Ask a College Advisor: Do Colleges Care About Admissions Essays?

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Question: Do colleges care about admissions essays?

Answer: Absolutely! In my experience, colleges care about admissions essays and the essay tends to be a valuable component of the admissions process. In some cases, the essay may be the deciding factor between a prospective student being accepted or rejected, while in others it may be considered secondary to competitive grades and test scores.

Many colleges are taking a more holistic approach to admission requirements, and strong admissions essays give admissions representatives an understanding of who the student is beyond their grades and test scores. Impressive grades and test scores can sometimes be the standard among a competitive applicant pool — in these cases, the essay may help an applicant stand out.

As some institutions move to optional standardized testing reporting options, the value of the college admissions essay may increase because admissions officers may have fewer criteria to evaluate as it pertains to a student's chances of getting in. Schools such as Carnegie Mellon have moved to a test optional model for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle.

Especially at highly selective universities where strong writing skills are imperative for student success, the college essay serves as a writing sample. A well-written essay is proven evidence of the student's writing style and abilities, which inform how well the student might perform in college courses.

A large part of the applicant review process is envisioning how the student might fit into the campus community. Because written communication is present in college coursework, it makes sense that the admissions essay is considered an important admissions factor to pay attention to. Effective admissions essays communicate the prospective student's ability to respond to a prompt accurately, and it vividly illustrates how they might fit into the college community.

Ask yourself the following questions before submitting your essay:

  • Am I answering the prompt?

    This may sound like an obvious point to consider but more often than not, admissions officers receive essays that do not answer the prompt. Review the prompt thoroughly before writing your essay and be sure that the content is related to the prompt

  • Is my essay written in my authentic voice?

    So often students write college applications essays in the voice and tone that they think admissions officers want to hear. This is a big mistake. Use your authentic voice when writing your essay by painting a picture of who you are through words and stories. Don't clutter your essay with fancy words if those words do not communicate your authentic voice.

  • Does my essay illustrate how I will fit into the college's community?

    Keep in mind that the whole reason that a student is writing an essay is because they are expressing their desire to attend a specific school. Make sure that your admissions essay let's the admissions officer know how you are aware of how you will fit into the college community.

    Some schools ask supplemental questions that specifically ask about why you want to attend that school. In these cases, be very specific about the reasons that you want to attend and back up your reasons with examples or how you will add value to the college.

Summary

The essay is an opportunity for prospective students to control the narrative as it relates to them as a person. Essays can also help to set students apart from other students with similar academic profiles. The college essay offers students the chance to tell their own story to admissions officials, and it gives them a chance to express how they plan to grow if accepted to the college they are applying to.


DISCLAIMER: The responses provided as part of the Ask a College Advisor series are for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a professional academic, career, or financial advisor before making decisions regarding individual situations.


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