The Role of Personal Essays in the Admission Process

Feb 21, 2019 by

While many essays question a potential student’s honor, or why they may be considering a particular school, the question of why an applicant is pursuing a college education at all often seems left out.

Personal essays are a selection tool that have been used by colleges for years, often as a means to supplement test scores and GPA when considering a student for admission. Through giving applicants a way to express their personality and interests, along with their writing strengths, personal essays as well as explanatory essays serve to make the admissions process more wholistic, taking into account the entire student rather than just considering quantitative values. As the number of applicants to universities – especially top-tier and ivy-league schools – increases, so does the reliance on personal essays as a factor in acceptance. While many essays question a potential student’s honor, or why they may be considering a particular school, the question of why an applicant is pursuing a college education at all often seems left out.

Though the answer to this may seem to be a given, as college presents an opportunity for anyone to advance themselves and their career potential, giving applicants a space to share their individual goals and intent would serve as an excellent measure of passion and perseverance, along with an indicator of what they plan to do with their degree after school. This question shouldn’t be phrased as simply as “Why do you want to go to university?” but rather “What goals do you want to achieve after completing your education?” Through this question, universities could infer not only the true passion a student has for their career pathway, but also what they seek to change through it, allowing colleges to choose applicants who possess similar goals to their mission statement, and who will use their education to better not just themselves but society as a whole.

“Presently, numerical markers such as a student’s GPA, along with SAT and ACT scores, are the primary means of determining admittance to a college,” notes Amanda Wright, Educational expert at SolidEssay. While considering these numbers certainly makes the admissions process less complicated for those in charge, it’s difficult if not impossible to quantify passion, or persistence, or interpersonal skills in the same way. Despite this lack of consideration, these less traditionally valued skills can become powerful tools in a student’s pursuance of their goals, especially when combined with what they learn as part of their education. Asking about a student’s goals beyond just earning an education gives them space to discuss their passions, the steps they’ve taken towards pursuing them so far, and the steps they plan on taking in the future. This serves as a mission statement, making the admissions department aware of how seriously an applicant plans on taking their education. It also keeps the student accountable to themselves, giving them goals to look back on and work towards. In the same way, such a question would weed out students who don’t yet have well-defined goals, or who are just looking to attend college because of parent or societal pressure. While of course not every student is going to enter university with their life planned out, deciding to get one’s bachelor’s or master’s degree is a serious decision, not to be made by the unprepared or dispassionate.

Not everyone’s career goals are going to be centered in something so dramatic and generally unattainable as “changing the world,” however, the desire to change or improve something central to one’s life or the lives of others around them is a just and achievable goal. It could be defined in many ways, varying, of course, from person to person, but just about any career worth pursuing should have such a goal as its basis. Using an essay written in MLA or APA format to put this goal into words allows the admissions department of a school to see an applicant’s passion, visualizing how their institution could help them grow in it or whether it would be beneficial to the student to admit them at all. This fosters a sense of care and helpfulness between the student and the institution, rather than a reputation of financial lust, especially as the cost of tuition continues rising. By focusing on achieving a greater goal along with working towards one’s degree, students and faculty are more likely to support extracurricular programs along with diverse and personal degree paths, allowing for more innovation and success from students.

Though the essay questions currently required by colleges do allow for discussion of  interests and display of writing skills, they’re faulty measures of passion and purpose, and thus don’t effectively serve either the university or the students on a long-term basis.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.