Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?
I'm going to be honest here: I didn't read the entirety of every essay that came across my desk when I was an admission counselor. (And I would now like to apologize to those students I skimmed over.)
But here's the deal:
Great essays get read. Admission counselors can't help themselves. Great essays pull them in like great novels and when a student is really showcasing their talent as a writer and their character as a potential part of the college/university community, that's always worth a few extra moments of reading time. (I once had a student explain how she single-handedly saved a summer camp. Seriously!)
Good essays get read too - though sometimes they get skimmed a bit for content. It isn't that these essays aren't valuable - they are and they give admission counselors the same useful insight that great essays do (especially in terms of the student who shows a lot of raw talent but who also needs some polishing - like, for example, at that admission officer's college), but they just aren't as entrancing as great essays.
Weak essays get skimmed. If a student's essay isn't great OR good, the admission officer will probably just skim past the essay and move right on to your transcript and your test scores to evaluate your candidacy for admission.
Bad essays don't get read. Period. A bad essay will prompt an admission officer to assume one of two things: 1) either you don't care enough about your future at their school to take the time to write a good essay or 2) you aren't academically up to attending their college or university. Neither of those assumptions will help you get admitted.
Every admission office is different - and most times, your essay will have the opportunity to be read by at least two - and sometimes three or four! - people. And in the majority of cases, those people will be using your writing to determine the strength of your candidacy for admission to their institution, so that's why it's crucial to take the time to do it right. Trust me, at a time of year when admission officers are faced with piles and piles (and PILES!) of application files (digital or otherwise) and students are clamoring for admission, the best gift they can receive is that of a tremendous essay - so give them a great reason to tune in and read it all the way through!