It's not just about tests scores and grades anymore. According to a recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, fully 25% of private and public colleges now consider the essay an important factor in the selection process. The right essay can get you a long way; in some circumstances, even farther than perfect numbers. So what exactly are all these selection committees looking for? What is the unspoken candidate criteria an essay provides?
#1 : It distinguishes you from the masses. College selection committees read through thousands of applications per year, and inevitably, all those young hopefuls begin blending together. A good essay doesn't fall into cliche, but makes you memorable and relatable, greatly increasing your chances of award selection.
#2 : It reveals the caliber of student you have been (and are likely to be.) When it comes to a well-constructed essay, it's difficult to hide just how much work you've put into your education. Grades are somewhat subjective and test scores can--unfortunately--be bought, but the proof is in the pudding when it comes to how well you write. Moreover, do you own your triumphs and your failings? Or are you making a bunch of excuses?
#3 : It provides indicators of probable success, or lack thereof. A scholarship is, pure and simple, the way a college invests in its own future, banking on recipients becoming prosperous, grateful alumni who will make later financial contributions, and mention the college in voice and print (walking publicity!) Your expressed goals, and how skillfully you communicate them, are like risk-assessment charts.
#4 : It lends insight into the kind of person you are. A lot of essays tend to fall into the same topical categories. The interesting part is that these often reveal the writer as any of the following: oversensitive, exaggerating, uninspired, lazy, ruthless, flippant, rule-averse, etc. On the flip side, true perseverance, dedication, originality, perspective, drive, and courtesy are just as apparent. Which leads us to the last point:
#5 : It signals what you can contribute to the academic community. Colleges and universities are the last city-states, both in construction and operation. They are full-circle communities that must govern various social groups, maintain complex budgets and income streams, and do so with relative autonomy. If you were in charge of such a city-state, who would you choose to export? Various deadweights and liabilities? Or high-functioning, socially minded originals?
These essays are muy importante. Go write one. Better yet, write several originals with different themes, so you can have them on hand to tweak as needed for each application. Nothing says "safety school" quite like an obvious clone.