It is important for students to read the admissions section of their prospective college websites. The instructions will spell out everything that is required and provide a timeline.
Students who begin an application without reading the instructions could run into what I call the surprise essay. The guide that is often in the left column of an online college application may not list a writing section. This leads the student to think that there is no essay required for that application.
Surprise essays typically appear after the student has hit the preview or submit button. The temptation would be to write a quick essay and cross another task off their student to-do list. The best action, however, is to save the application and allow sufficient time to write and edit the essay and then reopen the application and upload the carefully written essay.