How long does it take to write the college application essays?

I’m a tutor who works professionally with students on application essays. I can tell you that, generally speaking, the supplemental essays can often be much more time consuming than the personal statement, simply because there are many, and because they need to be specific. For example, a big supplement, such as U Michigan’s two required supplemental essays, could easily take 8+ hours to write, assuming the student is doing a good job with researching writing, revising, etc… Even a short one, such as Ithaca’s 200 word supplement, requires a good amount of time, maybe 3+ hours including research.

The personal statement can also take many hours. From my perspective, a personal statement requires at least 6+ hours. There might be many drafts before the student manages to convey what they want the AO to know about them.

Of course, some kids bang out essays in minutes. That works for a few kids, but generally speaking, I do not recommend it, especially when it comes to supplements.


I agree with @Lindagaf

One of my kids did the honors college application for University of South Carolina. It was a doozie and required research, lots of information, and several different essays. That took a LONG time to complete.


Yes, a lot of students give no thought to honors college apps. They just think the personal statement will be fine, and are then freaked out when they suddenly have to write a couple of very compelling essays for a school they think is a safety.

I’ve got a glut of panicking students right now (just like every year) who are scrambling to write 10+ essays. I’ll digress a bit, but because students are applying to increasing numbers of highly selective colleges, they are simply unaware that these colleges all have their own essays. They think they can submit 20 apps via common app, but don’t consider how much time it will take to write those essays.

I “warn” students early on that they need to start these essays in the summer, before they head back to school. There’s an extra class called College Apps 101. You don’t get a grade, and it requires tons of work. There’s a reward at the end…or not. Devote your time to the schools you care most about, ensuring you do a good job on supplements for at least a couple of match and safety schools. If you run out of steam, at least you have put your best effort into a couple of schools you have a decent shot of getting into.


D23 just finished up her applications. Her common app essay took probably 20+ hours all in. She is a more methodical writer, one who writes all their ideas out and then edits to get to a completed work. it also took time because she writes on her computer, prints out a copy, reads it out loud while editing on paper and then runs that set of edits back on the computer. Lather, rinse, repeat. More than a dozen times.

The shorter essays were a bit quicker, probably 8-10 hours for each one. Essays that had short limits (150-250 words) I think can be the hardest ones to do well and can take more time than you think they will. Concision is a difficult skill, there is a famous quote about a writer apologizing for writing such a long letter to a friend…he says he just didn’t have the time to write a shorter one.


110% agree with this.

My D was completely caught off guard by the volume of additional school specific essays she had to complete. I’ve shared this multiple times over the years here on CC but it’s worth repeating that she wrote 19 unique essays for only 8 schools. That’s part of why I cringe when I see kids applying to 20 schools!

Tip for families with younger students - have your child take notes when you are doing your college visits. After each visit, our D would do a pros/cons list and note anything that stood out. Those notes helped her tremendously when composing the “why us” type essays.



I’ll refer people to this thread, which explains how to approach supplemental essays. Supplemental essay tips (plus the COVID question on the CA)

These essays are CRITICAL if a student wants to have the best chance of getting into colleges that care about interest, or are highly selective.


D20’s school offered a short essay workshop summer before senior year, taught by an English teacher. I think it involved brainstorming ideas and having the teacher read any drafts/ideas the students had. She hated all the suggested topics but the day after it ended woke up with an idea, wrote it in under an hour, and that was her common app essay. She found the school specific essays took more time because of the word count limits.

We never read her essays. I don’t know if she went back to her English teacher to proofread her essay or just her college counselor. I don’t think either would have suggested much editing to keep it authentic.

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Yes! The kids have to take notes! The short supplements that were the quick 15 minute ones (for a draft) were the ones where she had detailed notes, knows the school very well, has most of their programs and opportunities memorized. She started a doc over a year ago (on her own) with notes on every college tour and info session, plus anything else she thinks is important. So by the time she is writing, the research is already done.


My student spent time (off and on) the summer before senior year adapting an essay they’d written in a junior-year English class for the personal statement. It took a few drafts to refine it. I read it and provided some general notes about flow and grammar, and the college counselor at her school read it. My student also asked a trusted English teacher to look at it. Everyone maintained proper boundaries: my student’s voice, structure, and ideas carried through the drafts. (The starting point was strong — that essay got a very good grade when it was submitted as an English assignment.)

Of these steps and at this date, your student should ask a trusted teacher and college counselor to give the essay a look.

Your student should not rip through the college-specific supplements. A lot of kids write trite, generic responses to the “why us” prompt. (Do not, for example, tell Boston University that you like Boston and want to be in the city. You could write that for Northeastern, or Suffolk, or Emerson, etc. But if BU has a special program that leverages its location…that’s a different matter.)

For supplements, specifically the very common prompt of “why us,” my student kept a log from campus visits, used their friend network to talk to students at the colleges, researched their probable major and looked at the course catalog and the professors, and noted clubs, special programs and campus traditions.

Note that the “why us” essay is not for the student to simply repeat back the school’s marketing materials. It’s for the student to help the school understand how they will enthusiastically contribute and interact in that school’s community.

It’s work. I’m sorry not much of this is in the bank already, but with some effective time management, it can be done!


Yep, same for our student.

D21 had a previous English teacher at school help her with light editing. She never asked us to read them and we did not ask to. We did informally brainstorm a few times in the car about some of the extra questions.

Maybe your child can ask a previous teacher.

S19 willingly asked us to look them over and was not confident he had answered what they were asking about. He had, just needed some help expanding his thoughts, so we talked about it and he made a list of things he could possibly add. He also had a college counselor at school to look at drafts, but he did not care to use that.

Thank you all ! I got a lot of helpful info. I’ll have more questions about essays, but for now I have an unrelated question about common application essay and supplemental essays.

The common application requires one essay (one topic chosen from 7 different prompts)
Supplemental essays depend on the college.

Do selective and highly selective colleges usually require more than one supplemental essay? if so, how many ? of course, this is a general questions, but I’d like to have an idea about a range.


Your student should be managing their process. It’s mid-October. Your student should have a college list. Each school posts their application requirements on their website. Your student should know them by now. If your student has created a college list in the Common App, the requirements will also appear there.

We assume your student wants to go to college. College students need to manage a workload and a schedule independently. Your student’s ability to navigate the college application process is, in effect, a test of readiness for managing assignments and deadlines. I suppose you could look up the requirements of the schools, but your student needs to be driving the process. If not, there are deeper issues of readiness and motivation at play.

How many supplemental essays? It can be highly variable. Northeastern has none. Yale has eight, with a combination of short answers and longer responses. Expect the number to fall somewhere within that range.

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Metawampe, so eight essays (short & long) is the max. That’s so helpful. thank you.

I need to add that this info is for me only. My kid manages the whole process. I don’t get detailed updates other than “it’s going well”.

At the same time, I want to be knowledgable about the essays and all the college admission process.

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Eight is an outlier, to be sure. Rule of thumb: it’s fairly common for schools to ask the “why us” prompt. If a university has more than one undergraduate school (business, engineering, arts and sciences, etc.) you can expect a question on why the student is applying for that school. Again, some selective schools don’t require any. As they say, “your results may vary.”

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Metawampe, thank you for the additional info. It helps.

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This will definitely depend a lot on how the student writes. Typically it takes my daughter awhile to come up with an idea but once she does she can write pretty quickly. But usually she writes too much and then needs to figure out how to cut it down to the appropriate length. So, the editing take significantly longer than the original draft.

She did the common app essay first and then started on the supplementals. The supplementals took longer than she anticipated and she got burned out and started crossing schools off her list just because she was tired of writing. Students think they will be able to reuse essays more than that can. Obviously the “why us” essay has to be unique to each school but a lot of schools have similar supplemental themes such as the “diversity” essay (we value diversity so tell us what you will bring to our campus, what makes you unique, etc.) but they are all different lengths or have slightly different focuses. It can be hard to get your point across in a short number of words.

I’ll just add…maybe ONE college has 8 essays…but keep in mind, the supplemental essays are not the same for every college. Your kid could end up writing a LOT more than 8 supplemental essays in total for all their applications.

Adding also, applications to honors colleges and scholarships require additional essays most of the time. And NO you can’t just use one you have already sent. My kid did ONE honors college application that had over 6 essays…plus some “short answer” questions that required some research.


Expect at least one supplemental essay per college, but there are so many exceptions to that it’s impossible to say.

The average student on CC, and this is a very inaccurate guess, should expect to spend a good 20+ hours writing essays for 10+ selective schools. The more selective colleges you apply to, the more essays you will write. And because kids are going nuts these days and applying to more and more colleges, those “optional” essays are not really optional, in my opinion. Even schools you deem a safety and a match will have essays that you ought to do.

If you’re talking about next application season, as I and others have stated, start early, before the end of summer. If you’re talking about now, get off CC and start writing. Seriously.


Thanks @prdmomto1 for sharing your kid’s writing experience. It helps.
My kid doesn’t share much about the process. And, it’s OK.
Still I want to know how the essay process works as I can imagine it demands lots of effort.