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Essay Readers

Your application essay, like all written communication, must connect with the readers. In the communication model, you are the sender, your essay is the message, and the admissions reader is the receiver. Somehow you must talk to the receiver. To do this, you must develop an awareness of who this specialized audience is. Of course this is not easy since the whole application process is new to you. Who are these admissions readers? What do they expect of you? How do you impress them? How critical are they?


Each admission committee is different and each committee member is unique. But because their task is similar, there are common denominators underlying the multiplicity of personalities.


When asked what they look for in an essay, admissions officers respond with some uniformity. Below are some repeated responses from admissions essay readers:

  • “I want to see if the applicant has mastery of writing mechanics.”
  • “I don’t want to read what the applicant thinks I want to hear. Instead, it is important for the student to write what he wants to say.”
  • “As simple as it sounds, neatness counts.”
  • “I am always looking for a fresh point of view.”
  • “I almost always look for enthusiasm and energy in an essay.”
  • “A perspective of the student’s values should emerge in the essay.”
  • “No essay is measured against some ideal response, since there is none.”
  • “Our committee enjoys students who have a sense of humor. After going through thousands of essays, the light touch can often improve a reader’s outlook.”
  • “Originality without being outlandish is a very definite plus.”
  • “We advise students to choose one topic and stick to it.”
  • “I can spot an essay written by mom a mile away.”
  • “I don’t know why some students feel compelled to write about the Catcher in the Rye or some other book they have read for a classroom assignment.”
  • “I look for the personality behind the pen.”
  • “I try to ‘soak-in’ a general impression as I read the essay.”
  • “I want to read something personal, something in which the student is truly involved.”
  • “The essay has to be cohesive.”
  • “I can usually tell midway through the first paragraph if the essay is going to be successful or not.”
  • “At times students get so involved with correctness they forget the essay needs to be interesting.”
  • “I like an applicant who is willing to explore and investigate himself.”
  • “Some essays are too blunt – opinions without support are tiresome.”
  • “Lord save me from applicants who use the essay as a vehicle for self-display.”
  • “Some essays are nothing but a catalog of details, like a computer printout. I need something to relate to in an essay.”