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How much do college essays matter?
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College Essays Matter: Here's Why
Let’s take Harvard as an example.
We parsed through and analyzed thousands of pages of documents from the 2019 Harvard admissions court case. Here’s what we found:
Strong college essays have a 10x improvement on admissions chances at highly-selective (or rather highly-rejective) colleges.
In other words, applicants with similar academics have a 10 times higher chance of acceptance to Harvard with an excellent personal score (and yes, essays are an essential component to that score).
In contrast, applicants with strong academics are only 3x more likely to get in than students with standard academics.
Strong personal scores are far more important than strong academics.
83% of Harvard applicants are above their academic bar, meaning Harvard believes they’re capable of succeeding academically at Harvard.
At nearly 60,000 applicants per year, that means Harvard believes 50,000 applicants are academically capable for only 2,000 acceptances. (Yikes!)
So, admissions officers have to consider factors other than academics to distinguish their applicants.
Writing strong essays is the #1 way to raise your personal score – that's how you'll prove to admissions readers that you'll be successful at their school, and beyond.
Only 1 in 5 applicants have strong personal scores – and all students have self-selected to apply to Harvard and are probably in the top at their schools for being leaders and involved in activities. So how do you set yourself apart in a pool of driven applicants as being unusually driven?
When essays matter and when they don’t matter as much
Essays matter more for:
Highly-selective colleges (under 15% admit rate)
Selective colleges (15-50% admit rate) where your academics are sufficient but not strong compared with other applicants
Colleges where you’re applying to highly-desirable programs (e.g., Computer Science) or out-of-state
Essays matter less for:
Selective colleges (15-50% admit rate) where your academics are strong compared with other applicants
Large colleges where you’re applying in-state or applying to less competitive programs