How important is the essay?

Application Process

Our counselors answered:

How important is the essay?

Barak Rosenbloom
College essay mentor, guide and editor essaymentors.com

Assume it's the most important part of the application...

...unless you know for a fact that the schools you're applying to don't care. Why leave anything to chance? Unless you're applying to a school where you get in automatically based on grades, make every part of your application as good as you can. The more selective the school, the more important the essay. At some schools it may not matter, and others it will make all the difference. It may be the little piece that puts you over the top. It may be what gets you off the wait list. Or, it may be what makes the admissions officer say "nope, this kid didn't even try." Do your best job, put your best foot forward, be yourself. Those are some good guidelines for life, by the way!

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Essays Matter, but Are Only One Piece of the Puzzle

The importance of the essay, like so much else in the application process, depends upon the applicant and the school. At some schools the admissions process is more about crunching numbers than anything else and in those cases the essays matter little. At places where the admissions office must make distinctions among many qualified applicants it can be a definite factor. Indeed, the essay offers applicants a chance to present themselves in their own voice, an opportunity that one always wants to maximize. Applicants should be sure to respond to the prompt, but in a way that gives the reader a greater understanding of who they are and what they will bring to the community the school is seeking to create. The worst thing an applicant can do is write an essay that does not reveal anything about them. Make it work for you. Make it the final piece in your story.

Chip Law
Co-founder Managing Director Educational Avenues

The essay or personal statement : critical to your success?

Okay we hear it all the time...the essay is THE most important part of your college application. If it is not perfect you have NO chance to get into that school that you have your heart set on.The essay is the ONLY way to distinguish yourself from others...and so on and so on. Some of the above might be a tiny bit truthful, but for the most part the essay should be looked at as an opportunity rather than a weighty burden on a busy student's college application journey. Admissions professionals, for the most part, look at a student's body of work holistically: GPA, rank, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, interviews AND the essay. It is true that some colleges state that they place a lot of weight on the essay, while others indicate that it is just one of the criteria that they use to make admission decisions. Nonetheless, the essay IS a part of the admission landscape so you really need to give it your best shot. The essay is your chance to shine, to tell the admissions team things about yourself that will make them eager to know more about you and think positively about how you would be an asset to their campus. It is this information and how you show them something interesting about yourself that is REALLY important.

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.

Wendy Kahn
Principal Wendy Kahn College Consulting, LLC

The essay is your opportunity to tell colleges how you see yourself

A college application is filled with information about how other people see you – your grades, your test scores, lists of your activities, and your teacher and counselor recommendations. The college essay is critical because it's the only part of your application that tells colleges how you see yourself. The college essay is designed to give a group of strangers a small “snapshot” of who you are and how you became that person. It should tell a story only you could tell: If it could describe anyone else who had a similar experience, it’s not doing its job. And whatever experience you write about-- it can be a small experience or a series of small experiences -- it should be one that in some way changed your beliefs or gave you a new insight into yourself or the world around you. When they read essays, colleges are looking for evidence that you've grown. Your task is to find a real story from your own life that was a moment of transformation. To achieve that goal, you have to tell the story in the first person and in your own voice.

Riche Holmes Grant
President Innovative Study Techniques

The essay is a very important component of your application!

The essay is your opportunity to shine! It's the one place where you can differentiate yourself from others who have similar grades and SAT scores and make your application memorable in the eyes of the admissions committee. Even if a school does not require an essay, submit one anyway to make yourself stand out even more. When you write the essay, it's important to be true to who you are, not who you think the admissions officers want you to be. I recommend brainstorming ideas in the summer and then going through several drafts before you submit your final essay with your application. You can and should ask others to read your drafts and assist with edits, but by no means should anyone else (like your parents:-) write your essay for you.

Kathryn March
Educational and Career Consultant Kathryn March, M.S., CEP

The Application Essay

The essay is a very important part of the college application. The essay gives the applicant a chance to demonstrate not only his or her writing style, but to highlight an important characteristic or ability that may not have been mentioned in any other component of the application. The essay truly gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and to distinguish themselves from the other applicants. A great essay will leave the reader with a desire to know the author and will encourage an admissions committee to consider how the student might contribute to their campus.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

Very important.

The personal statement is arguably one of the most important components of a student’s college application. This is especially true if you are applying to a smaller school which has the resources to view your application “holistically”. This is your chance to lend your application a third dimension, to transcend your grades and test scores, and figuratively speak to the admissions officers. This opportunity should not be taken lightly. Likely, your essay won't make or break your admission at a certain school, but if you really let an admissions officer "get to know" you, and he likes what he sees, this could carry huge sway in whether he wants to admit you.

Geoff Broome
Assistant Director of Admissions Widener University

How important is the essay?

It really depends on the college. It is not looked at as heavy as GPA, Course Rigor or test scores, but for some colleges it is looked at. It may be the differentiating factor between two students. Some colleges are essay optional. I would look at the student profile at a college that is essay optional. If your test scores and GPA fall on the lower half of the student profile of that institution, then I would send the essay. Give the admissions office additional reasons to admit you.

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.