Do College Application Essays Matter?

She can help with your college application essays

College application essays matter.  Now more than ever.  And they will matter in the 2023-24 cycle.

Now that “test-optional” and “test blind” (the entire University of California system) are the default for most of the country’s most selective institutions, applications have spiked. That means acceptance rates have plummeted, and the admissions landscape is more unpredictable than ever. BTW, MIT and Georgetown still require SATs or ACTs.

When I talk to the parents of 11th graders, they often don’t know what “college application essays” mean — how many there are, how varied and complex, and how much labor it takes to do them well. But they are only part of the picture.

How are students chosen and judged for admission to top colleges? There is no secret sauce. There is no magic mix. But these elements are critical:

High grade point average. The rigor of the classes you take (have you taken the most rigorous courses available at your school? have you taken courses outside of school, perhaps dual degree programs or college-level courses?). The depth and consistency of your extra-curricular activities. The level of leadership and impact in what you do. Your teacher recommendations (except at the University of California, where they are not required). And the quality of your application essays — whether it’s just the Common Application essay, the Common App plus various supplements, or the essays that are unique to MIT, the University of California, and the University of Texas.

If you want a Word Doc of essay prompts for some 35 colleges? Shoot me an email with “College Application Essays” in the subject line.

In answer to questions you may be wondering: Can great college application essays make up for average or uneven grades when you’re aiming for top colleges? No. Can average essays sink an otherwise strong application? Yes. What’s the right amount of everything necessary to gain admission? Again, there are no neat answers and guaranteed acceptances. But if you’re a strong student, you need strong essays. And if you’re a weaker or uneven student — someone who might have messed up 9th grade but found your way later on — good essays can help you make your case.

I’m writing this on February 14, 2023, after Early Decisions have been announced but before Regular Decisions. Many of the students I worked with gained admission to their ED choices. Others were deferred, and still others were rejected. More will be revealed come March and April.

Among the acceptances so far for students I worked with: Yale, Brown, Rice, Boston College, Middlebury, USC, University of Wisconsin, St. Olaf’s, and the University Colorado. These are the new testimonials from students and their parents. I hope they are helpful to you in understand what I do. You may also want to read this, about what’s happened in admissions since COVID, and this, about what I do in general. And the full list of testimonials is here

In the meantime, here’s what others have to say:

“Liz was so helpful throughout the entire application process! Her thoughtful feedback helped me turn even my most convoluted ideas into beautiful, polished essays. My experience with Liz made the whole stressful affair of applying to college bearable.” JH, Early Decision, Brown, Class of 2027
Dear Liz: My daughter was officially accepted ED to Middlebury, and she’s over the moon.  Huge thanks for all you’ve done to help us out.  Can’t wait for daughter #2  to use you next year!  — JC, Early Decision, Middlebury, Class of 2027

After working with Liz, my son embraced the art of storytelling.  His confidence in his ability to craft and tell a story concisely and articulately has increased substantially.  He was accepted into his top school, but the most important lesson learned was rooted in the belief that a left-brained learning mathematics student can tap into his right-brained creative side.  Yes, she succeeded in assisting him with college applications, but more importantly, she made him a much better writer.   — USC, Class of 2027

I had my eye on Boston College, with a plan to apply Early Decision I, so I wanted to make sure that both my common app essay and my Boston College supplemental essay were well written. I was having trouble picking a topic for my common app essay, and Liz had some great ways for me to tease out a bunch of ideas and ultimately pick the best one to expand on. The Boston College supplemental prompts were very deep and overwhelming to think about, but Liz helped keep my focus on what I wanted to write about while making sure it answered the prompt. I learned some great writing tools that certainly made writing other supplementals easier and will definitely serve me well in the future. I really believe my essays played a big role in my acceptance.” MT, Early Decision Boston College 2027

It’s a privilege to work with smart, ambitious students in this challenging atmosphere. Please give me a call or shoot me an email to find out more.

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