Why College Prep Essay Guides Keep Changing

November 16, 2020 at 5:00 AM
A girl preparing to meet her consultant by doing some preliminary research online.

With how competitive the college application process is these days, students are searching for any edge they can find to separate themselves from fellow applicants. That’s why college prep essay guides have continued to grow in popularity. However, doing a quick Google search will reveal numerous versions, and many of them seem to change every year.

The reason for that is that the college essays themselves, and how important they are in the acceptance decision, are constantly in flux. If you want to ensure you are getting the most accurate information to help you nail the essay, it’s beneficial to understand the history of these essays and the latest trends for the 2020-2021 class.

How Have College Essays Changed Over Time?

The first college essay wasn’t required until 1874 when Harvard started including them in the application process. Soon after Harvard’s decision, schools across the country began adopting the practice as well. Back then, students wrote essays on pieces of literature and were judged mainly on their skills of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and expression.

As attending college became a more viable option for the masses, people started to notice a problem. Students were applying to more schools, which forced them to write an increasing number of essays. To simplify the process for the applicants, the Common App was created in 1998. This included a set of 5-7 prompts used by schools across the country, so students could write their essays and submit them to multiple places.

As essays became more prominent, so did their impact on acceptance decisions. Whereas only one school used the essay in 1874, a 2017 study revealed that more than 80% of American schools used it as a determining factor.

Today, the essay is more important than ever. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many students could not take the standardized SAT and ACT tests colleges typically use to determine who is accepted. That’s led to schools relying more heavily on the essay to make their decision.

Tips for Writing Modern College Essays

The most recent college prep essay guides highlight the importance of making your submission deeply personal. Whereas former students could rely on broad-stroke responses and trending buzzwords, the increased competition means you need to demonstrate why a school should choose you over the numerous other applicants. To that effect, select a topic that highlights how you’ve matured and evolved over the years, informs them of a deep passion of yours, or conveys struggles you’ve encountered and how you overcame them.

Since you’ll be writing more than one essay, another common recommendation in this year’s college prep essay guides is to use them to tell a bigger picture. The essays should work in tandem to speak to a bigger message than the individual prompts and provide a fuller story of your life and who you are. However, according to the Independent Educational Consultants Association, it’s best to avoid writing generic answers about COVID-19. Every student has been affected by it, and choosing it as a subject matter causes you to blend in with other applicants.

Need help with your college essay?

Here at Educational Attainment Services, we understand how this part of the application process continues to evolve, which is why we are continually updating our college prep essay guide. We can work with you to expand your thought process and write an essay that brings out your personality, strengths, and unique perspectives to give you the best chance of attending the school of your dreams. Visit us online to learn more about our services and to see how we can help.