Why College Essays Matter

Think of your application essay as an audition. The audience is narrow. The only readers who matter are the admissions officers assigned to your application. Each reader will spend just a few minutes on your essay. Those minutes may decide your next four years. Sounds strident? Yes. An exaggeration? No!

The high stakes mean that you need to know the frame into which the admission essay needs to fit. It is not a five-paragraph essay. It is not a resume. To show colleges who you are and how you think, you need to tell a story. The story should reveal your character and your thinking. It must be well-written. By its end, a great application essay leaves readers feeling that you would be a brilliant addition to the next freshman class. It leaves admissions officers eager to say, "Admit!"

The essay framework is not my invention. It comes straight from admissions offices at top colleges. Some of their comments are below. Additional insights can be found on my Blog Page.

The Essay is Important

The essay can be your ticket out of the faceless applicant hordes and into First Choice University.

   Harry Bauld

   former admissions officer

   Brown University

   Columbia University

The Essay is NOT a Resume

The biggest mistake is simply to rehash your resume. It's lazy and not creative. There's ample amount of real estate on any application for you to talk about your resume-like experiences in other sections.

   Shawn Abbott
   Dean of Admissions
   New York University

 If the admissions essay were meant for applicants to list all their awards and qualifications, it would be called a resume. The essay is more of an opportunity for the applicant to share their character, unique passions and interests, and meaningful experiences.

   Liz Cheron

   Associate Director of Admissions

   Northeastern University

The Essay Tells a Story

I long ago figured out that some of the best essays I've ever read are simply stories well told.

   Fred A. Hargadon

   former Dean of Admissions

   Princeton University

Just make it the best story you can tell. What we're hoping to find, no matter how well you've done academically, is strength of character, motivation for service to others, and leadership.

   Amy Jarich

   Director of Admissions

   UC Berkeley

The essay provides an opportunity for students to tell colleges about something that is important to them, perhaps something that will not be found in other parts of the application.

              William R. Fitzimmons

              Dean of Admissions

              Harvard College

Keep it simple. Tell a story.

         Jeff Branzel

         former Dean of Admissions

         Yale University

Great Writing is Crucial

Your ability to write well is critical to our decision because your writing reflects your thinking. No matter what question is asked on a college application, admissions officers are looking to see how well you convey your ideas and express yourself in writing. It is our window to your world.

                        Janet Lavic Rapely

                        Dean of Admission

                        Princeton University

You'd be hard-pressed to find too many universities that aren't compelled by students who are strong writers, even if they are studying math or science. The ability to tell a story and be a good writer is a skill that most schools revere. A poorly written effort is the quickest way to sink an essay, even if the content is compelling and tugs at heartstrings, or inspires or entertains us. Even if that's the case, if the writing is bad the writing is bad, and probably the fastest way to sink an application.

   Shawn Abbott

   Dean of Admissions​

   New York University

In most cases, we care more about how a student writes about a topic than the topic itself. Ideally, we love to see truly fine writing that reflects mature thought, a mastery of the language and mechanics, and a topic that reveals a great deal about the applicant simply because it tells a good story.

   Alyssa Sinclair

   Assistant Director of Admissions

   Middlebury College