How Many College Admissions Essays Will I Have to Write?

by | Mar 8, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this article appeared on the Edmodo blog at this link.

As the number of colleges students apply to continues to grow, the number of college admissions essays students have to write goes up as well. If you’re a sophomore or junior (or the parent of one) starting to think about college applications, you might be wondering: “How many college admissions essays will I have to write?”

The answer, it turns out, is much higher than you might expect. As one counselor says, “My students are probably up to 20 or so essays between Honors colleges, the Common App, colleges using college-specific application platforms, scholarship essays, and specific program essays.” And in our experience, it’s common now for students to have to write 12-20 essays as part of their process.

How Many College Admissions Essays Will I Have to Write?

Why so many essays? There are many reasons:

  • According to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, the number of students applying to seven or more colleges is about 35%. When you narrow it down to students applying to more competitive institutions, the number grows to well over ten college applications per student.
  • More universities have added supplementary essays or questions to their applications, even if they use the Common App or the Coalition Application. They require these additional essays in part because supplemental essays serve as a measure of a student’s “demonstrated interest” in a college: enabling the college to gauge the likelihood that you’ll accept their offer of admission.
  • Many universities – such as the Universities of California or Texas – use college-specific application systems instead of the Common App or Coalition Application. Using different application systems usually creates the need for additional essays.
  • Colleges often add required essays for applications to honors programs or programs in the arts or engineering.
  • Many scholarships require essays, which also adds to the total number of essays a student will have to write.

Do These Essays Matter?

In a word, yes. Essays matter because they serve as a way for students to demonstrate passion, purpose, and character: all things that institutions seek. All other things being roughly equal, a college will prefer an applicant whose essays demonstrate a clear vision for their life, strength of character, and resilience. These qualities indicate they will be useful members of the college community, and they show how a student will make the most of their opportunities.

What Does This Mean to You?

There are several tips for students and families as the number of essays grow:

  • Start early: Writing college essays often means forgetting a lot of what you learned in high school English class, so it takes many revisions to write a great essay.
  • Get Help: It might be a family member, teacher, or mentor, or you may want to hire a professional coach. But get some help with brainstorming, editing, and revising your essay.
  • Develop a Plan: Create a spreadsheet to track every essay for every college. Use that to create a calendar that works. 

The college admissions process is becoming more stressful and complicated each year. And the number of essays is reflective of this complexity. But with a little planning, you can write thoughtful, personal, authentic responses to each question and essay prompt.

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Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan (Swami) is the founder and CEO of LifeLaunchr, the world's first virtual college admissions coaching platform, and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Swami has been an executive in the education and technology industries for over 25 years. He has an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois, and a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. He is the father of a child in college, and in his spare time, he is a jazz and Indian classical singer and pianist.

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