Why do colleges care how well you can write an essay? You can be a great student but one of your biggest weaknesses are essays. Obviously if you hate essays, you aren't going to have a career that deals heavily in essay writing. Why single someone out like this? Can't they have alternative options?
The essay in the college application is only tangentially related to how well you can write an essay. The essay is your opportunity to speak directly to the admissions committee and make your case. Many admissions officers I’ve spoken to have said they like to leave the essay for last, so the student has the last word. (Although some prefer to read the essays first, before they’ve formed an opinion. This is subjective.)
The rest of your application is everyone else’s opinion of who you are and what you are capable of. The transcript and test scores put numbers to your ability, curiosity and drive. Your recommendations give the opinion of your counselor, teacher or other adults. Only your essay answers tell them who you think you are.
Why do they want to know who you are? They’re trying to figure out who you would be on campus. They ask about extracurriculars to find out how you are likely to participate in campus life. They ask for test scores and transcripts to find out whether you are likely to be successful on their campus and come back for sophomore year. They ask for recommendations from your teachers to find out what you will be like in the classroom, and whether the faculty will be glad to have you in their classes. Will you be a good leader, a good roommate and someone they will be proud to have their name attached to after you graduate.
Think of the essay not as a writing assignment, but as a written interview. The interviewer has just asked you “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?” (Common App essay #6)
Instead of feeling put on the spot, you have a chance to think carefully about your answer, and get some feedback from others about what you want to say and how you want to say it before you respond. This never happens in an interview! Embrace this opportunity to tell a story about who you are on the inside, and what is important to you and why. Then you’ll do just fine.
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
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