The Ivy Coach Daily

April 19, 2011

College Admissions Essay

Crafting a killer college essay can be the difference between an acceptance and a denial.

What role does the college admissions essay play in the admissions process to highly selective universities? A big one. While high school courses, grades and standardized test scores carry the most weight in admission decisions, the essay is an applicant’s opportunity to stand out, to share a unique voice, and to inspire university admissions counselors to want to advocate for a candidate. The application essay a wonderful opportunity that should not go wasted.

The college admissions essay is a student’s chance to stand out and lead admissions officers to say “this is a kid I want at our college.” According to Marilyn McGrath Lewis of Harvard College’s admissions office as interviewed in a “Wall Street Journal” article, “There is no specific ’weight’ assigned to the essay. The importance of the essay depends on the case — and on the extent to which an essay deepens or illuminates our understanding of the applicant.” And according to John Blackburn of UVA’s admissions office, “We see the essays as a means for students to talk to us. They can say whatever is important to them and in doing so, give us a more human sense of who they are. We intentionally shape our several questions so that any student can probably find one that speaks to her or him and lets that person respond in a way that is unique.”

And what makes a good college admissions essay? According to James Miller of Brown University, “Essays that have simple themes, are personal and focused are most effective.” And McGrath Lewis of Harvard College says, “A good essay extends the admissions committee’s appreciation of the candidate, helps us to understand better ’what makes him or her tick.’” And what to avoid? According to Miller, “Don’t write travelogues, don’t rehash yesterday’s editorial, and don’t use gimmicks.” We couldn’t agree more.

In the next few weeks, we’re going to be writing a series of blogs that feature a sample paragraph of a college essay. We’re going to write the sample paragraphs but the writing will be a reflection of the kinds of essays students often submit when applying to college. We’re going to analyze what’s wrong with the paragraphs and why you should avoid these sorts of common mistakes on the college admissions essay. And sometimes we’ll even trick you with a great paragraph where nothing at all is wrong.

Check out the “Wall Street Journal” article here.

Check out our related blog posts: College Essay Mistakes and Admissions Essays.

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