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Saturday, September 01, 2007

How important is the essay?

It's a beautiful Saturday morning in most parts of the country and a lot of you are stuck inside with your first weekend of homework since going back to school. Your college application essays are probably at the forefront of your mind in addition to the work that comes with the new school year. I've given essay advice in the past, but I thought I'd revisit the topic since it's an extremely important one. I'm going to do this over the course of a few entries. Let me start actually convince you that your essay is important because I don't think students believe this when they hear it.

Inside your application folder (and folders can be electronic or physical...we have physical folders this year and will be using electronic ones next year) is your application form, the School and Transcript Report form filled out by your counselor, school profile, transcript(s), recommendation(s), and a reader sheet that has your simple biographical data on it, testing, and areas for making notes about every component of the file.

There are a lot of forms in there and a lot of the information is in the form of data. It seems as though students know how the data elements need to look to be competitive. Your transcript should show a strong curriculum and good grades, your resume should show some involvement in school and/or community, your recommendations should be from people who can say wonderful things about you, etc. Most students wind up looking pretty strong. So, what's to distinguish one student with a strong curriculum, good grades, and nice recommendations from another student with a strong curriculum, good grades, and nice recommendations?

On top of that, consider the human element in the application review process. I hope you've picked up on this during your campus visits...admission officers like students. When we read your application, we're looking for reasons to admit you, not reasons to deny you. Reading a strong application with boring or predictable essays isn't very exciting, but when we're "won over" by amazing essays, we're quick to advocate on an applicant's behalf. If you're worried about getting into some of your schools, I think you should spend more time editing your essays than on reformatting your resume.

Are you convinced?