Can an essay make or break your college admissions decision?

The short answer: it depends.

The longer answer: If you don’t have the grades and the test scores a college expects from its applicants—in other words, if you aren’t academically prepared—it is extremely unlikely for your essay to push you over into the Accept pile. Even the most interesting, unique, or creative essay.

Penn’s dean of admissions said he guessed that the essay played a role in admissions decisions for one out of every seven applicants for the Class of 2016. Admissions officers at smaller schools often spend more time reading essays, particularly when SAT or ACT scores are not required. At larger universities, particularly state schools, admissions teams simply don’t have the time to give each essay a careful read.

So do essays make a difference at all? While a GREAT essay won’t make up for poor grades or test scores, if you have the goods, a GREAT essay can distinguish you from the pack of other qualified applicants.

And what about the BAD essay?  Can it move you from the Accept to the Deny pile?

Stay tuned to find out.

2017-2018 Essay Prompts Released

The Common Application has announced its essay prompts for the 2017-2018 application cycle. The word limit will remain at 650. The addition of  prompts #6 and #7 gives students even more flexibility in crafting an essay that communicates their own story, in their words.

“The goal of these revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts. They are designed to invite unencumbered discussions of character and community, identity, and aspiration. To this end, we will be creating new educational resources to help students both understand and approach the opportunities the essay presents for them.”

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]

Looking for the right way

Looking for the right way
As I jogged towards Rice University last Monday, I had already forgotten about the theme of my morning reflection time: “Looking for the Right Way.”

A middle aged woman, looking confused, stopped me on the running path.

“Do you know the right way to 6200 Main?”

I wasn’t sure, so we talked a bit and then she told me she was looking for a place called “The Way,” which was close to Hermann Hospital.
Big hmmm.

With that clue, I knew she was going in the wrong direction; I turned her around and considered leaving her to find the way.

But a still, insistent voice whispered to me, “Show her the way.”
So I ran ahead and found the way — The Way Station, a homeless ministry at Palmer Episcopal Church, 6200 Main. And then I hustled back and showed her the way to go.

Here’s to all the people who have gone before me to show me the way.
And here’s to more opportunities to go ahead of others and show them the way.