Do college essays really matter?

I had a student recently ask me if the essay was actually important.  YES!   Generally, admissions counselors only have a handful of minutes to review your application.  Many, but not all, colleges first review a weighted combination of your grades, rigor and test scores.  If you meet that mark, then they begin to look at other items; the essay, or personal statement, extra curricular involvement, demonstrated interest in the college itself, SAT subject tests, teacher recommendations and more.  Out of all the elements of the application, the one element that allows the admissions counselor to get to know you the best is your essay.  So, does the essay really matter?  You better believe it does.  NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) states that over 62% of colleges place moderate or considerable importance to the essay. I recently had someone in admissions at a big state school admit that the essay becomes very important when it comes time for the scholarship disbursements  and honors college admissions, but less important for general admissions.  In the end, it depends on your goals.

How can you make your essay stand out?  Don’t wait until the last minute to write your essay. The college essay is most often a personal statement outlining the things most important to you told through a story.  Don’t overthink the essay, but instead make sure you tell them what you want them to know about you.  Use your own voice and tell your own story.  Not every student has a dramatic life story to tell.  That is ok.  A college admissions counselor told me at the IECA (Independent Education Consultant’s Association)conference in May that students sometimes worry when they don’t have a dramatic story to tell.  She said that although those stories can be powerful, her favorite stories are often about every day life.  Because it is important for the story to be told using your own voice, be careful letting someone overly edit your story to include words or phrases you wouldn’t use. Admissions counselors want to hear your voice; the voice of a senior in high school applying for college.

I love watching a student work their way through the application essay.  Students get to know themselves better when they take the time to embrace the writing process.  Feeling stuck on your college essays?  Send me a note and I’ll break the process down into manageable pieces.


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