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Why The College Essay Matters

Writing about oneself is not an easy task, but a necessary one when it comes to college applications. Too often students and parents scour the internet looking for the secret to the best college essays, or devour past essays as clues to getting in. But there is no gaming the system when it comes to writing the essay.


Let’s take a step back and think about the importance of the personal statement. In a mass of thousands of applications, the personal statement is one of the few key components of the applications where the student has freedom of expression – both in terms of style and content. In an era when the average GPA of college applicants is above a 3.5, test prep has boosted average standardized test scores, and resume padding is an extracurricular in an of itself, admissions officers are hungry for more information. They want to know who you are, what is important to you, and what makes you tick. With this information, they will get a better sense of what you will contribute to their college campuses and what role you will play in the overall collegiate community.


So don’t waste time reading the 1000 most successful college essays or mimicking the essays your neighbor wrote last year. Your essays need to be uniquely yours!


The first thing you want to do is to evaluate your application. Where are its strengths and weaknesses? What are the important experiences and qualities that are not fully discussed in your transcript, test scores, list of activities, and letters of recommendations? What are the success and failures that have made you stronger? What are the moments that have influenced you? What do you want an admissions officer to know about you when they finish reading your application?


Once you have a sense of what you want to convey, sit down at your computer and just write and write and write about a given experience or thought until you have nothing else to say. Don’t get limited by structure or style. Don’t get bogged down by word counts and “hooks”. Somewhere in your meanderings probably lays the basis of your college essay. Go through these drafts by yourself or with someone that you trust to pick out the most salient and impactful ideas.


Remember that you will likely have at least two essays to write for each given college. Try to balance ideas and experiences. If you want to talk about a failure in one essay, use the other essay to show your strengths. If you want to be a doctor or engineer or teacher want to discuss those interests, pick one essay topic to convey your future goals and use the other to discuss something unrelated to career choice. If you had one really amazing summer experience, relate its meaning in one essay and use the other to discuss one of your hobbies.  If you need to discuss why your grades slipped in one semester, be concise and to the point. No need to draw out this explanation over multiple essay topics since your high school career should not be defined by it.


Every essay is an opportunity to share something about yourself that is not easily evident. Writing about being a hard worker when your grades already show it is too easy. Saying that you want to be a doctor because you like helping people is almost obvious. While you might love dance or music because it offers you the ability to express yourself has already been written about. The same is true for art. It is not that these experiences or sentiments are not important. It is that these ideas don’t even scratch the surface. Do not waste the opportunity in front of you. Think deeply about what you want to convey.


Writing may not be easy, but it is much easier if you write honestly and sincerely. 


All the best, and happy writing! 

Team Insight

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