What Do Colleges Look for in Application Essays?

What do colleges look for in an application essay

Flickr user GavinLi

Colleges use a few different parameters to filter out candidates from among the thousands of applications they receive. Most of us believe that the most important factor is school grades or admission test scores. The truth is that even if other parameters are average, your application essay can be the key factor that determines whether or not you make the cut. That should be incentive enough to push you to put some solid effort into the essay. You can do a great job of getting yours noticed when you know what the admissions team are looking for.

What goes into the essay?

Sometimes the application essay requires you to describe your personal goals and motivations. Other times you may be required to carry out a piece of research. Either way, a great deal of information about the candidate can be gleaned by reading an example of their writing. That’s the  point of the application essay; it gives the college a different perspective on you, one that cannot be accessed through your grades and test performance.

Here’s what your essay says about you:

  • It shows your creativity and originality in tackling a complex subject. Sometimes, the topics are deliberately provocative to see how you manage to field an unusual question.
  • It reveals what motivates and drives you and why you think you deserve a place at the college you are applying to.
  • Your ability to express yourself in writing. It is important to retain your own unique voice without giving in to the temptation to use flowery language and tiresome jargon. The best writing is always clear, concise, and natural.
  • Your level of enthusiasm with regard to the subject. Your tone and depth of research will reveal just how much effort you’ve put in and how much you truly enjoy the subject.
  • It reveals whether or not you are able to bring something new to a discussion. Anyone can use internet based sources or received opinion as the basis of their research, but you can truly dazzle the admissions committee by bring an unusual perspective to a tired subject.
  • Your clarity of thought. This comes through in the content of your essay.
  • Your powers of reasoning and analysis. Everyone has the same data to work with but the conclusions that you draw reveal your abilities to connect the dots and discover patterns.
  • Your ability to think critically. This is one of the most prized qualities in a good essay. It is easy to merely regurgitate information you have picked up elsewhere but the power to discern what makes sense and what doesn’t is far more valuable.
  • It shows whether or not you are able to construct logical arguments.

It can be hard to project all of these qualities in a single essay while sticking to the guidelines and word count. With multiple applications to attend to, you may not have enough time to give as much attention to each individual essay as you might like. One option is to practice in advance using sample questions, particularly quirky ones like these.

The most important thing about your application essays:

The important thing is that your essay should reflect your individuality and your personal opinions. This is one of the crucial reasons why you are asked to write one in the first place. The college wants to know how you think and what opinions you hold. Even if you need external help in order to express yourself, do make sure that the content of the essay remains yours and yours alone. That way, you can strike the perfect balance and ensure that your work gets noticed and you get accepted into the college of your choice.

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