Application Essays for College Admission
An application essay is a common part of the university and college admissions process within the United States. The essay is written by a prospective student applying to college, university, or graduate school. The
essays do the important work of bringing a student's personality and application to life. This article covers the following:
Significance of college application essays
An essay is the qualitative aspect of a college application process which
provide students an opportunity to distinguish themselves from other applicants.
Application essays show admission officers a student's ability to write well and
provides evidence that an applicant knows and understands him or her self.
Almost all educational institutions rate application essays as important in
their admissions process. A poorly written essay can cause a stellar student to
get rejected, or an exceptional application essay can help a student with
average scores get into their desired college. The application essay in many
ways is a personal statement a student makes to help the admissions
commitee understand about who they are, how they think and what they want to accomplish.
It is the only place a student "comes to life!"
What do colleges and admission officers look for in application essays?
By the time admissions officers get to a prospective applicant's essay, they
already have a general idea of who the student might be. Reviewing the
application form gives the admission committee enough information about an
applicant's activities, grades, family and a variety of other things. However,
the missing piece is the student's personality which essentially comes to focus
through the application essay. "I want to know who the real candidate is and
what is their story," says Phil Betz, director of admissions in Monmouth
College, a private liberal arts institution located in Illinois.
Apart from writing, structuring the essay well and supporting ideas with
logical arguments, admission officers want to determine whether the applicant
will be a good fit for their college. "I want to see the essay reflect an
applicant's uniqueness," says Betz. "By understanding, how they have arrived at
their professional goals? Why the program is ideal for them? What can they bring
to the program?"
Who reads and evaluates application essays?
Admissions officers usually read and evaluate application essays as
part of an applicant's college admission process. They are typically divided into two groups-
first group consists of temporary officers including outside evaluators,
graduate students and college professors. They are the ones who deal with
a student's admission folder and have to meet deadlines concerning their admission.
The second group is comprised of full-time admissions officers who decide on actual admission policies and rules.
Almost all folders are read by the temporary officers and evaluators. Each
admission officer is expected to read a quota of folders and evaluate based on a
variety of criteria.
Who ultimately makes the final decision on college admissions?
An admissions committee is generally appointed to oversee and have the
final say in applicant recommendations presented by the admissions officers.
This committee consists of the director of admissions, the presenters (the
officers who read the files) and one or two other officers. The recommendations of the officers are rarely overturned
by the director of admissions.
Type of application essays
Basically there are three types of essay questions: the "you" question,
the "why us" question and the "creative" question.
We cover description and tips for each essay type below.
on getting to know who the applicant really is. The agenda here is to- discuss
the applicant's personality.
Example:The Kellogg School of Management had the following
"you" essay questions for prospective applicants applying for their 2013
full-time MBA program.
Q1. "Discuss moments or influences in your personal life that have defined who
you are today. (500 word limit)"
Q2. "What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges
did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain
how you Think Bravely (personally and/or professionally). (500 word limit)"
More sample questions include:
- "Describe a significant interest, experience, challenge or value."
- "How have you grown and developed over the 4 years of your high school
- "What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?"
- "Evaluate a significant experience or achievement that has special
meaning for you."
Approach: How should students approach the
- The purpose of this kind of question is to enable the college to get a
clearer sense of who the real applicant is. For students, this is an open
opportunity to reveal their "voice" and personality. Applicants essay should
focus on showing their personality, insights, ideas and a commitment toward
- A "you" question is usually very open-ended. Students should use pre-writing
techniques to help narrow choices down to just one or two things as examples of
their best qualities.
- Zero in on the essence of "you": Applicants should brainstorm and ask friends
and family to help define who they are. A student's attempt should be to pick
specific events or experiences that they are most comfortable with and write
- Loosen up and have some fun with it. An admissions essay is generally
considered an informal piece of writing. It is not an English essay. Students
should therefore, try to achieve a natural feel or tone that reflect who they
Tips: Here are some ideas to help students bring color and
energize their style of writing.
- Applicants should refer to familiar events or occasions that are important to
them and which throw light into defining who they are.
- Students should use a personal voice--to relate their story. Don't resort to
the third person voice and drone on with factual reporting.
- Try using a narrative or story-telling approach. This method of presenting
content allows an applicant's voice to be heard and leads the reader directly
into the subject matter.
- Applicants must provide plenty of facts and details to help fill in the
reader about their thoughts and feelings. They need to be selective and choose
only those details that will grab the reader's attention. (Be careful-- too many
details can result in boredom and confusion for the reader).
- Students should consider using quotations from their favorite literary works.
Quotes can be an excellent way to illustrate points or to lead the reader toward
the essence of an essay. However, applicants must be careful to use only quotes
that are truly representative of the main points they want to make.
"Why Me" Question: is focused on understanding why the
applicant is keen to attend a particular college or program. The agenda here is
to- discuss and show a student's commitment toward a particular educational
- "How did you become interested in XYZ University?"
- "Why have you chosen this college and major?"
- "Review your reasons for attending college. Explain how earning a college degree will help fulfill your career goals."
Appoach and Tips:
How should students approach the "Why Me"
- This kind of question helps an applicant to focus the essay: "Why did you
choose this school?" It is important for students to be clear about the real
reasons a school appeals to them. Students are probably more likely to succeed
at a school where they really understand what the school expects from them. The
more in touch students are with their reasons, the more likely they will write a
sincere essay that reflects the kind of commitment and attitude that the school
is looking for.
- Applicants must state in a direct way why this is the school for them ! They
need to possess thorough knowledge about the schools they apply to and provide
proof in their essays to back up their reasoning.
- Students should be specific in referring to their knowledge about the
college, its programs, its philosophy, its professors, facilities and other
aspects which make it a special place for them.
- Be careful about indulging in too much praise for a school. Insincere
flattery and rewriting passages (describing the advantages of a school) from
college catalogs do not necessarily impress admissions officers.
"Creative" Question: is focused to evaluate an applicant's
imagination, ability to think, outside- the- box and make essay writing fun and
Example: Below is a creative question and prompt from the
University of Chicago:
Q1. "The late William Burroughs once wrote that “language is a virus from
outer space”. We at the University of Chicago think he’s right, of course, and
this leaves us wondering what else came here with it. Could this finally explain
such improbable features of modern life as the Federal Tax Code, non-dairy
creamer, Dennis Rodman, and the art of mime? Name something that you assert
cannot have originated any other way. Offer a thorough defense of your
hypothesis for extraterrestrial origins, including alternate explanations and
reasons for eliminating them from consideration."
Q2. This one is from Brandeis University: "If you could choose to be raised
by robots, dinosaurs, or aliens, who would you pick? Why?"
More sample questions include:
- "Discuss some issue of personal, local or national concern and why is it important to you."
- "If you had the chance to meet a famous person, past or present, who would it be, and why.?"
- "Write about a person who has had an influence on you, and describe that influence."
- "Relate the most humorous experience in your life."
- "You have just finished writing your 300 page autobiography. Please submit page 217."
Approach and Tips:
- Students should use common sense amd logic in their writing and not go over
board with their imagination.
- Applicants should try using narration or dialogue to bring their essay to life
with realistic characters.
- Use humor to strengthen the impact of an essay. Humorous essays can be taken
seriously by admissions officers if they are well done. However, it is not a
good idea to attempt this strategy if an applicant is not comfortable with this
style of writing.
- Students must remember to use the "creative question" to reveal themselves.
Applicants should show who they really are with well thought out examples of
their interests, concerns, goals and accomplishments.
5 Quick Do's and Don'ts for writing application essays
- Do show rather than tell the story. Give examples and illustrate points to
bring the essay to life.
- Do use personal and first voice in writing. Don't imitate other authors and
their styles. An essay should reflect a student's personal story in their voice.
- Do choose essay topics that are known subjects to which an applicant can relate
and feel comfortable with.
- Do understand and have specific reasons on why a particular program or
college is a good fit.
- Do get general feedback from parents, teachers and friends on a finished or
nearly finished essay.
- Don't use unfamiliar words or phrases.
- Don't exaggerate or write to impress the audience.
- Don't ignore the technical aspect of the essay. Pay attention to grammar,
spelling, punctuation and sentence structure.
- Don't go into too much detail. Students should focus on just a few events and
specifics and avoid the urge to include everything on the essay.
- Don't have others write the essay for you. It is dishonest and unfair to other