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.

"You" Question:
is focused 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:

Approach: How should students approach the "You" question?

Tips: Here are some ideas to help students bring color and energize their style of writing.

"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 institution.


Appoach and Tips: How should students approach the "Why Me" question?

"Creative" Question: is focused to evaluate an applicant's imagination, ability to think, outside- the- box and make essay writing fun and challenging.

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:

Approach and Tips:

5 Quick Do's and Don'ts for writing application essays