a new desire to be creative on a regular basis.
A Tip: If you think you’ll have trouble committing, then get a friend involved. Make a writing date and be sure to set clear expectations that you will each work for the assigned time (no less than 2 hours!).
3. Share. Finally, have a conversation with someone you trust about your essay topic(s). Think of someone that you can speak with openly, someone who accepts you and your ideas without judgment. Once you have an idea or a draft, reach out to that person. Ask that person to listen to you talk and ask good questions that will help you develop your writing. Write down anything in that conversation that inspires you further.
By the time you have completed step C, you will already feel relief and believe in yourself and your ability to overcome the stress of writing these essays for your college applications. Repeat this writing routine regularly, and you’ll develop a practice that will also benefit you in college when you will have to self-manage your own study habits. You can do it and I promise you it will be worth your while!
Felicia Fahey PhD
Felicia is a comprehensive educational consultant. She works with college bound students of all ages close to home, across the country and around the globe.