4 minute read
There are a lot of pieces that make up a college application, and students must work hard to be sure they are putting their best foot forward in each and every one. But most pieces unfortunately have one thing in common – they’re kind of anonymous.
Most pieces of a college application are essentially data – GPA, standardized test score, class rank, AP test score, etc. For the student applicant, these numbers don’t tell the story of who they are as a person, the challenges that they’ve overcome, or their plans for the future. We know that students are way, way more than just a bunch of numbers. Thankfully, college admission reviewers know that too. That’s where the essay comes in.
A college application essay gives the reviewer a unique look at who the student truly is in their own words and writing style. Because most applicants don’t schedule interviews with admissions officers for every single school to which they’re applying, (which makes sense! That would be a LOT of time, effort, and travel.) this is usually the only place where a reviewer “meets” the applicant. It’s a place where students can express the important parts of themselves that aren’t reflected anywhere else in their applications. Plus, now that so many colleges have chosen to continue test-optional policies, it’s even more important that students are making the remaining pieces of their applications shine.
To look at the impact that an essay can make, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the admissions reviewers and consider three sample overviews of college applications.
|Student A||Student B||Student C|
|Standardized test score||Medium-low||Medium-high||Medium-high|
|AP test score(s)||High||Medium-low||Medium-high|
|Number of extracurriculars||High||Medium-low||Medium|
|Essay||Not submitted||Submitted essay. Topic: Having always been a fan of Legos, Student B developed an activity program to be used in assisted living homes to help residents practice fine motor skills. They also use sales of the activity programs to donate Lego sets to shelters for kids to play with.||Submitted essay. Topic: Student C admires Marie Curie and her many achievements. The essay sufficiently summarizes Ms. Curie’s life and impact on the present world.|
All of the students above are excellent candidates to be admitted to college. From just reading through this chart, all three seem at a similar level in their academic achievements and each will probably be successful in their collegiate years.
But of the three students, Student B is the only one that we feel like we have a deeper knowledge of. We know one of their hobbies (Legos), a few causes that they care about (donating to others, children staying in shelters, and older adults exercising), and a bit about their personality (that they are motivated enough to complete a project and offer it to interested groups in their community). And we learned all of that just from a short summary of the essay, which had even more detail.
This is also a great example of the benefit of writing a personal essay rather than one focused on someone else, like Student C did, when they responded to a prompt probably reading “Who is a person in history that you admire?” Although we don’t have all of the details of this essay, from the summary we can see that it featured a lot of information about Marie Curie and not very much about Student C, the writer. It makes sense that this type of essay may be attractive for a high school student – research-based writing will likely feel fairly familiar. And this essay still showcases a bit of the student’s personality and writing style, which is great information for the reviewer to have. But since the student is going to take the time and effort to construct a whole essay for an application, they might as well pack it full of helpful and interesting information for the reviewer, which means including personal ideas and experiences.
It’s clear that an essay can add a whole new personal dimension to a college application. But we also know that college application essays can be very intimidating, and we’re here to help!
Look out for our newest course, The Answer Class College Essay Writing Workshop, debuting this summer! This workshop will cover all aspects of writing the personal essay – from prewriting to writing to editing this most important component of the college application.
In the meantime, students can make sure that their SAT and ACT scores remain competitive by signing up for a live, virtual or in-person prep class this spring.