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Last updated March 20, 2024

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How Important Are College Essays?

Key Takeaway

College essays are a crucial part of the admissions process, especially at selective schools. They show admissions officers your personality and story, helping you stand out among applicants with similar academic profiles. Even at less competitive schools, a well-crafted essay can still improve your chances and potentially impact financial aid opportunities.

Navigating the college admissions process isn’t easy. You've got grades, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities, which are all pretty straightforward. But then you have college essays—your personal statement and supplemental essays.

Essays are one of the most qualitative parts of the college admissions process. Unlike grades and standardized test scores, it’s a lot harder to know if you’ve gotten it right.

So how do admissions officers think about your essays? And how important are they actually in admissions?

College essays matter — a lot. But how much exactly?

Let's imagine a room filled with piles of applications. Solid grades, impressive test scores, glowing recommendation letters, and exciting extracurricular activities have earned these students a place on the desk. But when the numbers start to look alike, how do admissions officers tell these students apart?

That's where college essays come in. These essays reveal a student's personality, their thought process, their values, and their unique life story. College essays bring the transcript's numbers to life, providing context that data can't deliver. In short, college essays are essential.

However, essays don't exist in a vacuum. They only come into focus once a student clears the initial academic review—that first read that gets your file onto the admissions officer’s desk (or, more likely, computer screen).

After crossing this threshold, essays turn into one of the most influential parts of the application. When they’re able to capture an admissions officer’s attention, your essays can be enough to push you over the edge and into the “admit” pile.

Essays are more important at more selective schools

So, does this apply to all colleges? In our experience, the significance of essays increases with the competitiveness of the program. At the most selective schools, where the pool of academically qualified applicants far outweighs the number of available spots, essays often tip the scales.

At these institutions, most applicants have impressive academic profiles and a bunch of impactful extracurriculars. When everyone's on an even playing field, admissions officers start looking for qualities that can't be quantified so easily. They look for fit, passion, and the unique story each applicant brings to the table.

A compelling, well-crafted essay can help an applicant stand out. We've seen many cases where students with lower grades and test scores got accepted into top-tier colleges, thanks to their powerful essays. These essays struck a chord with the admissions officers because they showed an interesting perspective and demonstrated that the student would be a valuable addition to the campus community.

On the flip side, even excellent students can stumble if they submit poorly written or insincere essays. If your essays fail to communicate your strengths to admissions officers, your overall application may fall flat. Even impressive academic records might not be enough to save them from rejection. (Remember, that pile of applications on the admissions officer’s desk is already full of students with outstanding academic and extracurricular credentials.)

Do all colleges care about essays?

At less competitive schools or those with less holistic admissions processes, essays might not be as important. These kinds of institutions tend to rely more on tangible measures such as grades and test scores. But even so, a beautifully written essay can only boost your chances. They may even set you up for bigger scholarships.


Essays play a pivotal role in the college admissions process, particularly at selective schools. Once you pass the initial academic screening, your essays could make or break your application. They give admissions officers a chance to get to know the person behind the numbers. At less selective schools, essays might not weigh as heavily, but a well-written essay can always improve your odds and may even affect your financial aid. The power of an authentic, compelling essay should never be underestimated.

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