Some Common Application schools don’t require extra essays – but you should do them anyway

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Right about now is when the first stage of mild panic seems to start brewing for many seniors. They wish they had done more thinking, and writing, on their essays over the summer, but, well, it just didn’t happen.

Now, they’re settling into their new senior schedules, and they find themselves with very long to-do lists.

Some students will ask me point-blank: “Where can I apply that doesn’t require any essays?” Obviously, that approach is not a good strategy to identify a college that is a good fit for them academically and socially, although it does hint of practicality.

In support of the procrastinators, here is a link to the complete list of colleges that accept the Common Application but don’t require any additional essays:

Here are the colleges and universities in North and South Carolina on that list:

  • Appalachian State University
  • Catawba College
  • University of North Carolina at Asheville
  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Wofford College

It is important to understand that many of the schools on the long list have optional essays that I strongly recommend my students write and submit.

As an example, Appalachian State offers up the very traditional question: “Why us?”

Here’s what they’re asking for:

Please describe why you are interested in attending Appalachian State. An interest statement gives us the ability to get to know you beyond your grades and test scores. Responses are an important factor in distinguishing admissible candidates within the applicant pool.

So, the big question is whether or not it is worthwhile to do the optional supplemental essay? It’s so easy to think, “OMG, I have so many essays to write. All the others are required. It can’t be a big deal if I don’t write this optional one.”

It’s a big deal.

You have to ask yourself, what if you were sitting on the other side of the admissions desk and you had two applications in front of you: one of the students chose to write the optional essay, and the other did not? What would you think?

You’d probably assume that the student who chose not to write the optional essay was applying to many colleges and might be interested in your college but not enough to do a little extra work. Admissions officers want to accept students who they believe will choose to attend their college.

Completing the optional essay, at a minimum, puts you on a level playing field with the other applicants. It gives you a chance to indicate your interest in their school and share something new, different and dynamic that the admissions committee doesn’t already know about you. Sometimes it’s your chance to be creative and show your genuine interest in the college, and sometimes it’s an opportunity to share your interest in your extracurricular activity.

It’s an opportunity – take advantage of it. But be careful. Submitting something that you dash off quickly could hurt. Your best bet is to refine your time management skills; put in the time to make certain that each essay speaks to your character, your values and your interests, and you’ll be fine.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions