Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?

Application Process

Our counselors answered:

Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?

James Montoya
Vice President of Higher Education The College Board

Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?

Here is my video response to the question.

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

It Depends

As you might already have guessed, some colleges (large public universities) might not have the staff to read all of the essays. They might just read the essays of those who are "on the fence." Other colleges (mostly smaller schools) may try to read every single essay, and in some instances, there is more than one reader for each file, so your essay might receive multiple reads. However, to be on the safe side, work diligently and thoughtfully on your essay no matter what kinds of schools are on your list!

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

The Essay Component

It depends on the priorities of the school. Many schools have a strong commitment to a holistic review of each application and sometimes have two or three readers for each file. A really good essay can be a strong addition to the application file. Other schools might be so overwhelmed by the sheer number of applications that they make their admit decisions based strictly on statistical requirements. You can often find out how a file is reviewed by attending an information session at the schools on your college list.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

essay

Is every college essay read? I cannot make that claim, but I do believe that most of them are read. In smaller to mid size colleges they are certainly read, at least by two readers, and all Honors College essays are read.

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

It depends on the school.

Many schools have holistic processes for evaluating applications. These schools may give applications up to three reads. Here are some of the ways that schools read essays: 1. Application gets a primary read and if the application is a straight admit then the student is in OR the application is passed on for a second read and then a decision is reached OR the application could then go to a committee. 2. Each application gets two reads. 3. Applications with test scores and GPAs in a certain range get read for admission. 4. International students should expect that their essays and their SAT writing portion will be read. Some schools do cut by the numbers. Most schools read and read and read. Admissions officers go home with up to 700 applications on a cart and spend hours drinking coffee in to the wee hours of the morning. Most schools employ a form of a rate card and the essay(s) are a component of the rate card.

Chip Law
Co-founder Managing Director Educational Avenues

If I were a betting man, I'd say...

If you were to take bets on the percentage of essays read by college admissions personnel, I'd guess that it would be in the high 90's. An essay is an important part of sharing who you are with a school. With increased competition for admission, the essay has become an important factor in consideration of your admissibility to a school. So if a school requires an essay it is VERY likely to be read. If a school has a writing section in their supplement to the Common Application you can rest assured that ALL of that writing is evaluated by admissions officers. So...take the essay seriously. Do your best and assume that it WILL be read and that it WILL have a bearing on your admission chances. There is no way to determine a typical scenario regarding a college's method for reviewing applications. In all cases at least one admissions officer will look at your essay. If a school uses an admissions committee the number could jump to three or more. In any case, what YOU can control is how well your essay describes who you are and gives the admissions person a chance to see things in you that will be an asset to the school.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

It varies from school to school

This is a tough question to answer as there is no way to know for sure. At a smaller school, it is more likely that the admissions officers will have the time to look at each essay, whereas at huge universities it would seem less likely. In terms of how many officers read each essay, that also varies from school to school. Some read regionally which means that one officer reads all the applications from all the high schools in a certain geographic region. Often they are read in committee where several officers might look at one essay. If you want to know how you will be assessed at any given school, you should feel free to ask the admissions office.

Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

Uh, uh. Nope.

Short Answer: No, not every essay is read, even if it has been requested as part of your application...but you probably will never know whether or not they have read it. Detailed Answer: Institutions that are interested in an essay will specifically state that they require the essay. But the fact is, if your grades and board scores are excellent, they probably won’t look at your essay or letters of recommendation. Sometimes they don't even look at the essay no matter what your academic record looks like. Certain colleges, especially the small private institutions, will have faculty and admissions committees read the entire application, including the essay. But this is not common. 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. They 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.

Margaret Tung
Strategist Yale University

Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?

The college essay is the only personal way admissions officers will be able to get to know you as a person, not an application (except the alumni interview--but that's mostly to confirm or refute their impressions of you via your application and your ESSAY). So yes, they are read by all the admissions officers, particularly the ones who oversee your county and region. If you send more than the one supplemental essay suggested, there's no guarantee they'll read them--unless they don't think they have enough to go on. That said, if they don't think they have enough to go on after 2 essays, you've got a bigger problem.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?

The role of the essay varies greatly from school to school. Some places just crunch numbers and will likely not even read the essay--and will probably make it an optional piece of the process, as a result--while others give it a much greater role in their considerations, with multiple readers weighing in. A lot of it depends upon the selectivity of the school. If they are trying to decide which of 7 or 8 quaiifed applicants to select, then every piece of the application is that much more important and the essays--products of the applicant's own (hopefully ) work can be particularly enlightening. It is always worth an applicant's while to write as strong an essay as possible, but its role in the process is a variable one.