An extremely important but often overlooked aspect of applying to college is the admissions essay. In myriad ways, the essay allows the admission committee to understand a side of you that your application simply cannot reveal, which is also a crucial opportunity to sell your candidacy. Keep in mind that most admissions committees spend one-third of the total portion of time of any application on the essay.

To put things in perspective, every year in the United States, over half a million applicants will submit essays to their choices of schools. At least half will be rejected by their top choice while approximately eleven percent will be admitted to the country’s top schools. Furthermore, acceptance rates are at an all-time low. Thus, distinguishing yourself necessitates more than a strong GPA or SAT score – it requires a lucid, dynamic, compelling, and outstanding application essay.

The essay allows the admissions committee to evaluate applicants on the basis of many factors beyond test scores and grade point averages. Those factors may include, but are not limited to: extracurricular activities, exceptional skills or talents, unique work or service experience, trends or improvement in academic performance, measurable leadership potential, a history of overcoming hardship or disadvantage, maturity, compassion, or demonstrated success in a challenging work environment. Feel free to describe any factors you wish the committee to evaluate when considering your application. As long as it has ultimately shaped your character toward excellence or helped you determine your path, it can be worth using.

As a crucial pivot point, a well-written essay can subtly, yet substantially, affect your entire application. For example, if your grade point average is slightly below where it needs to be, a solid explanation based on demonstrated examples can overcome such a dilemma. Still, in such a case, this is only effective when backed by an unusual and realistic explanation, such as a parent’s illness or divorce, a series of challenging events, a move to a new country, etc.

In terms of choosing which activities and experiences to include, you will want to select the ones that most closely reflect your vocational goals, or those that most closely intimate your determination to pursue those goals. In other words, if you are trying to decide between your experience riding horses or being on the debate team for three years, consider which of these most closely resonate with your specific goals. If you are leaning toward pre-veterinary classes, for example, you would most likely mention the latter; whereas if you are leaning toward law, mentioning the former would be more effective. Obviously, if you can mention both in a way that maintains a coherent narrative while demonstrating how these experiences have positively shaped you, certainly do so.

Ultimately, as much as possible, you want to create a dynamic, powerful statement that illustrates your driven intellectual capacity (through academics, awards, lessons, scholarships, independent research, etc.) as well as a genuine emotional depth, while ultimately displaying the most driven, intelligent, passionate, dynamic, interesting, etc. aspects of who you are.

Author: David Hammond