If you are applying to college (and, if you’re reading this, chances are good that you are), then you know that an important part of the application is the essay. What you may not know, however, is why you have to write it and how colleges use it once they have it. This process is important to understand, because once you do you will be able to see what to write about and how to write about it.
First, the idea that all colleges are looking for the least flaw in your application in order to reject you is false. This negative stereotype applies (very loosely) only to the most selective colleges, of which there are few. Actually, most colleges are looking for a reason not to reject you but to accept you. They want to find that one overriding reason to admit you, and they read your essay to try and find it. At these schools the people reading your file will first look to your transcript for a reason to accept you; if you are still close they will then look to your SAT scores for a reason to accept you; if they find none they will then turn to your essay and look for a reason to accept you, and so on and so forth. While you are putting together your essay, your underlying thought should be to give the college a reason to accept you. These schools primarily want to make sure that you can construct a coherent essay. Therefore, your essay should be grammatically correct and contain no errors in spelling or punctuation. It should display the basic form of an introduction, a body supporting the thesis, and a conclusion. In this essay, the content is not as important as the form.
That said, in many instances you can use the content to your benefit. Use the essay to explain a weak semester, or to take responsibility for bad grades. Do not make excuses or sound whiny. Instead, show your maturity and take responsibility for your
If, however, you were mourning a weak season by the New York Giants, they may not be so sympathetic. It is best not to whine, but instead to explain what happened and tell them how you have grown from the experience. In all college essays, detailing your growth is very important. Do not simply tell them what happened; instead, share your experience and how you have matured because of it.
More competitive schools (such as the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Brown, and Williams) use the essay slightly differently. These schools have the luxury of crafting a class, and can carefully select their applicants from a very large applicant pool. Such schools often evaluate the students in two ways-first academically, and second personally. The only way to evaluate an applicant’s personality is by examining the essay, the recommendations, and the interview. So, these schools look not only at the form of your essay, but also at its content. The essay is how they learn about you as a person. As admissions officers say, what is your "admissions hook"? The main purpose of the essay is to shine your admissions hook, or to emphasize what makes you unique. What are your likes and dislikes, and most importantly, what is your passion? Colleges are looking for passionate students. These are the students who are going to become involved on the college campus, and share their passion with other students, thus benefiting the college community. Remember, you should not only tell them what you hope to take away from the college experience, but also explain what you would give back to the college community. One admissions officer explained the importance of the essay by saying that it was the one thing that the student still had control over at the time of the application. The tests had already been taken, and the grades had been earned. The student, however, still had the power to write a great essay, so the care that they put into the essay was in some way an indication of the student’s desire to attend that university. Our other articles will help you perfect both the form and content of your essay. If there is a valid reason for a sub-par semester, you must inform the college of it. You cannot assume that your teachers or guidance counselor will tell them. If you had a lower GPA one semester because you were sick with mono, or a family member died, or your parents were divorced, by all means tell them.