Is a “good enough” essay good enough for selective colleges?

@DadOfJersyGirl I thing we agree…it’s just that I don’t think it happens that often hence the “pretty rare.” (Of course I don’t know for a fact.)

The student you describe may have gotten in with a mediocre essay and a student with an average application may not get in because of a stellar essay.

In any case, I tend to express ideas to calm down the nerves of so many anxious students . That an essay can be “good enough” and that essays may not be deal breakers. Once students relax I think their essays improve . :slight_smile:

NOTE: This post was split from the thread linked below.


I’ll link this thread, as it might be relevant to students.

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A few thoughts (or more like continued thoughts).

To me, “good enough” is definitionally good enough, but I think what might be good enough for a given applicant to one college might not be so good for either a different applicant to that same college, or for the same applicant to a different college.

Basically, if the rest of the application has the applicant clearly on track to be admitted by the admissions committee at that college, an essay may not need to stand out notably from the other essays such applicants normally submit in order for that applicant to actually get the necessary committee votes.

But if the applicant is qualified but nonetheless not yet quite on track to be admitted, say because the college has too many applicants in that range of qualifications and only some can get admitted . . . an essay that stood out might well make the difference. Or not, but I think essays (and recommendations) are one of the main sources of information for colleges needing to make decisions in cases like that.

But second, I agree these kids setting out to write a “good essay” is often counter-productive. As discussed a bit in the other thread, many nervous people worried about impressing in an communication task will end up doing self-defeating things. In this case, I think they are at high risk of writing some variation on a “bad” essay, or at least a “not good” essay, as discussed in the prior thread.

The problem as I see it is they may have forgotten that good communication is always about understanding your audience and what they really want. And usually what this audience wants is not a high school kid’s best guess as to what an impressive essay looks like. What they really want is a clear window into who that kid truly is as a person, particularly in some interesting way that they can’t derive from the rest of the application.

And these kids are all interesting kids! It is just that in their nervous efforts to write a “good essay”, they don’t end up showing something truly interesting about themselves.

And again, in many contexts, that could still be fine, meaning they will still get admitted to a great college and have a great experience. But, I do believe sometimes if a kid was not trying so hard to look impressive in their essay, and instead really revealed something interesting about themselves, that might have gotten them admitted to a college where they were otherwise qualified but didn’t end up standing out enough.

But to come full circle–that isn’t “hard” in the sense you need to be an outstanding creative writer for a high school student. It is “hard” more in the sense that you need a certain sort of courage to tune out all the peers talking about “good essays”, indeed tune out the self-critical part of your brain that has similar “advice”, and truly embrace the idea of just opening up a part of yourself to these colleges.

And yet that is something I truly believe any of these kids have the capability to do, if they just let themselves.

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@NiceUnparticularMan very well said. I think that the anxiety about writing a stand-out essay tends to affect students’ writing, as you say, and so the concept of “good enough” may help with that, as well as the idea that essays may not matter as much as kids think (except in rare cases).

Students are reading these posts and I hope that this thread encourages young people to just be themselves. Essays do not have to be about weighty topics, or be perfectly articulated and certainly not “unique.” Most kids can write an essay that is honest and likable, if the external pressures are removed.


From my other post:
Essays are about personality. If they can convey their personality, they have an effective essay. And that essay can just be “good enough,” at least technically. Yes, being a great writer is helpful. I have worked with kids who are skilled writers, but with zero understanding of what they should convey in the essay.

Good enough can be fine for recruited athletes and other hooked students. Exceptional recommendations are probably going to outweigh an essay, whether it’s good enough or not.


Some of us have said for ECs that a student should do what is right for them and do it well.

Perhaps a similar approach applies to essays. Be yourself. be authentic. Tell the truth.


Interestingly, every AO I have seen speak on this subject says exactly that, about both ECs and essays. Our experienced college counselors at our “feeder” HS, many themselves former AOs, say the same thing.

So why do so many kids get a different impression about ECs and essays? We’re trying to help here, but so many other forums mostly give a very different picture of how AOs think. Even though AOs keep saying something very different.

I guess it is mostly because admissions rates are so low at certain popular colleges, and people think there must be secrets to success that AOs aren’t sharing.

But as far as I can tell, the big “secret” we learn at our successful HS is . . . these AOs are actually telling the truth.


Everyone on CC says this again and again to posters who are so stressed and want to know “what else can I do” and rewrite essays over and over.

Of course the other thing is that there are many schools out there that are more than “good enough” , that might have small classes and great professors and peers but aren’t as prestigious as the you know whats.


I think @Lindagaf hit it on the head that your essay should sound like you. I’ve read essays that weren’t ‘the best’ I’ve ever read but did show the student to be smart, kind, funny, thoughtful, loves to learn, outdoorsy, etc - and besides helping with typos and some word choices - I’ve told them truthfully that I think the essay is good.

I think essays that show who you are help AOs figure out if you are a match for the school and if the school is a match for you. I always recommend be honest about who you are, what you value, etc because admission is all about matches. Pretending something else may or may not get you an acceptance - but how valuable is an acceptance if you aren’t actually being yourself in the essay and application? You are who is going to show up to campus - show them who you are from the get go and a yes means they are really excited for YOU.


Nice discussion . I agree with everything said. I am learning a lot actually from helping with the essays.

Every college I have listened to or went to or read 3 things jumped out to me. Make the essay personal, interesting and yes unique. But it’s the unique part that might get questioned as suggested above. I just think it has to be unique to them per se. Not such as a unique idea. Let’s face it, lots of the themes are rehashed. There are only so many topics out there. But what I am learning is there are really different levels of a"good enough "essay. I read some that actually were well written but it didn’t grab me in anyway or took to long to get to the point. Once suggestions given and rewritten it read totally different in a positive sense. Of course in their own voice for their age group.

But for some if their a good writer “good enough” is fine due to their skills as a writer where others “good enough” just isn’t.

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…And ditto for college interviews. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve interviewed who come with a rehearsed, cringeworthy ‘narrative’ about their arc. These narratives usually sound flimsy at best and phoney at worst. To those coaching these kids to do this, here’s a public service announcement: alumni interviewers weren’t born yesterday. Students, be yourselves.

Now I save the student from further embarrassment. I just interrupt their tale and move the conversation to more interesting topics. Unfortunately, in an essay the AO can’t do this.