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11 Reasons Why College Essays Are So Hard

If you’ve ever applied for college admission, then you know that the essay can be a very tough aspect of the application, and after you get into college. The techniques associated with college essays are often learned by experience, not by time in the classroom, and this can often pose a few problems. But why are they so hard?

Here are 11 reasons why college essays are so hard:

  1. Writing essays create anxiety.
  2. College essays differ greatly from high school papers.
  3. College essays have strict guidelines.
  4. Competition between students can lead to stress.
  5. Freedom and unstructured time lead to procrastination.
  6. Essay-writing is often not taught in high school.
  7. Critical thinking can be difficult.
  8. There is more than one way to write.
  9. College essays require expert levels of grammar.
  10. A blank page can be intimidating.
  11. Writing an essay often feels like a big commitment.

In the rest of this article, I’ll go through all the reasons why college essays are so tricky and why these problems are often so challenging to overcome. Everyone’s experiences are different, but problems with writing tend to be universal.

College Essays: Why they are so hard.

1. Writing Essays Create Anxiety

So many people suffer from some form of anxiety, which can hit college students especially hard. It can come in so many different formats and can be produced as a response to specific triggers. 

Writing an essay is sometimes one of the biggest triggers.

Anxiety related to essay-writing hits everyone at one point or another, often regardless of perceived writing skills. It is the biggest mental health barrier to college students, with around 41.6% of college students suffering from it at some stage in their academic careers (source). 

There are so many times when essay-writing seems almost impossible, especially when negative thoughts are coming at the forefront of that. 

Worrying about your writing skills, being paranoid about criticism from other students and professors, and waiting until the last minute to finish up those last few paragraphs can all lead to anxiety.

Negative criticism can be an essay-killer, and lacking the confidence to write an essay to the highest standard is one of the biggest problems facing college students. 

Unfortunately, learning to deal with these thoughts is the only way to overcome them.

2. College Essays Differ Greatly From High School Papers

Once you’re thrown into your first year of college, you might be surprised at the standards set for college essays. 

Academia in the world of higher education is much more subject to scrutiny, and all of a sudden, you’re writing papers that are 5-10 pages in length, rather than smaller 2-page essays you’re used to writing in high school. 

College essays differ significantly from high school papers mainly because of the length. 

A typical high school essay is 300 – 1000 words, but an undergraduate essay at college is around 1500 – 5000 words in length. This is a huge difference and can take a while to get used to.

Additionally, a graduate essay is even more significant in word length, averaging between 2500 – 6000 words. With each level of education, the word length increases, and so do the standards set for the essays (source). 

Getting used to this extra word count, and dealing with it without any sympathy from strict professors, can take a while. Many students struggle with college essays because the word counts are so extensive.

3. College Essays Have Strict Guidelines.

Thinking back to your high school years, the guidelines were probably quite flexible. You probably only had to fill up one page worth of material, and there weren’t too many rules relating to content and sources.

Guidelines for writing college essays are strict because the type of writing required is much more extensive. Specific formats must be adhered to, and only certain sources are allowed. In addition, proper citation and referencing procedures are often very rigid. 

Using specific sources can be difficult since the allowed sources are often graduate-level academic papers that can sometimes be difficult to understand. Coming from a place where your usual reference standard was Wikipedia, researching and analyzing these materials can be challenging for a college student.

Additionally, these guidelines can make writing an essay feel unnatural. You’re writing a paper that an invisible entity will read, and it’s inevitably a one-sided discussion that leaves you sometimes not knowing where or how to begin (source). 

4. Competition Between Students Can Lead to Stress

Writing a top-shelf essay can be hard in itself, but competition often makes that more stressful. If you have a class that’s open about grades and feedback, you might feel embarrassed if you didn’t quite hit the mark the first time, which can lead to clashes between students.

Competition between students can lead to stress, leading to college essays being more complex. Having the confidence to sit down and write to the best of your ability can get difficult if you feel like the other students are doing better or struggling less than you.

Stiffer competition can lead to more significant struggles, especially if students struggle with confidence. Confidence is vital for academic writing and acknowledging this is the only way to move forward with your academic career.

Statistics have suggested that up to 64% of college students lack the confidence to use statistics in college essays, which is a necessary skill in a higher education environment. 

Confidence is one of the biggest setbacks in writing essays, so without it, you might struggle.

5. Freedom and Unstructured Time Lead To Procrastination

For a new college student, the concept of freedom is fantastic. 

Finally being able to make your own decisions, create your own schedule, sleep when you want, and generally have more control over your lifestyle is an incredible feeling.

However, freedom and unstructured time can lead to problems when writing college essays. If you have too much freedom, the idea of being tied to your desk for many hours isn’t exactly appealing. 

Being forced to write an essay that you may not be interested in impedes your personal freedom. Finally having a small taste of freedom won’t make you want to write a college essay, especially if the article has a complicated topic or you have no particular interest in the subject.

Additionally, having unstructured time and vague goals can inevitably lead to a greater level of procrastination. Unfortunately, procrastination is a vicious cycle, and cleaning, sleeping, or going out to avoid writing that essay will make it seem an even more uphill task than it was before. 

6. Essay-Writing Is Often Not Taught In High School

Most people have never really been taught how to write an essay. While the essential skill of putting coherent thoughts down on paper is something we learn passively over time, it isn’t generally a class subject.

The fact that essay writing isn’t a taught skill is one of the reasons that college essays are so tricky to write. Unless you have taken extra study skills courses at high school, structuring a paper is based on your own intuition rather than something actively learned over time.

Unfortunately, nobody ever tells you exactly how to write an essay. 

Understanding how to write takes many years of trial and error, and many people say that writing isn’t something you can be taught. It’s something that you learn passively.

Knowing how to gather relevant academic sources and organize them appropriately is also a skill nobody is ever actively taught. You learn over time what works best for you, rather than being told what to do, which is one of the reasons why college essays are so difficult (source). 

7. Critical Thinking Can Be Difficult

Critical thinking, just like essay writing as a whole, is a learned skill. Using your cognitive abilities to analyze a piece of academic material requires a whole lot more than common sense, and it’s much harder for some than it is for others.

This can be difficult, especially in college, because higher standards of analytical evaluation are required to get higher marks. Regurgitating what you’ve read onto paper in your own words is more complicated than just writing what others have written.

Using your intellect to create an efficient piece of writing is hard, especially when considering how many academic sources you are using. 

Knowing how to critically analyze something and putting that down on paper in your own words can pose its own challenge, especially if you aren’t great at written communication (source).

8. There Is More Than One Way To Write

As the old adage goes, there isn’t just one way to put pen to paper. 

If you’re writing something requiring some level of academic analysis, knowing exactly how to write what you want to say can make writing a challenging task for college essay writing.

There’s more than one way to write, which can be a considerable problem for college-level students. Since writing can’t necessarily be taught because everybody works in different ways, and there are many different writing styles to adhere to in college, writing essays is even more difficult.

Knowing how to use appropriate writing styles for different essays is a learned skill that’s not easy to learn. Breaking down what you want to say into digestible chunks can make it easier, but sometimes college students will find this difficult because of the amount of information they have to process.

Nobody is born with an innate skill for essay-writing, so comparing yourself with other students in this way is counterproductive. Understanding that there are many different ways to get your point across is a step in the right direction.

9. College Essays Require Expert Levels of Grammar

Grammar is a difficult thing to learn, especially in academic learning. 

Using grammar efficiently can be a complicated task, especially when combined with complex sentence structures that need to be understood from various educational resources.

The fact that college essays require expert levels of grammar and lexicon is one of the reasons why college essays are so incredibly hard. Putting your thoughts into words on a page is one thing, but structuring it in a grammatically-sound fashion is more complicated than it might appear.

A solid foundation in complex sentence structures, basic style construction, and putting punctuation in all the correct places is something that many college students don’t yet fully understand when they first arrive at college. 

Unless you’ve taken extensive grammar courses throughout your high school time, you’ll likely find this particular part of essay writing difficult. Only with time, trial and error, and experience will you find that it begins to come naturally.

10. A Blank Page Can Be Intimidating

Staring at a blank page before you start work on your college essay can be terrifying. That blank page can cause higher levels of procrastination, and you may find yourself a bit intimidated by the idea of even beginning your essay.

A blank page can be intimidating because it’s often difficult to know where to start. 

Knowing what you want to put down on paper requires a certain level of prior planning and a complete understanding of the essay question. If you don’t have a solid plan, it might stop you from even beginning. 

Knowing where to start can be an issue related to anxiety, or perhaps you just don’t understand the subject well enough to dive in straight away. 

Looking at a blank page can often cause problems.

Additionally, if you’ve left your essay until the last minute and you have a deadline looming, this can also be a problem. That blank page looks even more terrifying because there are anxieties associated with meeting that deadline, which is one of the reasons college essays can be so hard (source).

See 17 Common College Essay Cliches To Avoid at All Costs

11. Writing an Essay Often Feels Like a Big Commitment

If you have a college essay with a big word count, this can lead to performance-related anxieties. Therefore, college essays sometimes feel like something you have to commit yourself to fully, and alongside the pressures of meeting a deadline, this can cause problems in itself.

Writing an essay often feels like a big commitment because it’s precisely that: a big commitment. If your essay is over 3,000 words, it can take a lot of time to complete. This is time that you’d rather be spending on social activities with your friends or even catching up on sleep.

College papers are a bit like writing for an audience, which can be a scary feat. 

Committing to writing something that may or may not get good marks might feel a bit intimidating, and it might be one of the biggest reasons you don’t want to start writing in the first place.

Good communication, proper sentencing, appropriate referencing and citation, and getting your point across in an academic fashion can all make the essay seem like too big of a commitment (source). 

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