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Study Offers Students Tips on College Application Process

Study Offers Students Tips on College Application Process


As high-school students nationwide assemble their college admission applications this fall, a new study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) offers some tips to help make the process less stressful.

The study, authored by Sarah M. McGinty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and funded by NACAC, confirms conventional wisdom about the dreaded college application essay: that while the essay can be an important “tip factor” in an application for admission, college admission officers are looking at other things first.

According to the study, students place more emphasis on essays than do admission officers. Students (49 percent) were more likely to rate their essay as a very important part of their overall application packet than were admission officers (36 percent). The overwhelming majority of admission officers and students both perceive the essay as being at least “somewhat important.” At the same time, admission counselors underestimate the time students devote to writing essays, estimating about half the time students report they spend.

While much has been made of online essay services, students reported that their parents, English teachers and school counselors (in that order) were the top three sources of essay help. Between 58 percent and 70 percent of students surveyed sought help from one of these three sources.

This study found also that minority students reported less parental involvement (38 percent) on the college application essay than White students (73 percent). The study did not assess the effect of this difference on success in admission. However, existing research linking parents’ educational attainment and parental involvement with college attendance of their children, combined with findings like these, indicate that there is a need for parental involvement among minority communities and such involvement may benefit students who want to attend college.

Most, however, agreed on the components of a good essay, according to the study. Although the order of their rankings did not exactly coincide, students, admission officers and guidance counselors agreed that correct grammar, clear organization, vivid details that support or illuminate the subject, and unique style all contribute to the optimal college essay.

A synopsis of McGinty’s research was published in the fall 2002 issue of NACAC’s Journal of College Admission.

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