Can a Great College Essay Really Make You Stand Out?

The college application process is a rigorous one. This is no surprise.

You spend your first three years of high school working to earn good grades, become an active member of the school community, and involve yourself in sports, clubs, and student organizations. Then, once junior year rolls along, you’re asked to visit schools, collect recommendations, fill out application papers, and of course, write the college essay.

While each facet of the application process contains its own stressors, the college essay can be particularly taxing. Being an English teacher and having sat down with countless students to revise their essays, I’ve seen some struggle mightily.

From this strain, students often ask questions like, “Is it really worth all the effort?” and “How closely do admissions officers read the essays?”

According to Conor Brosnan, M.Ed., a guidance counselor at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts, the college essay can be exceedingly important for many students.

“After the admissions officers sift through the students who will be accepted and those who will be denied, there will be left a ‘maybe pile’. It is for these students that the college essay will be extremely important—and for many the difference between getting in or not.”

And the College Board agrees. “When all else is equal between competing applicants, a compelling essay can make the difference. A powerful, well-written essay can also tip the balance for a marginal applicant.”

When beginning your essay, consider that this is your one chance to truly show the admissions officer who you are. While transcripts and test scores are important, they do not communicate your voice, values, or individuality. The essay allows you to do this. Make an impression on the person who will read it. Doing so could make all the difference.

How Write an Attention-Getting Essay

1. Write about yourself.

It may feel a bit awkward at first. Writing about oneself can feel self-indulgent. Still, the admissions officers don’t want to hear about your grandfather or your favorite teacher. They want to hear about you. Whatever subject matter you choose, be sure it always comes back to you.

2. Allow your voice to come through.

This can be difficult; however, in a process of data points, numbers, and grade point averages, the essay is the one chance the college to hear your voice, to see the human side behind the application. Write simply and honestly. Read the essay aloud when you’re finished. If the voice that emerges sounds like your own, you’ve done a good job.

3. Choose a unique subject.

While a mission trip or the time your family moved to a new town could provide interesting fodder for an essay, you want your essay to stand out from the rest. As Brosnan told tells his students, “The best college essay I ever read was about a bowl of cereal.” Don’t write about what you think the admissions officer wants to hear. Write about what you want to write about.

Sources:

"College Application Essay." College Board, n.d. Web. 17 July 2014 from College Board