How important is the essay?

Application Process

Our counselors answered:

How important is the essay?

Corey Fischer
President CollegeClarity

The essay is very important

It is important to you because it gives you a chance to show the college something about you that they are not seeing in the rest of your application. The essay gives you an opportunity to let your personality shine through. It is important to the college because they can learn about a different side of you, but also get a sense of your writing skills. Writing an essay quickly and sending it off will hurt you as a reader can tell when a piece was written hastily. You want to write it and set it aside and revisit it, get some input from your counselor or teacher (not friends). Revise it again. Make sure it is not superficial and it does not just reiterate what can already be learned from the rest of your application

Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

How Important Does the College Think It Is?

Short Answer: It’s only important if the institution stresses the importance of it. The fact is, if your grades and board scores are good-to-excellent, they probably won’t look at your essay or letters of recommendation. Detailed Answer: Many institutions are moving toward automatic “review” of applications. In other words, there is an algorithm on the backend (the same data that enabled the college to automatically begin communicating with you as soon as your PSAT scores became available) that crunches your numbers – SAT/ACT, GPA, RIC) and decides whether you are in or out. This means that your entire relationship with a college has been via a machine; no one knows who you are or that you even exist – except as a number the institution can manipulate to its advantage. Now, if the machine says you are “out,” the admissions staff will begin to look more closely at the eliminated applications and admit/deny these students until the admissions department reaches its enrollment goals. At that point, the admissions officers may be searching for more information about you, such as explanations of grade anomalies. They may find this information in your essay or in your letters or recommendation, or in a letter that you include with your application. The most important point to remember is this: If the institution stresses an essay or a personal statement, pay VERY CLOSE ATTENTION to what they request of that essay or personal statement . In other words, if you write a generic essay to send to all your college search choices, and it is clear to the admissions officer reading your essay that you have not paid attention to what they wanted to see in the essay (subject, length, structure, etc.), your application will be denied simply because it is clear that 1) you cannot follow instructions or 2) you didn’t care enough about applying to their institution to follow their instructions. And they will be right on both counts. For example, if you look at the Purdue application this year, they offer three choices of essay topics, each one carefully considered to allow different types of students to write something that matters to them. This presentation of their essay request shows that they DO value the essay, and if you want to get into Purdue – and especially if your grades and board scores aren’t stellar – then you’d better pay attention to this part of the application. Other institutions, such as Indiana University-Bloomington, specifically state that they do not want to receive essays – so if you submit an essay, this also shows that you cannot follow directions. The major reason for an institution to not request an essay is that essay-reading slows down the application review process. Colleges don’t want admissions officers reading essays when those officers can simply be crunching through the numbers on applications and making their decisions based solely on a student’s past successes or challenges – which is why it’s so important to do well in high school from 9th grade through 11th grade. The fact is that most admissions decisions are based on 8th-11th grade trends; they only look to senior grades at the end to ensure that you continued strongly and didn’t get “senioritis.” One more point about essays: A seasoned admissions officer can tell if you’ve written the essay yourself; if your Mom or Dad wrote it; or if you bought it off the Internet. We’d rather see errors in the writing of a wonderful and unique essay than perfect writing in a boring, uninformative essay (or in an essay that does not pertain to what has been requested.) But you would be wise to have whatever you’ve written be proofread: Spell check won’t cut it; it has to be a human being.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

How important is the essay?

How important the essays are may vary from one institution to another, but a student should carefully consider the development of his/her essays since the essays are the one way that schools can find out more about a student personally, after considering the rather static lists of activities, grades, standardized test results, and so on. Teacher and Counselor recommendations also reveal aspects of the student as a person, but the essays are the part of the application in which the student's "voice" will come through. I am almost certain that one of my clients was accepted at the university she ultimately attended because of the clever formulation of one of her essays. She even got a personal note from one of the admissions officers about it. All of the other parts of her application were at a high level, as well, but it was the essay that caught the admissions officer's eye.

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

How important is the essay?

It usually is very important, and some colleges attach extra importance, but some don't. No one really knows for sure, so write one that's superlative in both content & grammar!

Kristina Dooley
Independent Educational Consultant Estrela Consulting

How important is the essay?

The essay plays an important part in your application process because, not only does it demonstrate your writing abilities to the admission committee, it often provides an opportunity for the reader(s) to learn more about you. The amount of weight placed on the essay will vary from school to school but a good rule of thumb is: if it's a requirement, then it's important!

Sarah Contomichalos
Manager Educational Advisory Services, LLC

How important is the essay?

Depending on the college, the essay can be quite important. The most important component of any application are the student's grade and academic rigor. Assuming the student meets the academic criteria, the essay can set the student apart from others in the potential admit pile.

Carita Del Valle
Founder Academic Decisions

How important is the essay?

The "essay" has become increasing important and is now becoming the determining factor for admissions as well as merit aid money.

Zahir Robb
College Counselor The Right Fit College

How important is the essay?

While rated below GPA, Course Load, and Test scores for most universities, the essay still remains an important factor in admissions. The essay allows the candidate to express something that cannot be determined based on data alone. Make sure you spend plenty of time on this part of the application and that it represents the best you have to offer.

Lora Lewis
Educational Consultant Lora Lewis Consulting

How important is the essay?

Very. While grades still remain the most important factor most colleges consider in their decision-making process, the essay is almost always the only opportunity a college will have to "hear" your voice and learn about who you are. It also allows them to evaluate your writing and critical thinking abilities. Put a great deal of thought and effort into your essay. Don't write it at the last minute. Use those 500 words to share things about yourself that colleges can't learn from other parts of your application. Let your personality and voice shine through. You never know--it could be your essay that gets you in.

Janet Elfers

How important is the essay?

The essay may be the most important piece. Why? Because that is the only way students have to "tell their story." The essay reveals a great deal about you as a student. It may show what is important to you, how you react to events in life, how you solve problems, how you relate to others, and it might reveal something about your personality. In addition, it gives the admission office a great writing sample. That's why you should spend a fair amount of time getting the essay right.