By the time you apply to college, it's too late to significantly raise your GPA or class rank. Your SAT score is pretty much set as well. It's also too late to significantly change the number or range of your extracurricular activities. This leaves you with only two ways to add impact to your application packet.
One way is to submit outstanding letters of reference. However, while you can choose your letter writers, you have no control over what they actually say about you, or how persuasively they say it.
Happily, the remaining way to add impact to your application is completely under your control: your college admissions essays. Your essays give you your best chance to stand out from the sea of applicants with similar grades and SAT scores.
The population of U.S. high school seniors continues to increase as the children of baby boomers reach their late teens. At the same time, an increasingly sophisticated economy means that more and more high school graduates plan to go to college, and more of them are setting their sights on elite schools. Top colleges are not, however, increasing their class sizes. This means that a growing pool of high school graduates is competing for a fixed number of freshman class slots. At the same time, awareness of admissions competition is causing applicants to hedge their bets by applying to more schools. The National Association for College Admission Counseling reported that almost a third of 2003 college applicants applied to at least seven different schools. We will not be surprised if the total number of this year’s college applications actually exceeds the record numbers set last year.
Essays play an important role in helping admissions officers sort out the mass of application material they receive from all these applicants. A good essay can answer questions raised by incomplete or seemingly conflicting information from an application form. More importantly, a good essay conveys a sense of the applicant as an...