You’re in the process of applying to college. You know how important your course of study, grades, class rank, GPA, SAT scores and EC’s are to your candidacy. You also have a resumé that boasts summer activities, a job, and other special skills or talents. You have your recommendation letters all set, and maybe you’ve even had an interview at the college of your choice.
And then there’s the essay or personal statement.
So let’s break down why the college application essay is so important.
We all know that gaining entrance into just about any college is getting more and more difficult, as more applicants, many of them academically gifted and highly qualified, are seeking to fill a very limited number of slots.
The 2009 College Board’s College Admission and Enrollment Statistics found that while grades, secondary school record and SAT scores are the top factors in the college admissions decision, a majority of colleges and universities consider the essay to be important or very important in determining which academically qualified students they’ll choose.
This very important piece of writing can tip the scales in your favor, all other factors being equal between you and other candidates with a similar resume and background.
Think about it.
By the time you apply to college, your GPA or class rank is mostly set, and it’s difficult to significantly change it. Your SAT score is also pretty much a done deal. And can you really add or change your extracurricular activities enough to make a difference at this point?
Besides, there are hundreds of high school students out there with kick-a** GPAs, awesome SAT scores, and tons of extracurriculars on their resumes. And they are applying to the same schools you are.
What to do?
This still leaves you with two factors within your control for enhancing your college applications in a way that will set you apart – your letters of reference and your personal essay. You can work with your letter writers to get good letters of reference, and they want to help you, but they are going to write what they want to write. You have no control over what they say and how they say it.
The personal statement or essay, however, is completely within your control. The essay is your chance to show college admissions officers what is unique, special and wonderful about you; it’s where you can show them the ways in which you are a candidate unlike any other, through a well-chosen topic and a persuasive narrative.
The essay is where you can highlight what sets you apart from the hordes of other applicants, in your own words. And it’s the one place where you can draw attention to things about yourself not found in your resume and elsewhere in your application packet because it provides information about you that test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities cannot.
It’s where you get to tell a story only you can tell.
When all else is equal between competing applicants with similar grades, SAT scores, and EC’s, a compelling, powerfully written essay can make the difference and set you apart from your peers.
So give yourself plenty of time to craft your essay, going step-by-step through the writing process — brainstorming and choosing a topic, organizing your information, writing a draft, rewriting; then editing, proofreading, and polishing.
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