Although completion of a challenging curriculum, high school grade point average, and ACT or SAT scores are most important to admissions committees, the quality of a student's essay may carry fairly substantial weight in determing whether he/she is offered or denied admission. And, as a general rule, the more selective the college, the more important the essay.
In fact, some colleges use essays merely to ensure that applicants can write acceptably. The Harvard's, Yale's, and Princeton's of the world may view essays with far more discerning eyes.
Except in highly unusual circumstances, an essay will not compensate for failure to complete a rigorous college prep program or for grades significantly below the majority of applicants. And, in most instances, statements which offer excuses for below potential academic performance will not be well received. Neither will statements promising that you will earn a 4.0 grade point average, someday become an outstanding alumnus, or lead the football to four record breaking seasons. Save your excuses and grandiose self-assessment for someone who cares, or at least someone who hasn't heard it all before.
What a good essay can do, however, is give you a chance to talk to an admissions committee. Take advantage of it by:
1. Expressing yourself to the best of your ability. Write, rewrite and edit until you are fully satisfied with the result. Then, ask someone who writes well to critique your work and make a final revision.
2. Offering honest insight about yourself. Do not be afraid to be self-effacing...admissions committees often find it very refreshing.
3. Taking great care to avoid sounding boastful while outlining any major accomplishments which do not appear on your other application materials.
5. Staying away from the kinds of statements beauty queens make about their love of America, God, and humanity.
Very seldom will an essay make a good candidate out of a bad one. Unfortunately, the reverse is far more likely. That being said, it is important to follow the basic guideline above, and avoid any big risks.
Daniel Kane is an educator who has served on several admissions committees. His websites, designed for traditional students and working adults, deal with topics like online colleges, and online degrees.