It depends on the student and the subject matter.
Some students have been brewing their essay topics for years whereas others have no idea what to write about. The former student can wind up drafting for weeks while the other has a eureka moment that yields a solid narrative in a session or two. In short, I’ve seen it all.
Here are some thoughts to quell both student and parental anxiety concerning the question: When will it be done?
I LOVE the process of drafting. This is when essays journey from kernels to popcorn, from ideas to thought pieces, from sketches to artwork ready for framing. This is also when initial ideas don’t pan out and new ideas need to be discovered. Does reworking their writing drive my students nuts? Often, yes. Does their writing improve with each draft? Staggeringly so. My spin on Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Rule is one I quote to students so often that they usually say, “I know, I know: Practice makes better if not perfect.”
I encourage students to edit their own narratives by asking questions and providing examples of what I think they’re trying to convey. “Unpack this” or “How about trying this?” or “Is this what you mean?” – these are suggestions I offer to put the onus of self-expression onto the student. I may provide examples of muscular verbs to replace overused adverbs or I may point out inconsistent phrasing that could be interpreted as a typo. The goal is for students to become comfortable with their writing voice and convey their idiosyncratic point-of-view to admissions teams.
I wish there were a single number of drafts that signaled completion, but there simply isn’t one. I tell my students and families that the personal statement essay (the Common App Essay) is usually ready to submit in 8-12 drafts, with some students receiving a FINAL from me earlier and some later. I recently told a student that I read later drafts aloud and listen for the lyricism of the prose; when it sounds symphonic, it’s finished.