College Essay. Learn What It’s About.

You Beyond the Numbers

In the middle of all that data surrounding grades and test scores and class ranking, the application essay is a chance to just be yourself. Isn’t that a relief?

The Harvard Graduate School of Education recently released a report, “Turning the Tide,” through the Making Caring Common project. This report details how and why colleges should work even harder on expanding the admissions process beyond statistics:

. . .college admissions can send compelling messages
that both ethical engagement—especially concern
for others and the common good—and intellectual
engagement are highly important.

In other words, sure, that 5 on your AP Spanish test is nothing to sneeze at.

But neither is spending extended afternoons helping your grandmother in her garden. Or volunteering long-term (not just an afternoon or two for a quick “application filler”) in a community literacy program. You were not created to
perform, but to live. And living can’t always be quantified.

Sarah Watkins, an admissions counselor at the University of Michigan, explains that “application essays are like student interviews, a chance to hear their voice” amidst a swirl of information.

Your essay is a chance to show the admissions counselors one glimmering slice of that life

Everything You Need to Know about College Application Essay

I’ve guided thousands of students and parents over the years who believe the college application process is just another form amidst the dizzying pile of paperwork (or digital fields) that must be filled out, submitted, and quantified.

Without a doubt, you’ve amassed a lot of data over your high school years: grades, test scores, and activity lists. But the application essay? That’s your time to shine, to truly be you. To—get ready for this—have fun.

In this guide, we’ll be exploring what the college application process is all about.

Why do you have to write it? What kind of writing is it? When and how should you start? What can you learn about writing—and yourself—through this milestone process?

Meanwhile, the best way to prepare as a college-bound student—or a teacher of one—is to get a taste for excellent short-form autobiographical writing (often called “flash” nonfiction or “shorts”). Still months or years away from your senior year? You can start this part of the application process at any time. It’s never too early to get inspired by good prose!