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College 101

Who's Reading Your College Essay
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

Essay writers, meet Stacey. She's an admissions reader at Boston University, and she'd like to tell you a little bit about herself and the work she does during application season.

Now that you're thoroughly intimidated (or maybe totally pumped about the chance to really show your stuff—it's cool, let the fist pumps roll), let's talk about your audience further. Have you ever wondered who actually reads your application essay? They drink sherry, read Derrida on their lunch breaks, and gleefully thrown your essay out the window if you use "who" instead of "whom," right? Not quite.

Gnomes? Elves? The Jabberwocky?

They come dressed to universities wearing ties and dresses and appear in human form. But they aren’t. They did something very bad in a former life and karma is punishing them by having to read 9,500 bad essays to find the 500 decent ones and the 3 dozen awesome ones that then become part of their Pantheon?


The key fact to know about your audience (and yes, you are writing for a specific audience and it doesn’t include Grandma) is that they are bored. Tired. Jaded.

Think of all your friends applying to the same school who will spend an hour on their essay with trite blurbs about how good it felt to help the needy. These people must read them, every word. Bring the pain.

Who are these admissions gnomes? Imagine that:

  • You are locked in your office from approximately November to March every year. 
  • You read applications day and night, and we're not exaggerating.
  • You work your booty off trying to find the students that will be a good fit for your school, and vice versa. 
  • You respect every applicant, and you know how much time it takes to put an application together. 
  • You've read hundreds and hundreds of applications this year alone. They really start to blend together. 

Now, imagine that you're that same admission officer and that you've come across one really rad college essay. It's like the smell of fresh-baked cookies, making you sit up in your chair and smile (and reach for milk). The applicant took the time to make sure there were no spelling mistakes. The applicant really thought about what she wanted to say. She wrote from the heart and conveyed a sense of personality. She told a compelling story.

Bliss. You'd want to put this application in your "favorites" pile.

Write for that pile. Get the gnomes excited. Or, at the very least, don’t put them to sleep.

Okay, so you get the idea, right? Admissions readers have a pretty tough (and potentially boring) job.

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