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Essays: how important are they--really?

Bookworm11213Bookworm11213 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
In your experience, just how important are the essays in elite admissions, specifically to schools like Harvard?
I've heard varying statements on their importance.

I understand that students accepted to Harvard have some sort of "spark," so to speak, on their application. So, in the case of students who have competitive grades and test scores, good extracurriculars, etc., but for whom the essay is the outstanding piece of their application, can the essay be that "spark"?

Does anyone have experiences where they feel their essay was the true deciding factor?

Sorry this is such a long post--I just don't see the essay discussed very often on this forum and I'm quite curious about its significance.


Replies to: Essays: how important are they--really?

  • gibbygibby Registered User Posts: 10,496 Senior Member
    edited February 2015
    Four years ago, my son was accepted to 10 out of 11 colleges. On every single acceptance letter was a handwritten note from either the Dean of Admissions or the Regional Admissions Director. Each note made mention of my son's essay, as in "After reading your essay, the committee's vote was unanimous" or "Loved your essay about your baseball coach" or "Welcome! Based on your essay, we feel you will be a huge asset to our school." When my daughter applied to college five years ago, she received similar comments on her acceptance letters regarding her essays.

    Not one comment on either my daughter or son's acceptance letters said "Great SAT scores" or "Loved your teacher recommendations" or "What a wonderful transcript."

    So, IMHO, essays are VERY important; they are how Admissions Directors get to know an applicant. They are how an Admissions Director remembers and differentiates you from other students.

    That said, to be admitted to HYP, students need the full package. They need to have top test scores and grades (not just competitive ones). They need to show a long term commitment to something beyond academics (EC's). They need stellar recommendations from their teachers and guidance counselor. And they need thought provoking essays. If one of those elements is missing, a student generally does not get admitted, as there are just too many students that have it all.

    If you have it all, can a wonderful essay kick you over the fence? Sure! So can a teacher recommendation that proclaims you one of the best students they have had in their 30-year career. A comment like that, from a teacher who has been writing recommendations to Harvard for that long, would put you over the top as well. Having a wonderful essay in addition would be icing on the cake!
  • Bookworm11213Bookworm11213 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
    @gibby Thanks for your input! Yes, to clarify, by "competitive" grades and scores I meant competitive for the Ivies, so within Harvard's range.

    Unfortunately, I haven't been able to read my recommendations, but I'm really proud of both of my H essays...fingers crossed. Thanks again (for all of your posts on the Harvard forum)!
  • burningredburningred Registered User Posts: 79 Junior Member
    I think they help differentiate between applicants so yes, they're important.
  • IZlatan10IZlatan10 Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    A personal essay sets you apart from the rest of the applicant pool with stats similar to yours. It lets you connect with whoever is reading your application. So yes,very important.
  • swampdragginswampdraggin Registered User Posts: 275 Junior Member
    essays are critical and personal. They need to be written in your own voice - the admissions people will easily recognize something written by a pro or parent - please make it personal and your own thoughts and structure and theme
  • 3puppies3puppies Registered User Posts: 1,587 Senior Member
    We absolutely believe the Admissions Officer at the information session before our campus tour, who told us the essay is perhaps THE most important piece of information in your application. It is you, in your own voice. Everything else they get is from somebody else.

    I think a good portion of the rest of the applications are all very similar to them - top grades, top class rank, took the most challenging courses available to them and did exceptionally well, stellar SAT test scores, etc. I would also wager that many of the teacher recommendations are similar - this person was a joy to have in the classroom, he/she consistently adds insightful comments to the class discussions, goes the extra mile on assignments, I wish I had more students like him/her, in my 30 years of teaching I have never had a more well prepared student.....

    They also often have to discount the guidance counselor recommendations, because in fairness, some schools the GC rarely even meets some of their students, especially not the top students - the GC's are also assigned 900 other kids, many of who require special needs, or have discipline issues, etc. It is not fair to a student if their GC rarely sees them because they are simply not the problems that have to be addressed, to compare them to a student whose GC sees only 40 other students or so.
  • Tperry1982Tperry1982 Forum Champion Yale Posts: 1,574 Forum Champion
    My D is a freshman at Yale. Her regional admissions officer sent her a letter with a handwritten note expressing how much she enjoyed reading her essay. She had obviously read it because her comments were very specific. So, short answer, the essay can be what makes 30,000 kids, all with 2300+ SAT scores and straight A's, stand apart from one another. I think it is one of the most important parts of a holistic application.
  • oxoxhawja3xoxooxoxhawja3xoxo Registered User Posts: 309 Member
    the essays are EXTREMELY important, particularly at selective schools. There aren't many other ways to differentiate between a bunch of kids with 4.0's and 2000+ SAT scores. Essays are also a window into a person's character. They need that, particularly in an attempt to decrease the stuck up, elitist, stereotype at the school, but also to create a diversity of thoughts, interests, and experiences.
  • qpqpqpqpqpqp Registered User Posts: 370 Member
    As important as SAT scores and GPA, so yeah...
This discussion has been closed.