Why Do We Need to Write Multiple College Essays?

By Maxine Seya

My student’s parent once asked me, “Why do we need to write multiple personal statements for college? Can’t we just write a single one and call it a day?”

Sure, I replied. But not with that huge college list you picked out.

Most people, whether college applicants themselves or their parents, know that most colleges require at least an application essay of some sort, usually between 350 and 650 words.

Each college has their own requirements

Some colleges require one main application essay, often referred to as a personal statement. Other colleges, especially the competitive ones like Northwestern and UMich, require a personal statement, plus between one and three shorter supplement essays, ranging between 200 and 500 words.

Some colleges, like the UC colleges, require applicants to write 4 personal statements, called Personal Insight Questions, of 350 words each, maximum.

The Common App Can help

The Common App has made it easier for college applicants to streamline their application materials, including personal statements, self-reported grades and transcripts, and demographic information. This means a student could potentially write one single personal statement up to 650 words and send that exact piece of writing to 15 different colleges with a single click — as long as all the colleges on their college list accept the Common App.

Why, then, with the Common App, which accepts applications on behalf of nearly 900 colleges, would students have to submit multiple personal statements?

First, this is likeliest to happen if your student’s college list is extensive. If he or she is only applying to one college, then one personal statement typically suffices. If he or she is only applying to colleges that accept the Common App, then one personal statement will suffice, not counting additional supplement essays that are unique to each school on the list.

How the reality of college apps multiplies the number of required  personal statements

However, let’s say your student has a balanced college list.

She wants to apply to UC Santa Cruz, University of Southern California, University of Washington in Seattle, and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

UC Application

UC Santa Cruz only accepts the UC application. The UC application requires applicants to respond to 4 out of 8 personal statement prompts, not exceeding 350 words per response.

UC Application Prompts

See the 8 personal statement prompts below, also known as Personal Insight Questions.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.