When to Take Chances on the College Admission Essay

How important is your college application essay? The answer is simple: a well-done essay can breathe life into your college application and be a difference maker in the admission decision process. With a well written essay, you can transform yourself from a collection of flat and lifeless numbers, data points, and statistics into a highly sought, multidimensional applicant who will fit quite attractively into the college culture and provide depth to the overall quality of the campus. Indeed that is your goal, because it is the goal of every admission officer across America to find students who add to the strength, climate, and diversity of the campus. A fantastically conceived and executed admission essay can do all that—and more! It can illuminate you in the eyes of the reviewer, placing you squarely in the spotlight. It can make the admissions officer’s daunting task of poring through thousands of applications to find the hidden gems as easy as if it were a gem among ordinary stones.

But there are situations in which you should take chances and write an essay with unmitigated abandon and dynamism, and times when you should do little more than respond safely and predictably. Simply stated, if the college you are applying to is a reach, or long shot, let your words fly!  If you are applying to a safety school, you should write more predictably.  And if you are writing for a target school, you might want to take a middle ground.

Here is a simple rubric you can use to evaluate your essay

  • Writing Style and Clarity of Response
  • Essay employs appropriate language and structure to support the topic.
  • Essay contains appropriate words, language, and grammatical conventions and is likely to be considered satisfying and commendable by the admissions team.
  • Originality of Response
  • Topic is interesting, creative, and likely to stand out.
  • Topic is original and likely to be considered satisfying and commendable by the admissions team.
  • Validity, Accuracy/Truth of Response
  • Response suits the purpose and can be validated.
  • Response is likely to be considered commendable and accurate by the admissions team.
  • Choice of Subject
  • Subject fits the question.
  • Choice of subject is likely to be considered commendable by the admissions team.
  • Desirable Representation of Candidate
  • Essay makes candidate a desirable candidate for the institution
  • Essay makes candidate seem like a good match for the institution.
  • Here is an example of an essay that meets all the criteria of a daring essay to be written by a student applying to a reach college.  The question:

How Do You Feel about Wednesdays?

How do I feel about Wednesdays? I really don’t know, nor do I have any idea why someone would ask me this question on a college application. But as with so many things in life, one should not question why. Or, should one? You never really hear about the person who did not question authority. You only hear about the noble iconoclast, the rebellious revolutionary, the categorically uncategorizables. You never hear anything good about the pigeonholed—it is always the square peg in a round hole that gets all the notoriety.

So, why should I write about Wednesdays—just because you want me to? Uh uh! Not me. I am going to flip the system, and walk right into the eye of conformity, left foot first. I am going to write about…Thursdays! And why not? Thursday is a fine day—an underdog day. It is surrounded by other days that get all the press; Wednesday has its own nickname—“Hump Day,” and Friday has its own acronym—“TGIF.” The weekend, well that is “THE WEEKEND!” As for Monday and Tuesday, each has songs named for it. But nothing for Thursday—the forgotten day, the quiet day, the lost day.

So, why do I choose to write about Thursday instead of Wednesday, even at risk of offending the question writer and you—the admission team? Simply stated, Thursday IS special. Thursday IS worthy of a college essay. Thursday IS my favorite day. Why? Thursday is the only day, once per year, that claims the best holiday of the year—Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a holiday dedicated to thanking people, something we do far too infrequently. It is a day dedicated to family, tradition, and culture. Yes, it is also dedicated to football, but that is culture too! Next Thanksgiving will hold a very special significance for me, because it will be the day I will return home on break from the University of Chicago. My family will greet me at the door, turkey in hand. They will then put down the turkey and give me a big hug, for I will have returned to the maternal nest.

The morning will be dedicated to cooking vegetables and gravy and dinner rolls. My brother and father will be outside throwing a football, and I will join them just as soon as I help put the finishing touches on the apple pie crust. It will be a perfect day, a wonderful day, a family day, a Thursday.

To conclude my essay, let me recap what I feel is so special about Thursdays that I would write about them, risking the wrath of the University of Chicago’s admission team and my chance of admission to my #1 college pick. Thursday is the underdog of the week, the forgotten day. It is the day without a song, an acronym or a nickname. It is a day that is overshadowed by giants and anonymously buried in the fifth position at the starting gate. Nonetheless, it holds special significance in the hearts of families all across America.

When an underdog rises up, against all odds, to overcome obscurity to gain such significance, it is worth writing about. By the way, it is, of course, no coincidence that two of the world’s greatest underdogs of our time were both born on Thursdays: Nelson Mandela and Stephen Hawking. That fact alone makes it worth watching the Cowboys and the Lions with my family on one very special Thursday.