A father asked me a good question at my seminar, "The Art of College Applications" last week.
"How do the essays really weigh into the admissions process? Can colleges actually tell anything about a kid's qualifications by reading essays like this?"
Here's how I explained it to the parents in the room.
Imagine you're a manager at a company and you need to fill a vacant position in your department. 3 candidates apply for the position, and one is clearly more qualified than the other two. The choice is clear. You're probably going to pick that more qualified candidate.
But what if you have 10, or 20, or 50 candidates who are all equally qualified? What if they all have great credentials, valuable experience and glowing references? How would choose then?
Most managers would make the decision based on intangibles that you can't find in a resume.
Who seems like someone who will fit in well with the company, someone who would be a good addition to the office, someone people would enjoy having on the company softball team, at the holiday party and at the annual team-building retreat? Who seems particularly excited about not just about the job, but also about the company and its mission? Who would you be sorry to lose if she accepted a position at another company?
That's what college essays do for admissions offices.
A college doesn't need an essay to tell them whether or not you're qualified. They've got transcripts, test scores, a list of activities and letters of recommendation to make that call.
The essays are about the intangibles. They help a college decide if you're going to be a likeable addition to the company.