With the college admissions season in full swing, high school seniors are scrambling to complete the Common App and apply to the colleges of their choice. These applications include information about grades, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities—all critical in assessing a student’s eligibility for admission. But what about college essays? How much does it influence the application decision?
The Common App
The essay is definitely important, but that importance can vary from school to school. While there are some colleges that do not require the Common App Essay (also called the Personal Statement), the majority do. And with some schools opting to go test optional, or to not require test scores at all, the main college essay is given more weight and attention. On top of that, there are supplemental essays required by many schools which are equally important.
Use College Essays to Highlight Your Strongest Characteristics
It is estimated that there are at least 4 academically qualified applicants for every open spot at top schools. With this in mind, admissions personnel need to see something beyond grades, test scores and extracurricular highlights. Essays offer a golden opportunity to share your voice, experiences and perspective—all while highlighting your strongest characteristics.
What factors determine how important college essays are?
While there is little dispute as to the importance of college essays, their actual influence depends on several factors:
School size and type
Large public schools generally have more applicants than smaller private schools. They typically place emphasis on GPA and test scores first before evaluating extracurricular activities and essays, so essays tend to matter less if you have a strong academic record. But keep in mind that there are many people who are considered to be strong students, so the essay can literally be used as a tie-breaker when evaluating students with equal credentials.
The more selective a school is, the more important essays become. These schools have more qualified applicants, so essays are scrutinized more closely to help make admission decisions. However, the same can be true of smaller schools that receive fewer applications and can devote more time and resources to individual applications. These colleges—especially liberal arts schools—take a more holistic approach to evaluating candidates, so the college essay can carry more weight.
Finally, there are private schools. This includes Ivy League and other selective colleges that seek to understand candidates and their backgrounds more completely. These schools attract students with outstanding grades, high test scores and a plethora of extracurricular accomplishments. Essays provide admission teams with the opportunity to get to know candidates on a more personal level and to differentiate between them. For these schools, essays are extremely important—even for those with stellar academics.
Your overall profile
For “borderline” candidates, who may not have competitive grades or test scores, a strong essay can boost your application to the forefront. But it is important to mention that this may not be enough if your academics are too far below admission standards, since academics are the primary basis for admission.
Likewise, for students who do have a great academic profile, with high test scores, the essay may have a smaller impact on your application since you have already demonstrated your ability to succeed. However, it is still important to aim high with your college essays—especially if you are applying to more selective schools. Never, ever should you dismiss the essay as an important part of your application, since you never know who will be reading it and how much weight it will carry.
Your chosen major
While it’s true that many students entering college have yet to declare a major, having a general idea could important. For example, a student interested in Journalism, Creative Writing or English would certainly want their writing skills to shine through in an essay. But a strong essay is equally important for a STEM focused student—even though writing creatively isn’t as essential. You still have an opportunity to share your interests and give colleges an opportunity to learn more about your strengths through a well-written essay. At Moxie College Counseling, we have seasoned essay specialists who will guide you through the essay writing process, ensuring that colleges see your talents through your writing.
College test score policies
When colleges are test-optional, or when they don’t give any consideration at all to standardized test scores, other aspects of your application will be more important. This includes both the main and supplemental essays you submit. If you’re applying to a college that does require test scores, the essays may be weighted less.
Share Your Unique Story
No matter what the case may be, you should make your essays as strong as possible. If a college requires their own supplemental essays, you can be assured that they will be reading applicants’’ responses to the prompts. Your essays are the personalized part of your application, and your chance to share your unique story. So make sure they are well-written, authentic, and interesting.
Essays are, in fact, a very important part of the college admission process. While certain factors will inevitably impact their importance, it always pays to put your best foot forward.
For more information on college admissions and crafting impactful college essays, contact us.