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By Elizabeth LaScala

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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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Selecting the Right College Essay Workshop

Uploaded: Apr 18, 2016
Understanding some fundamentals about the essays colleges ask students to submit with their applications can help you make more informed decisions about getting assistance with this process. Many parents ask me if I can help their student with "The College Essay." These three words suggest a single piece of writing and a lack of understanding about how much writing is required. The average college applicant in our communities will tackle far more than one essay before the application process is completed. Last cycle, students I worked with wrote an average of 8 essays and the range was from 2 to 16. Last year, students who wrote two essays typically applied only to the University of California system (which required a personal statement consisting of two separate responses) and the California State University system (which required no essays). This year, the UC system has changed its application requirements and students will be required to respond to four (4) personal insight prompts.

If a student applies beyond California's public system, and uses the Common Application to apply to more schools, more often than not, colleges and universities ask applicants to respond to more questions (or prompts). These are called 'supplemental essays.' Supplemental essays help the college to evaluate the writing ability of the student, get to know the student better, and assess how well the student has researched the college. Having several and varied writing requirements (and this is especially important) also helps the school determine if the student is writing their own essays—they look for consistency across the essays (of voice, writing quality, knowledge of conventions, overall presentation, and so on). Often, at the last minute, a student will find questions on the application and hurriedly write them, hitting the send button with errors and all. This is a clear signal to the college that the student may have had support in earlier writing, but what is sent off just prior to the midnight deadline may be used by the college to determine the real quality of the student's writing.

Over the full course of the application process students may be able to economize on the number of essays they must write, but they must also be prepared for more. You can write responses to the UC personal insight prompts and the Common Application prompts during the summer months following junior year. But you can't develop supplemental essays until you have a school list, and even then, you can access them only after each college has released all of its essay requirements for the current application cycle. Most often this does not happen until August, or even September or October of your student's senior year.

For various reasons (e.g. adding colleges to your list, finding 'hidden' questions that pop up only after you have started filling out the application), the number of essays may continue to expand over the course of the 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 or character count. It is a truism that good writing takes time and effort to witness rewards. These rewards are generally witnessed toward the end of the application cycle, not at the start.

It is important for families and their students to understand that getting "the college essay" written for a small price tag over the summer months is problematic, if the student is then overwhelmed by more required writing as the weeks and months of fall cycle progress. Ethical essay writing vendors (seminars, workshops) should fully explain that writing one or two essays only gets a small part of the larger job done. If they don't, look elsewhere for assistance. It's difficult enough for students to write strong college essays. Uncovering them late in the process, or writing responses of inconsistent quality makes a tough job even harder.

For professional and reputable assistance with college essay writing, write elizabeth@doingcollege.com or call 925.385.0562 or visit Elizabeth. You can also learn about all of the comprehensive college advising services provided by Doing College and Beyond.

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