The Role of an Application Essay

The essay is the part of the application that is most within your control.  You can use this space to tell colleges exactly what you want them to know about who you are, in your own words.  So, this should be the part of the application to which students look most forward; but, in reality, it often becomes the portion of the application that incites the most stress. 

The directions on the Common App™ essay section say:

“The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)”  Word limit is 650 words.

Colleges already have a lot of information that should tell them the type of student you are.   They have transcripts and test scores and, in most cases, recommendations.  So, why do they make you go through the extra effort of writing one, two or seven essays?  I promise it’s not just to aggravate already stressed out teenagers (although you might think that when you are staring at your computer at 3 am the day before the deadline).  Colleges use the essay to answer three questions about you:

  1. What kind of writer are you?
    1. Are you able to convey your thoughts effectively? Will you be able to organize your thoughts in your future term papers?  How will you communicate with your classmates during class discussions?
  1. What makes you tick?
    1. Who are you beyond the numbers? What are your passions and interests?  What experiences have impacted you and how will you enhance the experiences of your roommate, classmates, clubmates or team members?
  1. Do you possess insight?
    1. Are you mature enough to attend college right now? Are you capable of college level thinking or do you have merely a superficial grasp of ideas?  Do you know yourself?  Will you be able to push your classmates in their own growth and learning?


Colleges want to know what has led to your development to date and what continues to inspire you.  The essay is your opportunity to reveal these parts of you in your own voice.  

To learn where most students go wrong in the personal statement, read examples of essays from successful applicants and to get step-by-step instructions on how to develop and execute a strategy that will help you earn admissions to your top choice colleges, get The Complete Candidate: A Comprehensive System for Solving the College Admissions Puzzle, available on Amazon.

 

Related Articles on the 2017 Common Application Essay

IECA Logo HECA Logo NACAC Logo