Does Your Essay Suck?


Let me give it to you straight – you’re wrong about your college essay.

Let’s deal with the sleeping elephant first – how important is the essay?

Answer:  not as critical as you might think.

At a competitive college, a typical admissions officer might have 10 minutes to review each application.  Yes, including yours.

Note that I said “application,” not “essay.”

Meaning that the reader sorts through:


Standardized test (SAT, ACT) scores

Extra-curricular activities


Your “interest” in that college

…AND your essay…

…all in 10 minutes!

Ask any admissions officer how much weight they give an essay in the overall application, and they’ll tell you “not much,” or words to that effect.

My best guess is that the essay may count 10% in the overall scheme of things.  Certainly not much more, and probably a lot less.

can a great essay leapfrog an underqualified applicant over more qualified competitor-students?


If you don’t have the “chops” (great grades in rigorous classes, high SAT/ACT scores) to get into the race, as my friend Randy Levin describes it, it won’t help you qualify.

On the other hand, if you are in the running, then that 10% becomes much more important than its low percentage would otherwise indicate.

Because a good essay can help you make the case that, although you have substantially the same grades and scores as thousands, even tens of thousands of other competitor-applicants, you are different.

How do you write an essay that’s different?

Easier said than done.  Seriously, do you think you can come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before?  (Sports is life?  The two weeks in the Israeli army that changed my life?  The lesson I learned from the kids at camp?)


But there’s good news: your essay doesn’t have to explore uncharted waters.

The best essays sound like they were written by a teenager. And they’re open, even conversational.

Here’s one thing they’re not: BORING.

In contrast to a great paper in AP English, which may have a clever introduction, well-developed argument and a snappy conclusion, a college essay may lack one or more of these “left-brained” (boring) conventions.

No, the essay is not a license to write a Haiku (although I can see arguments that way).

But it is an invitation to tell the reader something interesting about yourself that she can’t learn from the rest of the application.

So do the admissions committee – and yourself – a favor – don’t write an essay that sucks!

Here’s a free resource that can help your child separate him or herself from the herd.