Jan 1st, 2020
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr Bradshaw,
I will be a senior in high school next year and have started my college search for the 2022-23 school year. While looking at the admissions requirements for the schools on my list I found myself wondering about the essay requirements. While many colleges require a personal essay, a number of the more selective colleges require several additional essays.
Some of the essays are limited to 150 words and others to just 120 characters. Are the shorter essays really important? Or, are they just fill-in-the-blank type questions I do not have to worry about?
Personal Essay Requirements For College Applicants
First of all, I applaud your early start on the admissions process. As the opportunities to visit campus admissions offices in person continue to be few and far between, students will find that their applications will be speaking for them more than ever before.
The short essays are important, and you need to take them seriously. Colleges need more than one way to evaluate you, so they came up with a series of short essays. Each one is assigned a numerical score. These scores are then tallied, along with the rest of the application -- grades, test scores, interviews and extracurricular activities. Together, these factors make up your overall evaluation and this is what they use when they vote to admit or reject you.
Short essays help colleges identify what admissions committees call "noncognitive traits" or soft skills. These include such intangibles as leadership ability, toughness of character and creativity. They also help colleges identify students who might have higher risks of dropping out or who will need extra tutoring.
According to the Common App Personal Statement prompts for 2020-21 you only have to write about one of the prompts provided. The word limit is 650 words. This word limit allows you plenty of room to write a good story without fear of leaving something out that is critical for them to know about you -- difficulties overcome, awards won, special research that led to your interest in computer science. Remember, you have to make it interesting. It is not meant to be a valedictory speech filled with lofty (but vacuous) imagery.
The essay is your only chance to plead your case directly to the supreme court of the admissions committee -- and jump over the heads of references, interviews and all the other paper work that fills up your admissions folder. The key is that the essay must be written persuasively. It is undoubtedly the most important writing you will do, since it will have a direct bearing on your admission.
I know students who have been rejected when the only discernible reason was a poorly written essay. Above all, avoid preening before the admissions committee. Do not come across as overly intellectual or an egotist.
If you have strong SAT scores (now optional with many schools), this is not the time to trumpet them. Many top students fall prey to this affliction. Colleges prefer reading about you as a person; they already know how smart you are from your transcripts.
Keep in mind, colleges have been known to overlook less than stellar academic qualifications if the applicant writes a compelling essay. I spend a lot of time driving this point home to my clients.
Although not every school in the U.S. requires an essay as part of their application, the Common Application has traditionally required you to submit a blanket personal statement.
Colleges can either make the personal essay optional or required. In the writing section of your Common App tab, you will see a table that lists each college's requirements. Many colleges include short answer questions or essay prompts within this section. Some colleges use a separate writing supplement.
It is important that you do not become bored filling out your applications and wait until the last minute to complete the essays. Smart students plan ahead and write a masterpiece.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
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