How can you stand out on a college app when a couple million other high school students are trying to do the same thing?
The answer is clear: Write a great admissions essay.
We’ve interviewed many college counselors who say the college essay is the only tool students have to stand out on the actual application (assuming they’ve already done their best in school and on standardized tests). We hear the same story at college nights, and from parents who have traveled from coast to coast with their college-bound kids to tour universities.
Whether you want to study painting at Pratt Institute, become an engineer at MIT, learn about business at Michigan State University or hone your diplomatic skills at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, you might have to write an essay or two (or five!).
According to Seth Allen, the new vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Ponoma College in California, “the college essay just may be the most important aspect of your application to a United States college or university.” Allen shared this insight in a guest blog last week for students applying to U.S. schools from India: “While standardized test scores and grades can assure you are a competitive applicant, they won’t make you stand out in a strong applicant pool.”
Allen, who previously was dean of admissions and financial aid or Grinnell College in Iowa, has an answer for skeptics who believe no one reads the essays:
“The essay is often a deciding factor, conveying information to the admissions committee about your personality, values, creativity or other intangible qualities sought after in students,” he wrote in the blog. “It’s also the one component of your application where you have full control over the outcome.”
And there’s only one way to make that essay stand out: Write it yourself, in your own words and your own voice.
Kim Lifton is a co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, a business that developed a 10-step process to teach high school and graduate students how to write admissions essays and personal statements that stand out.