Three Types of College Essays
What types of admission essays are students required to write?
- The UC system “personal insight questions” essays (4).
- The Common App essay, which is accepted by most private and public colleges other than the UC system colleges (1).
- Supplemental essays, required by some colleges (the number varies by school).
1. The UC System Essays
For admission, the UC system requires students to choose to answer 4 personal insight questions out of 8 suggested. Each of the 4 responses is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
For the complete list of 8 personal insight questions as well as UC suggestions on how to answer them, please go to
To sum up:
- Students must write 4 essays of a maximum of 350 words each
- The UC system does not require supplemental essays
2. The Common App Essay
Students choose to answer one question among five offered. The essay’s length should be 250 to 650 words. Usually, one of the 4 UC essays can be expanded to answer one of the Common App questions, saving a lot of time and effort.
To find the yearly Common App prompts, go to
All college essays must:
- Be unique to you, revealing your personality, interests and ambitions
- The story you choose to tell needs to make sense in terms of your whole application
- It must implicitly suggest what you will contribute to college life
3. Supplemental Essays
Many colleges, especially competitive ones, require a number of supplemental essays that vary widely in length. Supplemental essays serve a different purpose than the Common App essay.
For example, two often required and extremely important supplemental questions ask,
- Why do you want to attend college X?
- If accepted, how will you contribute to college X?
Effective answers to those questions require serious research into what each of the universities you are applying to has to offer. Generic answers (great school, beautiful campus) signal that, if accepted, a student will probably not attend; therefore, generic essays usually lead to a rejected application.
Students must demonstrate a true interest in each school by linking their passions, interests and ambitions to the school’s specific resources that could allow them to develop their talents and contribute to the school.
Colleges’ ranking depends, in large part, on the ratio of students who decide to attend when accepted. As a result, admission officers prefer to admit students who show detailed interest in their school.
To find what supplemental essays your schools of interest require, google
“[X school] essay requirements”
To find detailed information about your colleges of choice:
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