Why is writing a college application essay so difficult?

The college application essay is an extremely difficult part of the college application process. Alexandra Herrada (11) is helping her friends refine their essays.

Danielle Huizar

The college application essay is an extremely difficult part of the college application process. Alexandra Herrada (11) is helping her friends refine their essays.

Danielle Huizar, Editor

For the majority of seniors, these next few months will be focused on the college application process. From asking teachers for letters of recommendation to describing extracurriculars they are involved in, there is a multitude of information that is needed to successfully fill out a college application. With the variety of different prompts, the limited word count, the pivotal topics covered, and the increasing importance of the essay, the college application essay is arguably the most difficult and strenuous part of the college application process.


At Yorba Linda High School, the two main websites students are using to apply to college are the Common App and the University of California (UC) Application. The Common App has a 650-word personal statement essay that is required by most schools that use the Common App. Some of the prompts include sharing a meaningful “background, identity, interest, or talent,” reflecting on a challenge that shaped your life, discussing an accomplishment that “sparked a period of personal growth,” etc (apply.commonapp.org). In addition, some schools in the Common App have other supplemental essays that could be difficult to interpret. For instance, the University of Chicago has some of the most interesting application questions, such as “What is so easy about pie?,” “What is so odd about odd numbers?,” and a variety of different questions that have to do with random topics (collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu). The UC Application has four 250-350 essays, and students can choose four prompts from the seven prompts that are given, which main topics are leadership, creativity, talents, educational opportunities and barriers, challenges in life, how an academic subject inspired you, ways you have had a positive impact to your community, and reasons your a strong candidate for the UC system (apply.universityofcalifornia.edu). 

I am having difficulty figuring out which prompt I want to use”

— Lexi Broadwater (12)

Both of these applications have many prompts a student can choose from which could definitely overwhelm a student. With many different prompts, students could potentially have difficulties figuring out which prompt would make them the best possible applicant for whichever school they want to get into. In addition, it might be difficult to interpret some prompts or come up with creative and interesting responses to make them stand out to the admissions officers. Lexi Broadwater (12) says that she is “having a difficulty figuring out which prompt [she] wants to use.”

In addition, the limited word count poses many problems. While discussing many meaningful and sometimes traumatic events in your essay, it could be hard to be under the word limit. For example, a popular topic that shows up in many college application essays is “personal growth” (princetonreview.com). In a personal growth essay, most of the time you have to talk about an important event that caused personal growth and explain the change in your mindset after that event.  Therefore, in this type of essay, there are around two parts of the essay which need to be thoroughly explained which could be hard in a 650 or 350 word limit on these essays.


Admission officers look for an “ideal student body” while choosing which people are accepted to the school, and admissions officers do not get to see who you actually are from your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other things in your application (essayedge.com). The essay gives admission officers personal insight into your personality, your motivations, and your life which could help admission officers see how you would fit into the school. Also, after the pandemic, many universities decided to not use SAT and ACT scores, and especially for top schools, test scores were an integral part of the admission process, so without them, other parts of your application, like your application essay, become much more important which put more pressure on students to get it perfect.


The college admissions process is very difficult and sometimes overwhelming, and the essay is one of the most pivotal parts of the process. As seniors begin to or start to refine their essays, they should remember that this is a difficult process and should not be too hard on themselves. If you need extra help, the Yorba Linda High School counselors can definitely help you, and the PTSA holds a variety of different events to help write the essay. As a senior also going, and struggling, through this process, I wish everyone good luck, and I hope for the best for everyone’s application and admission processes.