I often get questions from students and parents who wonder why a strong personal statement is so important. After all, their students have good grades in solid courses (that is, academic core courses such as math, science, English, foreign language, social studies). They probably have AP or IB courses or took some classes at the community college.
The essay is important for at least two reasons.
First, students self-select what schools to apply to. They apply to those schools that interest them for any number of reasons and those schools where they have a chance, even a small one, of getting accepted. If your student with great grades and solid classes is applying to University Z, that means many other students, with similar grades, test scores and classes, are applying there as well. The competition then, is strong. What makes a student stand out is what they show the admissions committee about themselves – and that comes from the essay and the activities list.
Second, colleges have merit scholarships they offer to their best and brightest incoming freshman. The competition for those dollars is fierce. If everyone who is eligible has a 4.0 GPA, 2000 combined or better on the SAT or 31 or better on the ACT, how do they choose who will receive the scholarship? That’s right, they look at the other qualities a student has that makes them stand out among their peers.
Sometimes those other qualities may be so compelling and well-told that they can make a difference for a student with slightly lower scores or grades. (More so for admissions than for merit scholarships.)
So, when your student (or you!) sit down to write your college essays and activities list, take the time to make it the best you can.
If you want helpful tips, join one of my webinars for students or parents. Details can be found here.
Good luck and good writing to you!