A friend of mine has been an Admissions Counselor at a small liberal arts college for the past 13 years; for the past 3 he has served as Head of Admissions. Without giving too much away, I'll simply say that the college has been on Princeton Review's Top 50 List for as long as I can remember. It's a great school. Anyway, on the eve of his 'busy season', which requires a lot of traveling for college fairs and high school information sessions, he was nice enough to talk to me about the whole admissions process and, more specifically, the role of the admissions essay in the 'grand scheme' of things.
What I found most enlightening was his insistence that the essay is a key component of their selection process. I recently read an article that claimed the admissions essay was the last thing that some of the top schools were considering. But he said that while other factors (grades and test scores) helped them to weed through the masses, it was the essay (and the letters of recommendation) that helped the counselors get to know the 'person' rather than the 'applicant'. Furthermore, it sometimes helped give those who may not be immediately accepted because of grades, an extra boost. Even more interesting--was that when all factors are equal (two candidates have similar test scores, GPA's, and activities), it was often the essay that ended up being the deciding factor; the essay that gave the committee a sense of the applicant's personality and made them think 'we want this kid' was the thing that landed the candidate in the acceptance pile.
He went on to tell me about some of his favorite essays that he's read over the years…some because they were amazing, and others because they were, well, not amazing. He also offered incoming freshmen some advice about choosing a topic. He said that he's read countless essays about sports and volunteer activities--and that while those things are certainly admirable, the essay about them often ends up sounding just like the one he's just read. So rather than simply tell about the experience in general, it's better to find something unique about it--a specific story that reveals a little something extra. His favorites are the ones that make him think, laugh, smile, sometimes shed a tear and/or show some creativity and thought. He wants to see essays that are well presented, thoughtfully considered, and honest. And his final bit of advice: "Proofread! Please proofread!"
Labels: Private College