How Important Is the College Essay?

Your ability to write an impressive essay as part of the college application process could potentially be your one and only chance to make a positive first impression. Find out how to get prepared for this undertaking.

How Important is the College Essay?

A college essay is an important tool in the college application process. Admission officers are concerned with test scores and grades, but they're also looking for a well-rounded student who will benefit the university. A well-written essay allows a student to put a personal touch on his or her admission application.

Purpose of the Essay

Many colleges and universities require an applicant to write an essay as part of the admission process. Test scores and grades on a transcript are important, but the essay gives the admissions staff an opportunity to find out more personal information about an applicant.

Essay-Writing Objectives

Sometimes you'll be given a specific prompt to respond to, and in that case, you'll want to address the topic directly and fully without straying from the subject. When you aren't asked for specific information, your main objective is to give the admissions staff insight into the person applying for admission. For example, if you're applying to an engineering school, there's no need to state that you're interested in engineering.

Instead, take the opportunity to address your specific interests in the field. What work have you done in the field already (projects, internships, etc.), and what did you learn in the process? What specific things do you want to achieve in the future (a focus on a particular area of engineering), and how will your studies at that institution help you to achieve those goals?

Personal Touch

On average, an admission counselor will spend about three to five minutes reading a college essay, according to a 2014 USA Today article. So a well-written college essay is vitally important. Because an admissions counselor is often very detail-oriented, the essay should draw his or her attention. Provide information about yourself that goes beyond the standard facts that are covered in other areas of the application. This is the time to show the admission counselor what makes you unique from other applicants who may have your same test scores, GPA, etc.

One of Many Factors in College Admissions Decisions

The college essay can make a big difference in being accepted to your college of choice. According to Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, although the essay is helpful, you must also prove you've done well in grades, choice of classes and test scores. Students who have not concentrated on studies during the high school years can't make a good comeback using the college essay.

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