Written by Kate M., Super Tutor for Enhanced Prep
The college essay has always, in my opinion, constituted one of the most important parts of a college application. Yes, colleges want to see applicants’ standardized test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and resume. These components can give admissions officers great insight into a student’s potential as a leader, scholar, and academic.
But the college essay gives students a chance to showcase who they are outside of these data-driven application components. With the essay, applicants can (and should) talk about what matters to them in life in their own distinct voice; it is their opportunity to be authentic, honest, and vulnerable with admissions officers.
This is why I encourage students to start working on the college essay as soon as possible, preferably their junior spring or the summer prior to their senior year. It takes time and profound effort to craft a story that presents what is meaningful to you in 650 words or fewer, after all. What’s more, many colleges now require applicants to submit additional essay responses, “supplemental essays,” that can quickly fill a student’s application timeline.
But I would argue that COVID-19 has made the college essay only more urgent and vital, and students applying to college this fall of 2020 should dedicate even more time to crafting a powerful personal statement. Many universities are becoming test optional, claiming they will not require this year’s applicants to submit standardized test scores in an effort to promote fairness in admissions decisions. Test optional does not mean that admissions officers completely ignore test scores, certainly, but it does mean that colleges will likely be emphasizing other parts of the application to distinguish students. And yes, they will probably be emphasizing the component that is most likely to set students apart: the personal statement and/or additional essay responses.
This doesn’t mean that you should let your grades flag or wait until the last minute to ask for that letter of recommendation; on the contrary, transcripts, letters, and resumes will still prove highly meaningful in college applications. But do take the time to give your college essay its due.
Some students wonder if they should write about COVID-19 in their personal statements. After all, a global pandemic constitutes an unprecedented challenge, and many students choose to write about specific challenges in their lives (and their response to these). This subject is very much fair game; however, keep in mind that the pandemic is a shared experience. What will be distinct is what you have to say about your response to it and what that response says about your values, character, and perspectives. Spend more time discussing your specific relationship to this global challenge, and focus on your distinct personal growth that has emerged as a result.
Regardless of the topic you choose, now is the time to start reflecting on you in preparation for a compelling essay. Good luck!