I’ve read thousands of college application essays as a consultant. Admissions Officers have read hundreds of thousands. They play an important role as a university decides who will be admitted to the next freshman class, yet the sheer number of essays that must be processed annually make it challenging for the reader and for the writer as well.
Essays can offer a unique window into a student’s thoughts. At best, they show a teen’s sense of humor, what is important to them, what they notice, or how they spend their time. It is amazing what you can learn about someone in so few words. Unfortunately, many essays are neither enlightening nor memorable and thus students miss their opportunity to stand out.
Because most of the rest of the process is primarily dry statistics such as test scores, class rank, and transcript; the essay should be a drink of cool water on a hot summer day. The best essays will make the reader laugh out loud, bring a tear to their eye, or cause them to look at the world in a different way. In short, the students who stand out in the process write an essay that is delightful, moving, or thoughtful.
Parents often have trouble understanding this concept. They think a good essay must be weighty, that it should include the full range of the student’s leadership achievements, that hilarity has no place in this serious business of college applications. Unfortunately, well-meaning adults can destroy a winning essay. In fact, I have found that the essays that worry Mom and Dad the most tend to open doors at highly selective schools. Parents have admitted later that they were so glad they trusted me when I encouraged their student to be real.
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