College admissions essays are nothing like the usual writing assignments that a high school senior has been asked to do for teachers to earn grades. For those who do not like to write, they’re something to be feared. However, when a student has a combination of suspect grades and/or test scores with a dislike for classroom education, a half-hearted effort on these essays could present a missed opportunity.
Why do college admissions offices require essays, whether the questions appear on the Common Application, the most used online platform, or on another site?
- Essays are a way for a college admissions officer to know more about a student beyond grades, test scores, resumes and lists of activities. They present an opportunity for a student to explain why they are who they are, show creativity that cannot be shown elsewhere on admissions applications, or explain why they want to do what they want to do when they are in college.
- Essays are a way to answer the question: Why this school? College admissions officers look more favorably on applicants who have done some research on their school and know why they want to be there. This essay should obviously reflect not only interest, but enthusiasm.
- Essays are a way assess writing ability. The more selective the school, the more likely that college admissions officers will pay attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation and other writing schools that a high school senior is expected to master before applying to college. Colleges ideally want to admit students who can write at “college level” or at least be taught to write better for their faculty within the first two semesters on campus.
- Essays can be a way to assess reasoning ability in combination with writing ability. The University of Chicago is famous in college admissions circles for requiring challenging essay questions. Answering these questions requires not only an ability to read and write well, but also to structure an argument on paper in support of the answer. These essays may be the hardest to write. But good answers may make a difference in trying to get into a school that accepts less than ten percent of those who want to come.
Now some quick opinions for writing essays.
- Answer the question. College admissions officers consider an applicant’s ability to read as seriously they consider their ability to write.
- Write the essay in your voice. Never, ever have someone other than the student write the essay, and have the student write in a way that they “sound” if they were to speak to an admissions officer in person. Experienced admissions officers know when an applicant has not written their essay, and they teach the less experienced ones to know the telltale signs of an “unrepresentative” submission.
- Check grammar, punctuation and spelling before pressing ‘Submit’. Students should do the essay in Word or Pages first, and run it through the spelling and grammar check before it is uploaded online.
- Presume that the admissions officers know little about “intellectual” topics, but never “talk down” to them. Intellectually curious students should explain the things that leave them curious, then be able to share their curiosity with someone who knows little about them. This is an important skill to develop in college, especially for students who will be in advisory fields such as education, the law, management consulting or medicine.
- Happiness is better than sadness. This is my personal bias, but I prefer that students leave an admissions officer smiling and wanting to know more about them. Admissions officers looks for reasons to say yes. They would rather see potential in a person who is curious and engaging than someone who is to be pitied, even if their grades and/or test scores are lower down in the applicant pool. They want to know that anyone they admit not only has the potential to succeed academically, but also to make friends and be a positive contributor in the extracurricular life of the entering class.
College admissions essays may be a bane or pain to many students. But they are a necessity for good reasons.
For assistance in college admissions essays and other steps in the college admissions process, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.