Do personal statements (a.k.a essays), really matter in the college admission process? The answer to that question is that it depends on the school. Some of the smaller liberal arts colleges read them with extreme scrutiny, in which your chance of admission is diminished with every "your" that should be "you're." State schools skim your essay at best. Seriously, the "your" thing is miserable enough to handle for just a few applicants.
Regardless, small or large, urban or suburban, liberal arts or engineering, for most schools, the essay plays a marginal role in the admission decision. Sorry seniors, but four years of work in high school can never outweigh a piece of writing that you spell-checked a couple of times. But before you go calling every college you applied to, trying to resubmit or rewrite your essay, let me put your mind at ease. My guess is that you wrote your essay about one of the following topics:
1. Grandparents: I'll be the first person to tell you that I love my grandparents and that they have had a significant impact on my life. Most of us are fortunate enough to have them in our lives. Key word is most. Please pick someone else.
2. "The Big Game:" Word of advice, kids. If the most significant moment in your life was the day your team won the private school, AAAAA cribbage championship (not to discredit handball), then you need to find something else to do. Enlighten me about the rules of cribbage!
3. The Service Trip: Please focus your essay on the "service" part of your trip and not the trip itself. As mundane as that seems, I will mentally commend you more for doing so as opposed to describing how much you were out of your comfort zone without your video games. That's the point.
4. High School Issues: Really? Who loved every minute of high school? I want to read that person's essay.
5. The Resume: Let your extracurricular activities speak for themselves. I don't want to see a repeat of all the animals you saved and money you raised for prom added in your essay too. If you must, focus on one activity that influenced you the most.
If you were one of the 95 percent of students who wrote one of these types of essays, congratulations! Your application has not been affected whatsoever.
The other five percent of essays are the ones we live for: the cream of the crop, the monotony-breakers, the next Hemingway or celebrity memoir editor! These essays make us want to put down our copy of The Hunger Games and read something written by a teenager, not just for teenagers.
However, part of this five percent includes the total essay bombs. You wouldn't believe what we read and what some kids decide to share. I've read about breakups at high school dances, Cher concerts and other odd fetishes. I appreciate these kids wanting to think outside the box, but I can tell you that dropping an expletive or two is not the way to go. This is your college application -- probably one of the most important documents you will ever submit. Would you walk into a job interview in 10 years and volunteer information about the "a**-kicking" you got from being a receptionist in a proctologist's office? Get it? Save that kind of language and content for the trash talking you will be doing during championship rounds of beer pong.
Again, seniors, it's okay. We're used to it and have come to expect the expected. But how do future generations of college applicants make their essays stand out? Be part of the five percent. (For best results, shoot for the top 2.5 percent).
Just looking to get accepted? You're probably already in the 95 percent! And you don't event have to camp out on Wall Street to get what you want!