How Important is the College Essay?


If you’re under the impression that grades and standardized test scores are the only admissions criteria that really matter, think again. While it is true that these types of hard factors carry significant weight throughout the admissions process, well-written essays that reveal your true personality are also extremely important.

When it comes time to start writing your personal statement and supplements, you need to work diligently and develop several drafts so you can create content you are genuinely proud of.

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of application essays and what you can do to stand out!

How Important Is the College Essay?

Your academic performance in high school indicates how well you might do in your college coursework, but it doesn’t paint the entire picture. College essays are critical because the admissions committee at most institutions, particularly more selective colleges, want to know more about you beyond grades and test scores. They want to know how you’ll fit into the campus culture, so your essay is an opportunity to share what makes you unique—your experiences, personality, perspectives, values, interests, and activities beyond the classroom.

What if essay writing isn’t one of your strengths? It’s a good idea to practice your essay writing skills before you even start applying to colleges by reading as much narrative nonfiction as you can. You can also find online courses on Coursera and other websites that focus on memoir and personal essay writing. You can also get help with developing your writing skills through tutoring at IvyWise. Additionally, it’s helpful to be aware of college essay mistakes so you can avoid them as you write.

Do College Essays Matter More Than GPA? 

Grades are the most important factor that admissions officers consider when evaluating applications. However, grades and GPA alone don’t guarantee admission. Each school has its own rubric for evaluating applications, and both your GPA and college essay are typically components of this rubric. Great grades can get you to the “let me think about it” pile, but a dull and uninspired essay can bring your rubric score down. However, a stellar essay can set you apart from other applicants who are similar to you academically, which can help the admissions committee narrow the field.

Thousands of students with similar GPA, course rigor, and test scores apply to the same colleges every year. It can be hard to stand out with the sheer number of candidates with similar academic qualifications. This is where other components of your application will come in, such as your college essay, that could tip the scales in your favor. While a great GPA is important, it doesn’t necessarily make you stand out. Other soft factors, like your essay, will.

How Important Is It to Be Unique in College Essays? 

Teenagers have such limited life experience that it’s not easy to be truly unique in college essays. Instead, focus on being authentic. Your essay should be an expression of your authentic voice—which in itself is unique. Keep in mind that admissions officers evaluate thousands of applications each year. You’re unlikely to write about something they haven’t read before. Choose a topic based on what you want the admissions officers to know about you— not what you think will impress them or be “different.” Often students trying to be unique in their essays—like writing in a poetic structure or in a weird voice—come off as disingenuous. Write an essay about a topic that will give them a good idea of who you are and how you will contribute to the school both inside and outside of the classroom.

Of course, a lot of things make you unique, and you can’t write about them all. Doing some research on what to write in a personal statement can help you focus on what will impress the admissions committee.

How Important Is Grammar in Writing College Essays? 

Strong essays also tend to be relatively free of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes because they demonstrate your attention to detail. You aren’t expected to be perfect, but it helps to know some common grammar and spelling mistakes to avoid in essays.

Proofreading is essential to catch avoidable errors, especially since you can’t always rely on spell or grammar check to catch all your mistakes. And a second pair of eyes never hurts. You may find it helpful to ask someone else to proofread your essay.

4 College Essay Tips From IvyWise’s Admissions Counselors 

#1 Demonstrate Your Interest

In addition to a personal statement, many colleges include supplemental essay questions in their application. These supplements can be the perfect opportunity to articulate why you are interested in a specific school and demonstrate your knowledge of the institution. Some colleges may explicitly ask students why they are interested in their institution while other universities may include less direct prompts that focus on long-term goals and ambitions. Regardless of the nature of the question, applicants should strive to tailor their responses to the university they are applying to and weave in school-specific details that highlight their knowledge about programs and opportunities on campus. 

#2 Add Personality to Your Application

Every applicant is more than the sum of their grades, test scores, and extracurricular involvements. College application essays give students the opportunity to reveal who they truly are and the personality traits that set them apart. Consequently, students shouldn’t be afraid to use their own authentic voices in their essays and let their unique character shine through. Many essay prompts focus on moments of growth and self-discovery, which can provide applicants with an opportunity to discuss the personal experiences that have defined them and helped them grow. Instead of striving to write something that sounds academic, focus on creating compelling essays using your own authentic voice. It can be helpful to read your essay drafts out loud in order to ensure your words sound like something you would really say. 

#3 Reveal Something New About Yourself

Application essays can be the perfect place to reveal something new about yourself or discuss something that is not obvious elsewhere in your application. Students may wish to consider drafting personal statements about experiences that aren’t highlighted in their resume or transcript. For example, instead of writing about scoring the winning goal, a star athlete may choose to focus on an experience outside of their chosen sport, since it is likely that this extracurricular activity is referenced throughout their application. A student like this may choose to focus on what they learned from a summer job, a volunteer experience that changed their perspective, or a personal challenge that enabled them to grow. 

#4 Articulate Your Impact on Campus

Admissions officers are looking to admit applicants who will become active participants on campus. Take advantage of personal statements and supplements to convey not just who you are now, but what you wish to achieve. For school-specific supplements, applicants may wish to highlight the groups and programs that they are eager to join if admitted. Similarly, students may choose to weave in details about their future goals and ambitions in a personal statement, which can help give admissions officers a sense of the impact they wish to make.

Read more:

College Supplemental Essay Tips for Particular Selective Schools 

 Students who apply to certain selective colleges like New York University or Ivy League schools may also have to answer one or more supplemental essay prompts in addition to the personal statement. The links below offer some tips for tackling these essay supplements.

The Latest Essay Prompts 

Many colleges and universities require you to respond to one of the personal statement prompts on the Common Application. These may change each year, but the Common App essay prompts from the 2023-24 admissions cycle can give you some idea what to expect. You are asked to respond to your chosen prompt in 250-650 words, so it helps to be concise and focused.

The supplemental essay prompts will differ depending on the schools you apply to. Some schools provide quirky college essay prompts, but that’s good news. It means you’re encouraged to be creative! Plus, unique prompts can make the admissions process a little less daunting. However, you should still take all essay prompts seriously regardless of how unconventional or easy they seem. Take your time and provide a thoughtful response that gives the admissions committee insight into who you are.

Given the importance of college essays, students should start drafting their pieces well in advance. If you are currently working on application essays and looking for expert guidance, our team of college admissions counselors can help you find your voice. Schedule your Initial Consultation to speak to one of our experts.

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