Aside from the mundane elements of a college application such as GPA and SAT scores, the one component that must accompany any college application is a personal statement or essay. Students frequently ask me how important that essay is and how it impacts one’s chances of admission.
My answer to these questions is always the same: the essay is undoubtedly one of the most integral parts of an application and is oftentimes the deciding factor of whether or not one gains admission. This opinion particularly applies to the premier schools in the nation where students can barely be differentiated on the basis of test scores or class rank. In general, students applying to universities such as Yale or Harvard have exceptional test scores and generally perform well in school.
Test scores and the other various required elements on an application do not have a personal component. Everyone must provide those same numbers, which simply indicates one’s performance on a given task. It is true that a number is representative of one’s ability to take a test and is generally thought to demonstrate one’s aptitude. What makes the essay particularly different from other components of one’s application is its personal touch. No two essays will ever look the same and that is what makes the essay special.
Fortunately, one has complete control over the message the essay conveys to its readers. The essay is one’s opportunity to “speak” to the individual who is reviewing one’s application. It is often the component that makes or breaks one’s overall application. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to guarantee that one’s essay sheds some light on one’s character that would otherwise have not been known to the reader. As a result, it is important to not merely repeat something that was stated elsewhere in one’s application. This is unfortunately a common mistake and one that is often detrimental to one’s overall chances of admission.
The essay, unless specified otherwise, does not have any requirements of a topic. One can write freely about whatever comes to one’s mind. Some individuals opt to write about abstract ideas that come into their minds and how they relate. Others discuss personal dilemmas and the obstacles they have overcome. These examples serve to demonstrate the vast flexibility one has with the essay topic. Another positive aspect of the essay is that there is not one right topic to select that optimizes one’s chances of admission. The right topic depends on the given individual.
However, the unlimited options present a challenge to many students who have numerous life experiences and are unsure how to decide which one to select. To that end, a counselor is an invaluable person. Friends and family may be helpful for a preliminarily discussions, but these individuals often lack the experience it requires to help make the best choice. A counselor is one who has both experience and a proven record for success.