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.
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.