The essay is your chance to set yourself apart from the crowd and give the admissions officers a good reason to back your candidacy. In today's extremely competitive college admissions process, there are many students with 4.0 GPAs and 1600 SAT scores who are denied admission to their schools of choice. The essay is the way for you—whether you are the valedictorian or the "class clown"—to enhance your application by showcasing your writing skills. Simply put, there is no more important skill in college than the ability to express your ideas clearly and in an engaging manner.
Typically, an admissions officer will read your essay and write an evaluation. If you remain a viable candidate after the first "read," your essay will then be scrutinized more closely by another admissions officer, or by the admissions director or assistant director. Some schools will subject your essay to further scrutiny by circulating your file among members of an admissions committee comprised of several individuals, including admissions officials, faculty members, and possibly current students.
Some larger institutions that process many applications use a multiple-scoring system in which each essay receives separate scores for content, style, and mechanics. Other schools take a more holistic approach, relying on written comments by evaluators, as well as dialogue among members of the admissions committee.
EssayEdge Extra: Words of Wisdom from Admissions Officers
"The essay is one of the key subjective elements in the admission application. Where statistics, scores, and the transcript are the 'skeleton,' the essay, recommendations, and description of outside time commitments are the 'skin' that makes an applicant a human being. In our process, a particularly well-written essay could move an applicant from a wait-list status to admit, and a poorly done essay could mean a denial or wait list—even with an outstanding academic record." — Admissions Officer, Emory University
"I have seen the essay swing a decision. Some students, by virtue of skilled writing and insightful content, pull their applications out of the jaws of rejection. In these cases, the essay often crystallizes some impressions that have the committee leaning in favor but not sure why or how to substantiate the gut feeling. On the other hand, a ragged essay frequently points out a person right by the numbers but wrong by the personal qualities or fit." — Admissions Officer, Case Western Reserve University
"There is no correct formula for a college essay! ... View the essay as an opportunity (not an arcane form of torture) to tell us whatever you'd like about yourself, to have a little fun, and tell us 'what makes you tick.' Those of you who give yourselves plenty of time to write your essays will usually produce the best results; a rushed job is generally apparent." — Admissions Officer, Washington University
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