College admission essays for dummies: a comprehensive guide

If you are applying to college, you have to write dozens of unique application essays, all responding to different prompts. It may seem like such a tedious, daunting task that you want to give up, re-use essays, or just not try very hard on each one. It may seem like application essays are dry or boring, and that no one on the other end actually reads them.

This could not be farther from the truth! An application essay makes or breaks your academic application, and often determines whether you are admitted to the school or program. It is imperative that you place a lot of emphasis and effort into writing every single one of your application essays, because they are read very closely, and are taken very seriously, and can make the difference between admission and rejection.

Essays Are Key to Admissions Decisions

Colleges take many factors into account when forming admissions decisions. Other college admissions requirements such as GPA, coursework, test scores, and service are simply bare bones requirements that allow the school to cut its applications pile in half. These factors do not help a school determine who is a truly worthwhile applicant that must be admitted.

So do not assume that just because you have good (or bad!) grades or test scores that your application’s fate is sealed. This is not true. Once a school has separated its applicants into two categories based on GPA and test scores, the essays of the students with adequate scores are read very closely. You may have a lower GPA or SAT score than many other applicants, but if your essay is remarkable, you will be offered a spot at the school over any other candidate.

Essays Demonstrate Your Academic Skill

For the most part, you are evaluated by a college on the basis of your quantitative merits. But nothing can demonstrate a student’s potential for quality, unique thought quite like an essay. It is impossible to look at a student’s transcript and infer anything about their depth of thought, their ability to analyze deep subjects, or their ability to communicate. However, these skills are all essential components of college and graduate school success, and schools look closely for them. If you have a strong application essay, schools will take a vested interest in your and your future.

Writing the Essay Itself

Writing an application essay should be similar to writing a short essay for an English or Communications class, particularly a persuasive essay. You should respond to the prompt in a clear, persuasive manner, marshaling evidence and argument to support your point. Begin with a broad, appealing, accessible introduction, state your response to the prompt, and devote three to five body paragraphs to supporting claims. Close in a strongly worded manner and end with a memorable implication or tie-in to your introduction. Do not be afraid to let your true opinion and personality shine through. The application essay is how the committee gets to know you!