Why Essays are More Important Than Ever: The “Holistic” Application Review Process

Those essays could make all the difference, so get started now!

Ruth Starkman, an ethics professor at Stanford, recently published an article detailing her experience working as an “external reader” for the University of California, Berkeley for the fall 2011 admissions cycle. Like many other highly competitive colleges and universities, Berkeley has adopted what it calls a “holistic” application review process. In this comprehensive admissions policy, admissions officers look beyond examining GPAs and test scores in order to determine potential, drive, and leadership ability. In her piece, Starkman reveals the somewhat arbitrary ranking of Berkeley applicants.

External readers like Starkman were assigned the task of reading applications and assigning candidates a number from 1-5, with 1 being the best and 5 the worst. Yet no clear guidelines were handed out. An almost overly qualified engineering student with a 3.95 unweighted GPA, 2300 SAT score, perfect 800s on the math and chemistry subject tests, and 5 AP scores of 5 - not to mention musical talent – was assigned a ranking of 2. Another engineering applicant with a 3.4 GPA and a SAT score of 1800, with a moving, well-written essay was assigned a score of 2.5. Two students, leagues apart on paper, are given almost the exact same score. The playing field is leveled by the second student’s essay, telling of afternoons divided between track and working in fields in Mexico with his parents.

As college admissions officers begin to look past GPAs and SAT scores, the essay becomes not only the backbone of a student’s application, but also the heart of it. In personal statements, Starkman was instructed to look for essays with an “authentic” voice over writing that sounded pompous, self-impressed, or privileged. But tales of generalized misery – a parents’ divorce, a learning difference – were lost amid a torrent of similar woes. A careful balance must be struck between the two.

Now more than ever, colleges are trying to obtain a fuller understanding of every candidate whose application packet lands on their desk. Admissions officers are tasked with “building” each freshman class from the ground up. They’re not looking for reasons to turn you away- they’re looking for the sign that you’ll succeed at their school. They’re looking to get you in. So sit down at your desk, write a truly personal personal essay, and allow them an insight into who you are as a person. That’ll do more for your application than a 3.95 GPA ever could.

To read Ruth Starkman’s full article, click here.


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Colleges Updated in College Essay Organizer for the 2013-2014 Season

Here is a list of colleges that have been updated through August 2 in College Essay Organizer for the 2013-2014 application season. Expect many more updates throughout the weekend and into next week.

  1. Abilene Christian University
  2. Academy of Art University
  3. Albright College
  4. American University of Paris
  5. Appalachian State University
  6. Auburn University
  7. Babson College
  8. Baylor University
  9. Beacon College
  10. Belmont Abbey College
  11. Bemidji State University
  12. Berea College
  13. Berry College
  14. Birmingham-Southern College
  15. Boise State University
  16. Boston College
  17. Bowdoin College
  18. Bowling Green State University
  19. Brooks Instiute
  20. Bryant University
  21. Cabrini College
  22. California Lutheran University
  23. California Maritime Academy
  24. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo
  25. California State University-Bakersfield
  26. California State University-Channel Islands
  27. California State University-Chico
  28. California State University-East Bay
  29. California State University-Fullerton
  30. California State University-Long Beach
  31. California State University-Los Angeles
  32. California State University-Monterey Bay
  33. California State University-Northridge
  34. California State University-Sacramento
  35. California State University-San Marcos
  36. Canisius College
  37. Carroll University
  38. Castelton State College
  39. Catholic University of America
  40. Cazenovia College
  41. Cedar Crest College
  42. Centenary College of Louisiana
  43. Central Michigan University
  44. Chapman University
  45. Christian Brothers University in TN
  46. Citadel, The
  47. Clemson University
  48. Coastal Carolina University
  49. Coe College
  50. Colby-Sawyer College
  51. College of New Jersey
  52. College of St. Rose (NY)
  53. College of the Holy Cross
  54. College of the Ozarks
  55. Colorado Mesa University
  56. Colorado School of Mines
  57. Colorado State University
  58. Columbia College Chicago
  59. Columbus State University
  60. Concordia University-Austin
  61. Cornell University
  62. Curry College
  63. Daemen College
  64. Dartmouth College
  65. Delaware State University
  66. Dominican College
  67. Drew University
  68. Drury University
  69. Duquesne University
  70. East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
  71. Eastern Mennonite University
  72. Eastern Michigan University
  73. Eckerd College
  74. Elizabethtown College
  75. Elmhurst College
  76. Elmira College
  77. Elon University
  78. Emmanuel College
  79. Emory University
  80. Endicott College
  81. Fairleigh Dickinson University
  82. Flagler College
  83. Florida Atlantic University
  84. Florida International University
  85. Florida Southern College
  86. Florida State University
  87. Franklin Pierce University
  88. Gannon University
  89. Georgetown University
  90. Georgia College and State University
  91. Georgia State University
  92. Gettysburg College
  93. Goshen College
  94. Goucher College
  95. Hanover College
  96. Hardin-Simmons University
  97. Harding University
  98. Hartwick College
  99. Hastings College
  100. Haverford College
  101. High Point University
  102. Hofstra University
  103. Hollins University
  104. Howard University
  105. Indiana University
  106. Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  107. Iowa State University
  108. James Madison University
  109. Juniata College
  110. Keene State College
  111. Kent State University
  112. La Salle University
  113. Le Moyne College
  114. Louisiana State University
  115. Louisiana Tech University
  116. Louisianna State University-Shreveport
  117. Loyola University Chicago
  118. Luther College
  119. Lycoming College
  120. Lynchburg College
  121. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY
  122. Manhattan College
  123. Marshall University
  124. Maryville College
  125. McDaniel College
  126. Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York
  127. Menlo College
  128. Mercyhurst College
  129. MidAmerica Nazarene University
  130. Middlebury College
  131. Mills College
  132. Millsaps College
  133. Mississippi College
  134. Mississippi State University
  135. Missouri University of Science and Technology
  136. Morehouse College
  137. Mount St. Mary's University
  138. Murray State University
  139. Muskingum College
  140. Nebraska Wesleyan University
  141. New College of Florida
  142. New England College
  143. New Mexico State University
  144. New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York
  145. Newbury College
  146. Niagara University
  147. Norfolk State University
  148. Northeastern University
  149. Northern Arizona University
  150. Northland College
  151. Notre Dame de Namur University
  152. Nova Southeastern University
  153. Oglethorpe University
  154. Ohio Wesleyan University
  155. Olivet College
  156. Oregon Institute of Technology
  157. Oregon State University
  158. Pace University
  159. Pacific Union College
  160. Pitzer College
  161. Pomona College
  162. Portland State University
  163. Randolph College
  164. Randolph-Macon College
  165. Regis College
  166. Regis University
  167. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  168. Ripon College
  169. Rochester Institute of Technology
  170. Rockland Community College
  171. Rosemont College
  172. Sacred Heart University
  173. Saint Francis University
  174. Saint Joseph's College of Maine
  175. Saint Leo University
  176. Saint Martin's University
  177. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota
  178. Saint Peter's University
  179. Saint Vincent College
  180. San Diego State University
  181. San Francisco State University
  182. Shorter University
  183. Shreiner University
  184. South Carolina State University
  185. South Dakota State University
  186. Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville
  187. Southern Nazarene University
  188. Southern New Hampshire University
  189. Southern University at New Orleans
  190. Southwestern University
  191. Spelman College
  192. Spring Hill College
  193. St. Catherine University
  194. St. Mary's College
  195. St. Petersburg College
  196. Stanford University
  197. State University of New York at Albany
  198. State University of New York at Buffalo State College
  199. State University of New York at Cortland
  200. State University of New York at Fredonia
  201. State University of New York at Geneseo
  202. State University of New York at Oneonta
  203. State University of New York at Oswego
  204. State University of New York at Plattsburgh
  205. State University of New York-College at Brockport
  206. Stephen F. Austin State University
  207. Stephens College
  208. Stevens Institute of Technology
  209. Suffolk University
  210. Swarthmore College
  211. Texas A&M University-College Station
  212. Texas State University
  213. Texas Tech University
  214. Texas Woman's University
  215. The King's College
  216. Thomas Aquinas College
  217. Transylvania University
  218. Trine University
  219. Troy University
  220. Tufts University
  221. Tulane University
  222. Tuskegee University
  223. United States Air Force Academy
  224. United States Military Academy
  225. University of Alabama
  226. University of Alaska-Southeast
  227. University of Arkansas
  228. University of Bridgeport
  229. University of California-Berkeley
  230. University of California-Davis
  231. University of California-Irvine
  232. University of California-Los Angeles
  233. University of California-Merced
  234. University of California-Riverside
  235. University of California-San Diego
  236. University of California-Santa Barbara
  237. University of California-Santa Cruz
  238. University of Central Florida
  239. University of Chicago
  240. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
  241. University of Connecticut
  242. University of Dayton
  243. University of Denver
  244. University of Findlay
  245. University of Georgia
  246. University of Great Falls
  247. University of Hawaii-Manoa
  248. University of Idaho
  249. University of Kansas
  250. University of La Verne
  251. University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
  252. University of Maryland-College Park
  253. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  254. University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  255. University of Massachusetts-Boston
  256. University of Massachusetts-Lowell
  257. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  258. University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  259. University of Missouri-Columbia
  260. University of Montevallo
  261. University of Nevada-Reno
  262. University of New England
  263. University of New Hampshire
  264. University of New Orleans
  265. University of North Carolina-Asheville
  266. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  267. University of North Carolina-Charlotte
  268. University of Northern Colorado
  269. University of Notre Dame
  270. University of Oregon
  271. University of Pennsylvania
  272. University of Pittsburgh
  273. University of Richmond
  274. University of San Francisco
  275. University of Scranton
  276. University of South Dakota
  277. University of South Florida
  278. University of Southern Mississippi
  279. University of Texas-Arlington
  280. University of Texas-Austin
  281. University of Texas-Dallas
  282. University of Texas-El Paso
  283. University of the Sciences
  284. University of Toronto
  285. University of Tulsa
  286. University of Victoria
  287. University of Virginia
  288. University of Western Ontario
  289. University of Wyoming
  290. Utah State University
  291. Valdosta State University
  292. Villanova University
  293. Virginia Tech
  294. Wabash College
  295. Wake Forest University
  296. Wartburg College
  297. Washington and Jefferson College
  298. Washington and Lee University
  299. Washington College
  300. Webb Institute
  301. Weber State University
  302. Wellesley College
  303. Wells College
  304. Wentworth Institute of Technology
  305. Wentworth Military Academy and College
  306. Wesley College (Delaware)
  307. Wesleyan College
  308. Western Carolina University
  309. Western New England University
  310. Westminster College (PA)
  311. Whitworth University
  312. Widener University
  313. Willamette University
  314. Wingate University
  315. Winona State University (MN)
  316. Wittenberg University
  317. Wright State University
  318. Xavier University of Louisiana
  319. Yale University
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Common App Still Experiencing Technical Difficulties

The Common App went live yesterday, and much to the dismay of rising seniors everywhere did not include any of the writing supplements for its 517 member colleges. We understand that getting a new system up and running can be a frustrating process for users and developers alike, and have no doubt that it will all be running smoothly soon. Here's its latest posting on their facebook page:

Thanks once again for your patience. We have worked hard to resolve lingering issues from our first 24 hours. We're happy to report:

 -The slow loading and saving of pages has been fixed.

-The password reset issue is resolved.

-ALL colleges can now be found in search.

Two outstanding issues that we are addressing:

-Technical issues involving Writing Supplement submission for some members.

-"College is not configured" error for some colleges: this is what you see when you try to those schools to your list.

More updates coming shortly... 

In the meantime, don't rely on the Common App, which may take weeks to deliver all of your colleges' essay questions. Instead, create your FREE College Essay Organizer account here and get many of your required essay questions NOW.

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