Your Admissions Essay: Seven Assumptions to Avoid
Making these assumptions on your college essay will earn you rejection letters fast.
For the most part, the college admissions process is very impersonal. Most of the data colleges and universities utilize to determine whether to accept or reject your application packet comes from the generic application they require all students to submit.
Additionally, more and more colleges are shying away from the practice of conducting admissions interviews. In most cases, an admission officer will adjudicate an application without meeting the student, speaking to them on the phone or even corresponding with them by email. Oftentimes, the only opportunity a student has to stand out from the crowd of other applicants is through their admissions essay.
However, sometimes students make incorrect assumptions when writing their essays and unfortunately, those assumptions can be the difference between getting an acceptance or rejection letter.
Here are a few assumptions to avoid:
Don't assume you're going to impress anyone.
You think your application will stand out because you were the valedictorian? Think again. With over 300 high schools in Cook, DuPage and, Lake counties alone, you can bet that your admissions officer will be sorting through applications from at least 300 other valedictorians, 300 class presidents, 300 presidents of their high school's chapter of the national honor society, 300 captains of track, football, tennis and swim teams too, etc. You get the picture.
Note: Those numbers don't include students from other counties or states.
Admissions officer are not looking to be impressed. Instead, they want to see how well you are able to put your thoughts into words and whether your personality will allow you to be a good "fit" at the institution you are applying to.
Want to get their attention? Don't start your essay by telling them something they already knew about you from reading your application or high school transcript. Instead, if you want to focus on your academic achievements for instance, explain how you managed to achieve such success. If you were an admissions officer, which would you rather read?
"I was the valedictorian of my class,"
"Despite all the odds against me, I was able to manage the unthinkable…and that's how I became the valedictorian."
Don't assume they know anything about you.
You've sent your transcripts, ACT or SAT scores and all kinds of other data about you so your admissions officer knows everything about you, right?
Not necessarily so.
Upon receipt of an application packet, some colleges take it apart and send the information within to several different departments. Other times, different parts of your application don't arrive at the same time. It is quite possible then, for your admissions officer to receive your essay before they see the rest of your packet.
I know many admissions officers who often went straight for the essay. If they didn't like what they read, they didn't even bother looking at the rest of the packet.
Don't assume they have time to read your essay.
An admission officer does a lot more than review applications. They conduct interviews, attend college fairs, conduct campus tours, etc. Therefore, be thorough but get to the point. Unless you're a descendant of Hemingway, no admissions officer is going to spend all afternoon reading your essay when they still have a full stack of applications to review on their desk.
How much is too much? If the college has a minimum word requirement, try to stay as close as possible to that number but never submit more than 1.5 times the minimum wording. For instance, if the college asks for a 500 word essay, don't write more than 750 words.
NOTE: Yes. Admission officers do count the words.
Don't assume you're a perfect writer.
Want to instantly sink your chances of getting accepted into a specific college? If so, just go ahead and submit the essay without proofreading it and without using spell/grammar check.
Don't assume we won't know someone else wrote your essay.
You barely pulled C's in your English classes and misspelled your name on your application, twice! You also never took anything higher than an introductory biology course in high school so how is it that your essay reads like a Nobel Prize winning thesis?
I once called a student in for an interview after having read his stellar essay. I told him that one of the professors at the university I worked at was working on a topic similar to what he had written in his essay and so I had taken the liberty to share the essay with the professor. "Unfortunately," I explained, the second page of the essay had gotten lost and we needed him to re-write it "right there and then." I wasn't surprised when the deeply embarrassed student wasn't able to re-write any part of the essay he had allegedly spent weeks working on just days earlier. Needless to say, he didn't receive an admissions letter.
Don't assume admission officers won't care.
Just as essays are a great way to introduce your personality into the college selection process, it's also a perfect vehicle to explain any negative marks on your transcripts, etc.
I once had a student who really wanted to attend a college I worked at but upon seeing how bad her grades were during her final two years of high school, I almost didn't even read her essay. I'm glad I did though. Her essay explained how she had been an "A" student all her life until the end of the 10th grade when she was diagnosed with cancer. She spent the next two years receiving treatment for her cancer and that had a negative effect on her grades. After verifying her story, she was accepted into the college where she took remedial classes during the summer. In the fall, she started taking regular college level courses and she maintained a high grade point average all the way through graduation.
Don't assume we're like everybody else.
Just like you have your own personality, so does every college admissions officer. Don't write one single essay to distribute to every college you apply to. Instead, personalize it to each specific college. Read the college's mission statement for ideas on what they are looking for in a student and if you know the name of the admissions officer assigned to you, look them up on Facebook or other social media sites for ideas about their personality. Trust me; they are looking you up as well.