Jun 022023
  • What does “test-optional” mean?

  • How will admissions officers judge applicants in the coming year?

  • Does the Common Application essay really matter?

According to FAIR TEST, which tracks college testing data, 1,450 colleges have made test-free and test-optional admissions permanent. For fall 2023, 1,835 colleges are not requiring admissions tests. All of the eight ivy league schools are test-optional for 2023 and Columbia University has made this policy permanent. Students have the opportunity to apply to these schools without submitting SAT/ACT scores. So what will colleges use to evaluate students for admission? Grades, extracurricular activities and very importantly, the COMMON APPLICATION ESSAY.

When a selective college receives applications from many equally qualified students, what will tip the scale for admission?  If you come from a rural community in a less populated state, you may be more appealing to a college seeking geographical “diversity” in its student body. However, given several good students from a concentrated pool in the same geographical location, an admissions officer will try to find mature, committed students who can succeed in the college experience. 

What distinguishes one good student from another? An attention-grabbing essay can make the critical difference.

Admissions officers do read the essay on each Common Application, as well as the supplemental essays their school may require.  

How else will they be able to make a decision between the many qualified students who apply to a select number of well-rated schools? The personal “voice” in the student’s application essay can be the tipping point for admission — as well as financial aid.

I wrote an earlier article about capturing the authentic voice in a college admissions essay: Finding the”Authentic” Voice in a College Admissions Essay. In that article I quoted an external admissions reader for the University of California at Berkley who wrote about being told to find essays that “express a sense of self and character.”

For students who may not have the best grades across all subjects, the essays can become the critical factor to draw attention to their personal history, obstacles they may have faced in their lives, as well as their other talents.  Convincing an admissions reader that you can succeed at college and become an asset to their institution may hinge on the “authentic” essay you write.

Crafting a personal essay in a thoughtful, creative way takes time: time for reflection, brainstorming, writing and careful editing.  Trying to cram the Comm App essay and the supplemental essays into the fall of senior year will likely add pressure to a generally hectic time. When is the best time to write the Comm App essay? The summer before senior year!

With with so many colleges adopting test-optional and test-free admissions practices, the Common Application Essay takes on even greater importance. Writing a standout essay should be part of a rising senior’s summer activities, — even if it’s done under a beach umbrella with a cold soda.


Check back soon for more articles about writing, communications, speech and language and executive function skills. You can access a large collection of articles I have written by using the SEARCH bar in the BLOG and PUBLICATIONS tabs.




  2 Responses to “The Importance of the Comm App Essay For “Test-Optional” Colleges”

  1. Another excellent article, Gloria – thanks for the information. Writing an “authentic” essay sometimes involves opening up and being vulnerable. It is personal, and you would be great at bringing that out of someone.

    • Thanks so much, Rob. I encourage students to highlight who they are, what’s important to them through their own experiences, values and other aspects of themselves so they’re not just “numbers” to a college admissions officer. And most importantly, to write these essays themselves.

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