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Where Does the Essay Fit into the Overall College Application?

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common app prompt typewriterWhile the essay is a potent piece of the puzzle, it is important to remember that it is but one of the crucial components of your college application.

There is also the transcript, which is undeniably one of the most important factors in an admissions officer’s assessment of any applicant. Even this pretty straightforward index of your achievements is evaluated based on a complex combination of characteristics, including your grades in advanced classes, the strength of your curriculum, and of course, your GPA.

Then, who doesn’t love to look at some standardized test scores, the measurement of how well a student can memorize vocabulary and apply a contained set of concepts and equations after eating a good breakfast and trying not to puke from anxiety?

Next come teacher and guidance counselor recommendations, which provide admissions with outsider views on a student’s drive and personality.

The lovely people deciding your academic fate also review a detailed list of your extracurricular activities. Hopefully those four years of bird watching paid off!

The point is: Before admissions officers look at your college essay, they know your legacy status (if you have one), the names and ages of all your siblings (if you have them), your class rank, and your family income. By the time they get to your essay, they probably even know your dog’s name. These are all things that, no matter how good of a student you are, tend to overlap with the life circumstances and accomplishments of your closest competitors.

What admissions doesn’t know before they read your college essay is what it would be like to spend time with or talk to you in person. Would you immediately launch into an impassioned dissertation about the last episode of your favorite podcast? Would you point out cool facts about the constellations? Would you notice the opal on your admissions officer’s finger because you’re obsessed with gemstones and make jewelry in your spare time? Additionally, what motivates you? What are your passions? Your future goals? Your weird obsessions? Would you bring a positive attitude to campus? How are you going to contribute to the community? This is your chance to show them how you think about the world and what’s really important to you.

The college essay also provides your one and only opportunity to speak to admissions in your own voice. You need to use this window to showcase your personality and highlight how you are different from the competition in a way that is highly personal

There is an interesting side effect of trying to dig around and come up with a subject for your college admissions essay. Weirdly, if you do it right, the essay writing process can help you get in touch with who you really are as a person as you hone in on some of your educational, professional, and other life goals. At first blush, your experiences may seem to fall into the same buckets as everyone else’s: “Things I accomplished in my after-school activities.” “Where I spent my summer vacation.” “Why I love Beyoncé.” (Sorry, that’s one of our defining characteristics) You could be tempted to discard valuable ideas as “clichéd” even though a new perspective on a well-worn subject can actually make for a fabulous peek into your (truly fascinating!) world. Guess what—you’re motivated! You like a challenge! You’re ROFL funny! You really, really like cats! (Oh right, that’s us again.)


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