What is the overall effect of essays on admissions chances?
College Vine's current calculations are based on the assumption of average letters of recommendation (for that school) and average essays. Is there a way to gauge the scope of benefit from a good essay vs. a bad one? Say, if I have 45 - 55% at College X and submit a poor essay for that school, would those chances go down 5%, 10%, more? Would they go up the same for a strong one?
I suppose unless answered by one of the experts or architects of the formula, most of us are doing mere speculation. I vaguely remember seeing a graphic during one of the livestreams which illustrated the weight each part of the process had, but I'm not sure how much that has changed because of the pandemic. Any thoughts?
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Since many applicants will not have an SAT or ACT score to submit this applications cycle and most have limited ECs to show because sports, and other group ECs were cancelled across the board at most high schools, the most important criteria for admissions officers this cycle are
1.) Grades UWGPA on a 4.0 not weighted.
2.) Course rigor of your academic transcript. How did well did you use your time to challenge yourself give your resources available to you. Did you stay within the middle lane, or move to the fast lane by taking dual-enrollement, college courses and other independent research. How intellectually curious were you.
3. ECs (Most people will have 9th through 11th impressive ECs, not so many in 12th, so if you can get some good ECs in senior year, the better)
Now if you have great SAT score 1500+ or ACT Score 34+, then that will help you.
It will also help you if you have 2 or more SAT II subject test about 750+
While not as much as a boost, having taken a lot of AP tests with 4s and 5s will also get you noticed.
Personally I don't think college admissions officers have that much time to grade and be granular about how much weight they need to put on your essay.
If you have great essays that resonate with what they are looking for and their goals and school culture, thats a huge boost. If you have failed to answer the prompt and can't articulate why school XYZ should pick you over the other 20 applicants you are directly competing with for that 1 slot, then you go in the trash pile. Since they spend anywhere from 7-15 minutes per file, if they can't read your essay in 1 fast pass and get the warm and fuzzies, you are a goner. They are not going to take the 20 essays and weigh them against one another and rank them and pick the best overall score.
Therefore, essays are critical. It is one of the only ways colleges can understand how you think, how well you articulate your thoughts and gives them insight into your character.
In a 2019 survey by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, essays ranked as the fifth most important factor in college admissions. It was preceded by: high school GPA, grades in college prep courses, strength of curriculum at a student's high school, and SAT and ACT scores.
Other surveys rank essays higher than that: this link https://blog.collegevine.com/how-important-is-the-college-essay/ by college vine rates essays as the second most important factor, after extracurriculars. It's honestly surprising to me that the NACAC survey didn't include ECs at all in their list.
So they're important, but it's possible to write a mediocre essay and have great grades/test scores and still get in to a good school.
On the flip side, it's important to remember is that for almost any selective school, they will have more applicants who meet the academic requirements that they can accept. That is where the essay can play a more influential role. If they have to choose 1 person out of a group of students who are all academically gifted, the essay could be the critical factor.
That being said, I would definitely write the essay to the best of your ability: better to exceed the requirements and be safe than slack and be sorry later.
As far as College Vine's calculations tool, I can't really help you there, but I hope the rest helps.