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?

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.

Dr. Bruce Neimeyer
CEO/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

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

It really depends on the schools to which you are applying. Many schools read each and every essay. These tend to be smaller liberal arts schools or small selective programs within a larger university. Other schools may only read an essay if there is some question/s about the other parts of the application or there is a scholarship component and the answer to the essay has influence over that decision. It is always best however, to ask each school this very question and to understand exactly what they are looking for from the applicant in their answer. I always tell students that they should be writing and essay that is to be published in the New York Times. If you would not want to see the work you are submitting published there in such a public way, then it is probably not in an acceptable form to submit for your application. It also depends on the school as to how many people will read an application essay. I know of a school where the complete application is read and the passed to another counselor who must agree with the decision of the first counselor. If that does not offer, then the application is passed on to another reader. My sense is that when the application is a part of the equation on the final admissibility question , usually two or more admissions counselors will read the application and essay to render the best possible decision about the admissibility of the applicant.

Geoff Broome
Assistant Director of Admissions Widener University

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

Usually one to two admissions officers read an essay. Some colleges do not look at essays. Some colleges will choose only to look at your GPA, Course Rigor and SAT/ACT scores. If you GPA and Test Scores are high enough, they may not feel that and essay is necessary. It really depends on the college.

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.

Angela Conley
College Admission Expert VentureForth

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

Based on my experience, we read every essay at the institutions were I served. Typically, applications received two reads and a third if the decisions were split. The number of reads and the process for reviewing application essays vary from college to college. Among the top 250, I know my colleagues review essays because some are moved to "check" authenticity or to contact the school source to verify veracity of the context as provided by the student.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

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

It is my understanding that if essays are required by an institution, they are actually read. I hope this is the case! There are many different kinds of schools, however, so it would be impossible to know how each of them handles the essays which are submitted. I do know that some schools have a group of readers, each receiving one set of essays, with each individual essay being read by just one person. In other instances, each essay is distributed to several readers, who will then compare their impressions when the admissions committee meets to decide upon student admissions. In this instance, the essay would be read by several people. Again, the number of readers for each essay would depend upon individual institutional practices. Many large schools don't require essays at all because they don't have the personnel resources to process the huge number of admission essays which would be submitted. Schools which require essays, however, use the essay input to form a more complete picture of the applicant, over and above the numbers, grades, lists, and so on, which are entered onto the application form. The essays may form the most deciding part of the application after the student has met basic application criteria - grades, standardized test scores, etc. If I were an applicant, I would consider the essay(s) very seriously, making every effort to create an interesting and well-formulated document, with the assumption that the essay would be read and considered by each institution to which I applied.

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

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

No one knows the real answer to that question.

Kristina Dooley
Independent Educational Consultant Estrela Consulting

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

A general rule of thumb is that if a school is requiring that you submit something with your application, then you should assume it is going to be reviewed. Depending on the school, your essay might be read by one to three people. If you are not a clear admit (based on the school's admission criteria) there is a chance your application materials will be reviewed by other members of the admission committee. Some schools also hire application "readers" who only work during the months when schools are receiving the largest influx of applications. These "readers" are generally former admission counselors, alumni, college counselors, etc...so they have experience!

Janet Elfers

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

Of course they are read! Essays give admission officers real insight into the applicant. You might wonder how a huge school would manage reading thousands of essays, but you can trust that they hire extra staff, if necessary, to make sure the entire application gets a close look. The number of readers depends on how "borderline" the applicant is, and the number of applicants being processed. So do your best on that part of the application. Even colleges who say their essay is "optional," you shoulod definitely write one. It can make all the difference in your admission decision.