The College Admission Essay (also known as the Personal Statement) is one of those “qualitative” opportunities provided to candidates to go “beyond the numbers”.

It is so easy to focus on grades and SATs, grades and SATs and – even – grades and SATs when talking about College Admissions.  “What kinda SAT do I need to get in to this school?” was definitely one of the most popular questions I received at high school College Fairs over the years.  But I can never stress this enough: COLLEGE ADMISSIONS FOLKS LOOK AT MORE THAN WHAT YOU DID ON ONE OR TWO SATURDAY MORNINGS!!!

Sorry for shouting, but one of the great ironies of the College Admission profession is that – at least in my humble opinion – parents are far more focused on SATs than College Admissions officers are.  While SATs (and grades, you can never forget grades) are key components of the Admission Decision Process, the courses taken are equally important.  I abhor the bias (2 common SAT words, free of charge) against admission counselors on this issue, when it is not deserved (in most cases)!

Unless we offer a strong basket weaving curriculum, I am far more interested in what College preparatory courses you took than how you did in the ubiquitous (SAT word!) Basket Weaving discipline.   It matters that you took an AP course, even if you struggled.  (Struggled, I said – bombing out is a different conversation for a different post)

And we DO read the Personal Statements, the Letters of Recommendation and review our Interview notes. We do look at what extra-curricular activities you list on the application and what offices you held.  We are trying to make an intelligent decision on whether you and the College will be a good match.  We are trying to determine if you are a student who will be assiduous, with a capacious desire to learn and a willingness to collaborate (3 for the price of 1!) with others.   We really are.  And to best do so, we review a plethora (sorry, had to) of information.

About that essay – listen carefully.  Even though our path may have been circuitous, we’re coming to the zenith of the post.  (At least, hopefully, not the nadir – or even worse – the nader...)  For what what I have to share may sound ambiguous to some, but you need to both write and review your essay with care, but not over analyze your work.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, as it were.

Your essay should be “real”.  It should be from your mind and soul.  Yes, it should be the version that is grammatically correct and it should be written in appropriate language.  And, yes, it should be edited and reviewed – and I don’t mean just checking the spelling by looking at where Bill Gates put the squiggly lines! But it should be YOU – that’s what I, as an admission counselor, am trying to learn more about.  You.

And that brings me to the art of candy stripping and the trumpet player on the moon.

One of the most honest, intelligent, interesting, humorous individuals in college admissions is a man named Bruce Poch.  I do not know Bruce, but I’ve read statements attributed to him in the past and have always found him to be “real”, which is a great, but sometime rare trait in my profession.  And an appropriate trait for today’s blog topic.   In today’s Chronicle, there is an interview with Bruce in which he shares a story about a College Essay.  The request was to identify a moment in history that had personal significance.  The applicant wrote about the day Louis Armstrong set foot on the moon. Well, the kid was admitted anyway, and he now has a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

It reminds me of an essay I read about 15 years ago, from a  Nursing candidate, that detailed her experience as a candy stripper. The essay, other than that spelling error, was well-written and honest.  And, yes, she was admitted.

So, my advice, simply, would be this:  Write honestly.  Edit your work (and allow other eyes to take a look).  But do not sweat it if you described a low point in your life as the “nader”, or referred to your volunteer work at a hospital in terms of ripping off Nestle Crunch wrappers.

As always, I welcome your comments, your ratings, your Facebook posts and your emails.  I can be reached at, on Facebook at “College Counseling for the Rest of Us”, on Twitter @MichaelCCR and by cell at 908-403-3819.  And I will be appearing on January 20th, at Hall Stadium, in Union, NJ for a “Fit, Not Reach” College Search Workshop – hope to see you there!