College Application Essays
How heavily does your staff weigh the personal essay portion of the application? What are the best pieces of advice to students who want to make a statement with their personal essay(s)?
Many, but not all, colleges require at least one personal essay from applicants. Consensus centers on the importance of thinking, writing, editing — and showcasing the “real” you. The writing is important, but the content is critical. Remember to show rather than tell.
[Editor’s Note: See also our article, Writing the Successful College Application Essay: Tips for Success.]
Here are the answers to this question from each member of our panel:
Lisa Knodle-Bragiel, Linfield College
The essay is of moderate importance in consideration of a Linfield application. As writing is an important aspect of the Linfield curriculum, we do, however, closely evaluate English in the student’s high school academic profile and the verbal portion of the SAT. When we review the student’s English coursework, we take into account the number of years and kind of English courses taken (i.e. we don’t consider “yearbook” as a solid English class but do consider “American literature” or “college prep English”).
We also consider the relationship between the high school English grades and the verbal score on the SAT or ACT paying special attention to any discrepancies. If we discover discrepancies between grades/board scores or if we receive a poorly written/structured essay, we may ask the student for any or all of the following: a graded essay from a senior year English class, a rewrite of the application essay, a recommendation from a senior year English teacher.
Should a student wish to make a personal statement, we ask that s/he not do so with the essay. The essay is our opportunity to evaluate a student’s ability to clearly articulate his/her thought process through the written word. We do offer each student the chance to complete a “self-evaluation”. Here the student may address factors s/he feels should be brought to the attention of our faculty admission committee. These factors could include information regarding learning challenges, personal tragedy that has affected the student’s academic progress, etc.
We do, though, appreciate when students write personally and/or passionately about their topic in the essay. Linfield reads each and every application including the essay thoroughly. To read yet another essay about “my coach” or “what I learned in my sixth grade year” gets tiresome.
My advice to students: “Excite us! Keep us up at night. Make us want to read on. Show us that you really can create a picture with your words. And, by all means, use YOUR words. We, too, are educated and, after reading hundreds/thousands of essays, we can detect plagiarism.”
John Blackburn, University of Virginia
The essays required for admission to UVA are important and they can help or hurt a student’s chances. The advice I always give on essays is as follows:
- make it personal,
- make it a manageable subject,
- make it concrete by showing us rather than telling us,
- answer the question.
Chris Lucier, University of Michigan
The essay has played an important part in our evaluation, and will play an even more important role in our new admissions process. We will be going from requiring one essay, to requiring several responses to short answer question and an essay. Short answer questions and essays allow students to reveal something about themselves, and what they can bring to our educational community. Our advice to students is not to stress, or hold up your application, to find the “perfect answer”. There are no “perfect answers”. Most of all we are looking for honesty and sincerity.
Marc Camille, Xavier University
The essay is used for two purposes by our committee. First, it allows us a look at the student’s ability to write and express themselves in the written form (of course, this assumes they’ve written it themselves). Also, it allows the student to tell us a story, albeit about whatever topic or question they choose to answer. An essay is an opportunity, one in which the student can share material with the committee that may not leap out from a transcript or recommendation.
Allen London, Mercer University
Mercer does not require a personal essay.
Back to our main page: Answers to Common College Admissions Questions.
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