If a student applies beyond California's public system, and uses the Common Application or Universal 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 their 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. If you know that the UC is keeping its personal statement the same as the previous cycle's, and if you know the Common Application prompts are the same as last year's, you can write your essays for these applications as early as you wish (e.g. summer after 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. Sometimes this does not happen until August, or even September or October of your student's senior year. This is not uncommon, and although some schools post their essays and supplements early, others do not.
For various reasons (i.e. 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 or midpoint.
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 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, makes a tough job even harder.
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