How Important Are College Admissions Essays?

  • 1. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s State of College Admission Report, while GPA, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores are the most important factors considered in the college admissions decision process, the majority of top colleges and universities believe that personal statements/essays are of “considerable importance” in determining which academically qualified applicants they will choose.1 In other words, when all else is equal among competing college applicants, “a compelling essay can make the difference.”2 Also, for marginal applicants (those whose GPA or admission test scores are lower than a university’s typical averages), “a powerful, well-written essay can tip the balance” in favor of admission for such students.
  • 2. So, while grades, courses, and standardized test scores are always going to be the most significant factors in the admission decision process, the other parts of the application (especially the essays) can sometimes make the difference between an acceptance and a denial. It is therefore important for students to view the admissions essays not as an obstacle to fear, but rather as an opportunity to speak directly with admissions committees. Students should look at their essays as a means of selling themselves to the admissions committees. Although this is an opportunity to flaunt talents and accomplishments, students should be careful not to do so in an overly self-serving or pompous way. The college application essays are the only part of the application in which students have complete control, so they should take advantage of this fact and use it as an opportunity to express their individuality.
  • 3. Writing powerful essays doesn’t happen overnight. Even just coming up with an idea for one’s personal statement may take substantial time and planning. A student might have to write several different essays until he or she finally hits on something that is unique and persuasive enough to work, and even then several revisions may prove necessary. A powerful essay will grab admissions counselors’ attention and help them to better understand exactly who the writer is. Such an essay may be the one part of the application that gets you noticed, and therefore admitted.
  • 4. Types of Admissions Essays Common App/Personal Statement
    Usually, this type of essay will have a prompt that is some version of “Tell us about yourself.” The benefit of this type of essay is that it offers students an opportunity to reveal things about themselves that are not apparent from their resumes. One drawback, however, is that the open-ended nature of the question can sometimes lead to responses that are “all over the place.” The best advice available in this connection is to focus on something in particular, and then explore and develop it in detail; don’t simply convert your resume into paragraph form. Students should try to think of it as a storytelling exercise. Typical themes that come up in successful essays like this are (1) personal life events that signaled/caused a transition from one perspective to a newer, more intellectually or emotionally mature mindset. Students can describe hardships they have faced, but only if they describe what they did to overcome/cope with these hardships.
  • 6. Why College XYZ?
    These essays ask students why they want to attend a particular college. The benefit of this type of essay is that it poses a clear and direct question, which makes it easier to write an effective and focused response. However, if a student has not adequately researched the college in question, the admissions staff will be quick to notice. Some advice in this connection is: Don’t go overboard with flattery. The college knows how good it is, so don’t write the entire essay simply praising the institution. Instead, find a way to talk about what you as an admitted student will gain from the college, and what you can contribute to the overall academic community there. Essays that show a student has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do in an active field excites admissions staff because it means that their post-graduate employment numbers will benefit. Creative Essays.


  • 7. These are unique questions that change from year to year, and not all college applications will contain them. One benefit of this type of essay question, however, is that it gives students to convey their unique perspectives and personalities. The danger is that the student may end up getting carried away with the creativity aspect (make sure all the creativity has a clear point!). Some advice on this type of essay is to keep any necessary facts in order, no matter how imaginative the essay is. Students should maintain common sense, and avoid writing things that sound pretentious or “high-minded” just to impress the reader (i.e – make it creative, but keep it authentic).
  • Aim High’s College Essay Program
    • Aim High Academy has been helping students outline, draft, and perfect their college admission essays for years. The nature of the program is that it is a one-on-one essay workshop with a private essay expert. Throughout these private sessions, students will see an overall improvement in their writing and how they approach writing assignments in general. This instructor guidance allows students to write the best essays they can, but the finished product will always still be completely the student’s own work. The instructor is available for consultation at every stage of the essay-writing process, from brainstorming and outlining to finalizing and polishing the finished product. The program offers regular essay progress updates and helpful ways to organize and prioritize essays based on admission deadlines. Aim High closely monitors both the student’s progress working on the essays outside of class, as well as the progress made working the with the instructor during class sessions. These progress reports will be made available to parents for review at the end of every session (please refer to sample progress report below).
    • Based on a student’s individual profile, Aim High will also provide students and parents with guidance and detailed advice on what schools a student should apply to (“safety” schools, “likely” schools, and “reach” schools). Also, students and parents often become overwhelmed when dealing with the sometimes complex issues that arise in regard to the difference between binding early action/early decision applications and regular decision applications for various colleges. Aim High has spent considerable time researching and even contacting these institutions, and can be of great help when it comes to the strategy and timing of a student’s application in light of these sorts of policies.