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Published May 17th, 2017
Writing college essays is a complicated task
Elizabeth LaScala, PhD, brings decades of admissions expertise to personally guide each student through applying to well-matched colleges, making each step more manageable and less stressful. She has placed hundreds of students in the most prestigious colleges and universities in the U.S. Reach her at (925) 385-0562 (office) or (925) 330-8801 (mobile), or online at www.doingcollege.com or Elizabeth@doingcollege.com.

It is important to understand some fundamental truths about college essays. First, many parents ask me if I can help their student with "The College Essay." These three words suggest a singular piece of writing. The average college applicant will tackle far more than one essay before the application process is complete.
Last cycle students I worked with wrote an average of six essays and the range was between zero and 16. On the lower end of this range are students who wrote four essays as responses to the University of California's four Insight Questions. Students who applied only to the California State Universities did not need to write any essays, since none are required. On the higher end of the range were applicants who developed responses to the UC application's four Insight Questions, the central essay for the Common Application as well as a wide variety of supplemental essays required by selective colleges nationwide.
With careful revisions and editing, the central essay on the Common Application can often be used for one of the four Insight Questions on the UC application - but just one.
Supplemental essays are essay questions that are unique to each school and are a way for colleges to know more about what they are looking for in an applicant -colleges are searching for good matches too! For example, supplemental essays help a college to assess the writing ability of students, freshness of their minds, the uniqueness of their experiences as well as how well the student has researched their school. Having a number of writing requirements also enables colleges to assess if the students are writing their own essays - they look for consistency across essays (of voice, writing quality, knowledge of conventions, overall presentation, and so on).
Then there is the matter of timing. If you know that the UC is keeping its Insight Questions the same as the prior year's prompts, and the same is true for the Common Application prompts, a student can write essays for these applications as early as the summer following junior year. But a student can't begin to develop their supplemental essays until she or he has a college list, and even then, only after the college has released all of its essay requirements for the current application cycle. Often this does not happen until September of the student's senior year.
For many seniors, the list of colleges and essays to write continue to grow well into fall application cycle. After the student has done a substantial amount of writing, many essays can be recycled with smart editing and minor revisions, often including expansion or reduction in word count. I do try to help the student reuse essays, whenever this is possible, but not when reworking an essay will damage the student's chances of admission.
I take the time to describe and explain this essay writing process, so you are not misled by advertising that promotes getting "The College Essay" written for a small price tag over the summer months. In my view, these essay workshops are unethical, unless they clearly explain that writing one essay may only get a small part of the job done. It's tough enough to write good college essays. Uncovering them late in the process makes a tough job even harder.

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