How Important IS the college Essay – Really?
I started working on my personal statement the summer before my senior year. I had to finish three of the Common App prompts for a scholarship application due in July, but I wasn’t worried– writing about Shakespeare is hard. Writing about myself should have been easy.
However, writing a college essay isn’t quite like writing a memoir. It’s more like an interview for a job in which the interviewee has to convince a stranger to pick them over thousands of other applicants– all in 600 words. And the prompts don’t exactly make this easy– “Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?” That’s all fine and good, except that it’s pretty hard to make a failure sound like an achievement, and that’s what they’re asking us to do.
The week before the essays were due, I spent my time in front of the computer desperately trying to figure out how to make myself sound like an intelligent, charismatic, and capable teen that had her life together– all while avoiding sounding cocky or stuck up, of course. It was stressful and I couldn’t help but wonder: do these essays even matter?
The answer: yes, kind of. How much your essay affects your application depends on a number of factors– where you’re applying, the strength of your GPA, your test scores, and your extracurriculars. Are you applying to a big state school and all of those factors are within or above the expected range for that school? Your essay probably doesn’t matter as much, unless, of course, it’s poorly written. However, if you’re applying to a competitive private school, or even an Ivy, and every person applying looks great on paper, your essay will matter more. Often, a good essay is the only way to single yourself out from the crowd.
An essay isn’t going to make or break your application, but it can be enough to tip the scales in your favor. So, don’t freak out if your college essay isn’t a masterpiece, but do put time and energy into making your essay the best representation of yourself. After all, they’re not admitting an essay into college, they’re admitting you.